The Information Superhighwayman

I am small and I don’t eat much…

Browsing Posts published by Michael

Let’s Face it…

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I was going to be nice to Google today. Really, I was – I started out thinking “Wow, for the first time ever, I will have to write a weblog entry and be 100% nice about Google” – As the 5 people who read my weblog will know, this isn’t normal. I don’t like Google, I make no secret of it generally but sometimes, there is the rare good thing.

So let’s pretend for a moment that Google isn’t a great encompassing blob of an alien life form and it is in fact different organisations some of which I can be nice about and let’s ponder Picasa.

I have been using Picasa from the start – I don’t know why, it’s not very popular to use Picasa, especially for somebody who doesn’t like Google. I should probably be using Flickr or Deviantart like all the cool kids do but I like Picasa desktop and I like the way it talks to Picasa Web Albums and I like the way Picasa Web Albums are nice and easy to use. But there is more.

Firstly, my Picasa crashed a few weeks ago. I was not happy, I use my Picasa a lot on my laptop for trying to keep tabs on what photos I have on here that I haven’t moved to the Desktop and the huge photo archive I have. Every time I loaded it, it crashed and told me to send a crash report – As long as I didn’t hit “OK” it would carry on working so that was good but I submitted a crash report anyway.  I wasn’t expecting anything, I submit Microsoft crash reports on a weekly basis and have never had any feedback at all but apparently the Picasa team actually read theirs. and a nice chap called Fernando Corrado asked me to test a new version which promptly crashed too. Eventually after 2 days of trying new versions and tweaking things the Picasa people discovered I had a screwed up installation of Quicktime that was causing some previews to die and created a fix. My Picasa now works properly again and it is nice to see such a quick response for what is really, free software.

Anyway, armed with a working Picasa and being generally impressed so far with the new face recognition, I decided to let Picasa run riot over my desktop.  I started it about 48 hours ago now and it claims to be 14% of the way through recognising faces (which is odd because 4 hours ago I restarted it and it claimed to be 21% of the way through).

It is sloooowly indexing 3 terabytes of disk on a 3.5ghz Pentium and has found just under 5,100 folders full of photos. It has found over 1,500 photos of me now ranging over 25 years, some of which have me wearing glasses, funny hats and in one, a Pippi Longstocking wig and a diamond fairy tiara (Hey I get bored in Wal*Mart sometimes). Every time I look at it, it has dug up more and more obscure photos of people with terrifying accuracy and it is still going strong. It also seems quite good at sharing the facial information (via my Gmail account I assume) between my laptop and the Desktop. I am deliberately avoiding asking what Google will do with the huge amount of data I am giving it but I am pretty sure now Google could track me pretty well with its hidden spy cameras since it even recognised me in my tinfoil helmet. Damn.

We are no longer safe!
(Why wouldn’t Picasa let me link that from my Picasa album? Weird)

I can’t find much wrong with it – There are some pretty useless filters in it (why would I want to find all purple photos, or all orange photos?) and some seemingly useful filters missing. One really useful thing would be for it to be able to detect naked photos  (ok, let’s call it a porn filter). There are very few good tools for detecting porn by flesh percentage and *ah hem* “body features” on Windows – Hyperdyne’s Snitch and Media Detective are the only two I can think of and they cost more than I paid for my copy of Vista. It is a feature many people need and want so go on Google, add it please?I suspect all the tools are in there, although please… It will freak me out if you start being able to identify people without faces, that is going a little too far ok?

And now for the downside. Don’t worry Picasa, this isn’t about you, I have nothing but praise for you today and this weblog entry would have stopped here if I hadn’t needed to register a Gizmo5 account for Jess today.

I merrily browsed to http://gizmo5.com only to be redirected to http://www.google.com/gizmo5/ and told:

Gizmo5 Has Been Acquired by Google
New user signup has been suspended and will return when we re-launch.
To receive information about the re-launch please enter your email address.

This is not useful… I needed a Gizmo5 account today and now Google own it I assume that the useful “Forward to Skype” feature will end up broken since Skype are in the business of selling Skypein numbers and won’t want Google Voice numbers supplying this for free. I assume it will also create a mess because Google Voice is only available in the US and Gizmo was available everywhere. Plus of course, it’s a pain since I wanted an account today dammit! Grrrrr.

On the plus side, this means I didn’t have to write a Weblog entry that was full of praise for The Evil Empire.  Got to take some good out of everything I guess.

(I also wonder why WordPress wouldn’t allow me to have that last line in a paragraph by itself… This thing has a mind of its own I swear)

One of my favourite new weblogs is Crabby Old Fart, http://crabbyoldfart.wordpress.com/ – On his front page he states:

“It’s Important to be Regular…
Now posting once a week whether I have something to say or not.”

This got me thinking that I haven’t written anything in here for nearly a year and it may be a good idea for me to write something here occasionally, even if I do have nothing much to say.

I think one of the problems is that when I decide I want to write something I deliberately leave it a week or so to see if I still feel the urge to write about it then. If I remember then I will write about it but more likely, I’ll make a note somewhere that I should write about it in the future and then never bother. Blogging seems to be pretty impulse driven and if you force yourself not to write in a reactionary way then the impulse vanishes and the Interwebs ends up with a whole lot less shit.

On the other hand, as the Crabby Old Fart says; it is important to be regular whether it needs it or not – So I shall try.

Amen.

A tale of two shittys.

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As I kneed myself in the face yesterday whilst trying to sit down on a North American toilet, I came to a startling realisation about why North Americans know very little about the world. In the spirit of international relations I am going to share this with you so that now, rather than pointing at them and laughing, you can just weep a little to yourself about their plight. This is a tragic tale.

It’s quite simple really… North American toilets just aren’t made as a comfortable place to read. They are too low and it seems offputting and potentially perilous to be quite so physically close to all that water in the bowl.

In England people have traditionally retreated to the bog to sit and read and get away from the other people in the house. It’s sometimes the only privacy they ever get. People started to read on the toilet because we tended to use ripped up newspapers to wipe our frozen botties in outside loos. It gave us something to do whilst we were trying to shiver out a poo in the wind and rain and even though now our toilets tend to be inside and somebody invented Andrex1 the reading habit has carried on and no English toilet2 would be complete without a pile of toilet books. The upshot of this is that North Americans have never been exposed to books like “The Book of Heroic Failures” (volumes 1, 2 and 3), “The World’s top 20 Serial Killers”, “Not a Lot of People Know That” (by the esteemed Mr Caine) nor in fact, any Gyles Brandreth books at all.

You know… This is probably why Americans don’t have pub quizzes too. It’s all starting to make sense now.


1: Does anyone else still object to the slogan “240 sheets per roll”? It’s not true, at best you can get about 30. If you are a vegetarian, your mileage may vary.

2: Note, toilet, not bathroom, the toilet has the throne position here not the bath – And come to think of it, most American bathrooms don’t even have a bath, especially the ones in cafes – What sort of a rip off is that? Grrr!

3: Did you spot that I moved from they to we mid-posting? I can’t be bothered to correct it since it amused me.

Sale on the High Streets.

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I spotted that Dixons have packs of 20 Maxell C60’s on sale at the moment for £4.49 so I am going to buy about 10 packs this afternoon.I’ll get the decks up and running tonight and all being well I’ll be able to do you those Manic Miners you wanted at a quid each. I have Jet Set Willy, Monkey Island and Pimania buried under this mess somewhere too but I’ll be charging £1.50 for them.

Ok Man, see you later.

London Olympics 2012

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There’s no point me harping on about this, you know full well my assumption is that it will be a disaster best avoided. That said, I am prepared to let someone else have their say and Dave Kellett summed it up rather nicely in today’s Sheldon Comic.
‘Nuff said.

For once, the British Government has impressed me. It’s not much but it’s so rare I thought it worth a mention.

Their new training site is called “Train to Gain” and of course, given my general despair of the world as it is today, I would have assumed they’d have named the website “train2gain.gov.uk”. But no! It’s actually called “traintogain.gov.uk”.

Well done that department! Credit where it’s due.

Madness.

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I am not sure I can deal with the idea of Suggs being the new Captain Birds Eye.

I read the most amazing article today about McDonalds admitting it was adding milk and wheat to their french fries. (Can we call them chips now please? This is an English Weblog – In fact where I come from they fry them in beef fat anyway).

Admittedly, I find it a tad strange that McDs are adding such things to their chips but that’s not my problem with the article. My problem is with comments such as:

“I am vegan. I have eaten their vegetable burger with fries for many years. I will never do it again. I really hope their vegetable burgers were animal free.”

What? What fucking retarded vegan would eat at McDonalds anyway? I can understand if they were forced in there once and had to eat something to be social or because they were starving but come on, this one has eaten there “for many years” and not had the nouse to actually check with McDonalds that their stuff was animal free? This is McDonalds, not some trendy vegan restaraunt in Covent Garden.

Then it struck me… Half way down the article there is a quote:

“Nadia Sugich, a vegan, is also suing McDonald’s. Vegans do not eat any animal products at all (vegetarians include dairy and eggs in their diet, vegans don’t). Had she known the product contained milk she would not have touched them.”

Silly me – How did I miss that? It’s just an excuse to sue somebody. Obviously these people expected a certain duty of care and dedication to their high standards of vegan care FROM A FUCKING HAMBURGER SHOP!

Well I am sorry and I have no issue with most vegans, but in this case I hope the courts force them to pay costs and tell them to fuck off and get a life.

I used to consider myself something of a nationalist. Not in the jack-booted send home all the blacks and “The Empire could do no wrong” sense, but certainly in the sense that deep down I believed that as a nation, The British are generally pretty cool. Admittedly, this is somewhat hard to defend given our history of invasion, genocide and miscellaneous rights abuses but even with all of these things against us, I would like to believe that there were at all times people in the county actively working against these things and ultimately correcting them.

Of all the people in the world unlikely to lose faith in Britain I would have put myself pretty high on the list; somewhere between Churchill and Thatcher maybe. So why do I want to leave? People keep asking me this so I started thinking of the reasons myself.

It’s not been a sudden decision although the last 10 years has hurried it a lot. So let’s think of some utterly random and disordered thoughts. This will be long, it will ramble, it will be rather typical of my weblog postings. As ever, you don’t have to read it. I am not forcing you to.

I remember cameras being one of the first things that pissed me off. When I was being trained in Surveillance one of the things we had to do was to start to be aware of who was watching us. I learned to look for cameras; this was a mistake. In 2006 there were over 4.2 million surveillance cameras in Britain, that was one for every 14 people. There are no statistics for the current number, but it has certainly increased. A report by Privacy International says that Britain is the worst Western Democracy at protecting individual privacy, in fact, in the world the only two countries worse than Britain are Malaysia and China. The cameras and other means of surveillance are there for various reasons including the often overlooked “US Security Operations”- Yup, the US is monitoring Britain on our own soil. Of course, whilst we are at this I was stopped and searched under the prevention of terrorism act a couple of years ago for taking photographs of Menwith Hill, a US surveillance station in the North of England which used to be a Cold War listening post and now spies on Europe for US commercial means. I should point out that taking photos of this place is not hard, it is visible from miles away, it is enormous and has been growing at a vast rate since the end of the Cold War when everybody assumed it would simply be closed.

They are not the only cameras I have issues with. Speed cameras are now a growing parasite on our roads. These things are operated by local police forces ostensibly as a safety measure but that myth has been debunked so many times that everybody knows it’s not true at all. They don’t add any safety, research shows that they actually have a tendency to make people speed more anyway and all they do is to make the police a fortune in fines. I have heard a theory that the Speed Camera is the single largest thing which has put a barrier between the police and the people in modern Britian. They make everybody a criminal, they make a majority of people hate and distrust the police and they make people subconsciously less willing to co-operate with a police force that seems to concentrate more on getting money from motorists than actually dealing with any crime at all. Of course, the modern British police force seems to be able to get away with shooting an unarmed man 8 times with no comeback on them so maybe it is good that we don’t trust them any more.

So I don’t trust the police… What about the rest of the authorities who run these surveillance operations. New legislation launched under the umbrella of making us safer from terrorists (of which much more later) is now being used by local authorities to spy on the general public for absolutely non terrorist activities. This came to light when Dorset Council admitted to spending more than 2 weeks spying on a family they suspected of lying on a school application form. The new surveillance powers granted by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 give local authorities access to things such as phone records, email information and monitor what web sites somebody is visiting as well as the right to mount on-the-ground physical surveillance against them. Needless to say, this act wasn’t ever created to allow this but what the hell, hey?

All of this makes the fact I do actually trust the British Security Services somewhat a moot point. I just thought since I was ranting about the misuse of such powers I’d actually carry on my fairly consistent defence of that lot. I also still have some respect for the higher judges, unfortunately this isn’t true of the lower court rabble.

Of course, the 2-type legal system is something else that annoys me although this has always been a problem so I can’t claim it to be any particular reason that I am leaving. We have, however, embraced the EU human rights convention and part of this is the right to a fair trial and the assumption that you are innocent until proven guilty. The British Criminal court system does operate on this assumption but the Civil Courts certainly don’t. Anybody can take somebody to Civil Court and it’s up to you to prove that you are innocent. In any case, the chances are you will end up paying a fortune in costs, win or lose.

The monarchy is one of the things often cited as a reason that Britain is so great. The relationship between the Crown and Government is a complicated one and much of it is governed by convention rather than actual laws. Maybe I am made more naive because I have more knowledge of how these conventions work than most but one of the things I always thought would happen when the government started to behave tyrannically and went against the will of the people in an overwhelming way (such as entering into an illegal war) was that the Crown would step in and do something about it. I would think that this is not only the right, but the very raison d’etre of the Queen. This is why we pay for them to live a life of opulence and luxury. When Blair invaded Iraq in 2003 (an act which we now know was based on lies to Parliament) an overwhelming majority of the British people opposed this blatantly illegal act and yet the Queen still allowed her seal to be used to send her armed forces to invade another country. This shouldn’t happen, this shouldn’t happen on so many levels. Of course, to add insult to injury on this matter, Tony Blair has never been taken to account for his various lies and his various crimes. He’s happily swanning around the world making a fortune on the lecture circuit without a care in the world. There are lots of groups trying to have him called to account but frankly, they seem to be pathetic and somewhat shit. If that’s all there is then he doesn’t have much to worry about at all.

Do I even need to talk about the fact that Parliament has now allowed the police to hold terror suspects for 42 days, without charge. The Magna Carta? The Bill of Rights? May as well just sell them all to Americans as pretty things to go into picture frames. Oh sorry, I forgot we already did that. Talking of the Magna Carta I note that the government is still trying to push ahead with its id card scheme. Europeans and Americans don’t really understand my objection to this but it’s quite important in that it does remove a very basic right given to us in the Magna Carta all those hundreds of years ago. We still have a presumption of innocence, we still have the right to be nameless and identyless in general life. If the police want to know who we are, they have to show good reason. An identity card will lose our right to anonymity, it will shift the power slightly further towards a state where we have to show our right to be here rather than the state assuming that right by default. I am ignoring the fact that as soon as we do get an identity card, the security will be cracked, the Russian Mafia will be selling fake ones for a few thousand a piece and the government will lose all the details on a train to Waterloo or post them on a DVD to somebody. We know this will happen, it’s just how these things go. I would start talking about this all being more steps towards Corpus Juris at this point but I don’t want to sound like a nutter from the UK Independence Party, I love Europe still though I am still not sure Britain should be part of it. I just have very different reasons for my beliefs than they do.

And now, we couldn’t avoid it could we. The climate of fear.

I don’t kid myself that I am much more clever than the average Brit and the only advantage I can think of is that my post graduation background was in social psychology with my PhD being in controlling people. Don’t get me wrong, I am as susceptible to control as anybody, I go out and buy Fox’s biscuits every time that damned panda on my TV tells me to. I am an advertisers dream; I fall for all the tricks and it’s made worse by the fact that I know it too. The thing is, I think that deep down most people know they are being manipulated and like me they don’t much care as long as it doesn’t play too much havock with their lives. Unfortunately, the latest big lies seem to be playing havock with mine, and everybody elses.

That odd chap Joseph Goebbels once wrote:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

And so we come to The War On Terror. My government tells me that we are living in very dangerous times and that my personal rights and liberties should be forfeit little by little to help them fight it.

Bollocks.

My government tells me that this is the most dangerous time ever and my very life and existence and freedom is at stake through the threat of Terrorism.

Bollocks to the first bit. I will concede to the last bit – But the threat is not from Terrorists.

My government tells me that invading Afghanistan and Iraq is something they had to do because we are at war with Terrorists.

What the fuck?

I started to come of political awareness in the early 80’s. I am product of that time. At that time and for the next decade or so, there were lots of bombs all over Britain, planted by the IRA and paid for by the Americans. Do Americans know that as short a time ago as 1996, the IRA bombed England’s biggest skyscrapers? Do most people outside this country know that almost every day in London there were bomb scares, train, bus and tube disruptions and general upheaval because of bombs or the threat of bombs. I don’t know how many people lost their lives through IRA bombs, I don’t know how many bombs there were. The reported numbers almost certainly don’t match the reality because the government and the press rather sensibly co-operated to keep a lot of the incidents quiet so as not to give publicity to terrorists. That is how a country with a lot of experience of terrorists works, they realise that terrorism feeds off publicity and taking that away from them helps to damage its impact. Our new enemy (which apparently now has a name, it is militant Islam) has, in the last few years made what amounts to a pathetically small impact on the country in terms of actual bombs and lives lost and yet we never hear anything else! Liberties are lost every month as we do more and more to fight this new thing, Terrorism. Have I missed something here? New thing? Terrorists in Britain? Get real!

In the early 80’s I didn’t think we’d make it to the year 2000 and I very much doubt I was alone. We were having leaflets posted through the door of every house in the country telling us how to survive in the aftermath of a Nuclear War and it was a time when films like When The Wind Blows and Threads were able to change British public opinion on the whole nuclear warfare issue. We slowly started to realise that we probably wouldn’t survive global nuclear war but these still seemed to be a greater than 50% chance that it would happen. My government tell me that I am at greater risk now from a bunch of disorganised terrorists?

HA FUCKING HA!

The weird thing is that like Goebbels great lies, it doesn’t seem to be global. It seems to be rather restricted to Britain and the USA. Its an excuse to go to war to further commercial interests abroad, it’s an excuse to step closer to that Governmental Holy Grail, a total and legal control of the people.  The two are Hand in hand, this is a dangerous situation for us to be in and I don’t like it. This “war” is costing us hundreds of billions of pounds and although I realise it’s cliche to count this in how many hospitals we could have built with the money it is worth pointing out that Britain’s filthy hospitals and the superbug epidemic are causing far far more deaths in this country than any terrorist activity ever will.

The other great lie is to do with Global Warming. Don’t switch off, don’t sneer at me. I am not saying that Global Warming is a lie, it’s not. There are differences of opinion as to what is causing Global Warming and I doubt you agree with me but even so, Global Warming has become a bandwagon to impose even more taxes and controls on the people and as I have ranted about in the past; the people it is hurting most are the poor. I foresee more and more happening in the name of global warming; I foresee more and more silly laws and restrictions and less and less useful action. Global warming will be used as an excuse to sell more and more protected land to companies to exploit and sell more and more overpriced houses to people. The poor will stay in the lowland floodable areas and will end up uninsurable and like New Orleans but on a grander scale we’ll probably end up with refugees in Mainland Britain in a decade or two. Adding more and more tax to plane travel and fuel isn’t going to help this. Putting some of those billions of pounds we are spending to protect our freedom is. Global Warming is inevitable. Taxes aren’t going to stop it. Preventing it isn’t going to work. We should be doing something about it, and doing something about it now, not later. It’s a big lie. We all know this why aren’t we doing anything about it?

Leigh visited England from Canada a few weeks ago and said that one of the things she noticed most about this country was the press. I have to admit I had barely noticed this but now it’s been pointed out to me I see the point. I am not sure what has happened to it, it’s not a press any more it is just popularist celebrity drivel interspersed with bigoted opinion. I don’t read newspapers any more so I hadn’t really noticed. and whilst I can’t use this as a reason for leaving I can still mourn its passing.

The BBC still sits on the sidelines as the only party of opposition; uncomfortably though it relies on the government for funding so its subversion is probably rather less than one would hope. I view it as some sort of ineffectual superhero that still tries hard. By day, it broadcasts endless mind numbing gobshite devoted to cookery, decorating, selling all your crap to buy new crap and buying new houses – All the things we as new-age sheep seem to like. By night, it allows platform to some quite cutting satire and the occasional excellent documentary that says much the same as I am saying here only in a less self-obsessed way. The other channels generally broadcast cheap and easy to make crap and reality TV. It’s depressing really and if this is the opium of my nation then I demand a new pusher.

And now for the punchline. None of this is why I want to leave…

The country has had messes before, England and Britain have a long history and throughout it, lots of shit has happened. But as I said at the start of this post; I have always felt that behind the scenes there were competent people working to mend things. Of course, the English have a history of being quite pathetic and resistant to change, our history of revolution is pitiful; from the rather pathetic Peasants Revolt which ended with a single blow to the Civil War which simply annoyed a bunch of people before sending everything back to how it was before as soon as the leaders realised they didn’t have anything to do once they’d won. There’s no spirit left in this country any more. Nobody cares; the people aren’t stupid, they know what is happening as well as I do but they don’t seem to care any more. Even the few who do can’t do much. Armed revolution is conveniently illegal and political revolution is, as I see it, impossible. Maybe it has always been that way, maybe this is something I have missed.

The only useful things that the Brits have ever really done to create change is to leave. For the first couple of centuries at least I don’t think we did so badly in America. Australia looks pretty to me and I think we have done pretty well in Canada, all things considered. Maybe it will be interesting to see how the Colonies have fared instead of constantly whining about what the Motherland has become.

Will the last one to leave the country please turn out the lights? Global Warming, don’t you know.

Some links – I didn’t want them in the main text because I am odd that way:

Apparently this posting (and I guess a few of my others) are unreadable in Internet Explorer. I am afraid there’s not much I can do about this. Sorry.

For a long time, a few people have been reminding me that I promised to write a posting about the top ten ways I have nearly killed myself.  I keep meaning to do this but I am easily distracted by Youtube videos, kittens and dust which makes me a very unreliable narrator.

On the plus side, I am congenitally stupid so I have a wealth of events to chose from; on the down side, I have a crap memory so when it comes to putting them on paper – I simply forget.

I was tempted to do this as a list, you know like that Letterman guy does but then I would have to rank them and that takes real thought. I am also none too happy with the concept of “nearly killed myself” since most of my more amusing (after the event) mishaps would not have involved my death. I rarely get embarrassed so dying of embarrassment would not have been an option.

With this in mind, changing the title to “A random babble about some of the most stupid things I have done, most of which would warrant me inclusion into the Darwin Awards” not only makes it a lot less snappy but also puts less effort onto me to come up with the goods in a concise and easy to read form.

Be warned, this will be a long babble so I am putting one of those click-to-read-more thingumys here now.
continue reading…