The Information Superhighwayman

I am small and I don’t eat much…

Browsing Posts published by Michael

Big Brother

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It’s been about a week and I have already given up watching UK’s Big Brother.

They just voted out the only one I actually liked; she was relatively sweet and quite cute (not that you could tell from her glamour shot in today’s Star) and the rest are utterly boring and generally intolerable.

Ah well! That was easy.

A Lolcat.

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Apparently all the best weblogs have a Lolcat so obviously mine should have one too.

I can haz new ownerz now?


“Mr Twit never went really hungry. By sticking out his tongue and curling is sideways to explore the hairy jungle around his mouth, he was always able to find a tasty morsel here and there to nibble on.” (Roald Dahl)

For those of you who haven’t experienced Twitter I ask you to stop reading now. I offer no definitions, no useful information and no links. You don’t need to read this posting, get on with your life and ignore it. A life without Twitter is a richer life indeed.

A few days ago, Leigh explained Twitter to me and made it all a little more clear to me. Some of what she said made sense, I could see some small merit in micro-blogging and as a 55-word story writer, I obviously have a sense that small can often be a lot more beautiful. I don’t object to the concept of Twitter per-se, I object to how people seem to use it. Twitter originally came into my field of annoyance because of its interface to Facebook; now unfortunately it seems to be infecting everything. Twitter updates the Facebook statuses of people so I would get a feed somewhat like this.

  • “Pillock is waiting for a train.”
  • “Pillock has been waiting for 5 minutes, the train is now late.”
  • “Pillock wonders where the train is, and goes to get coffee.”
  • “Pillock thinks the coffee is horrible but at least the train is coming soon.”
  • “Pillock finally sees the train.”
  • “Pillock is getting on the train now.”
  • “Pillock doesn’t seem to be able to get a seat, damn train company.”

I will stop now… Unfortunately, this endless microglimpse into somebody’s tedious existence won’t. So why do people do it? I could probably come up with all sorts of theories; some of which would be pretty sound but ultimately it all boils down to the fact they do it because they are obviously quite deranged. Is anybody interested in this? Isn’t there enough quality literature in the world for people to read without them sitting there all day reading this constant stream of dirge? Apparently you can get people’s Twitter feeds sent to your mobile phone – What the fuck? WHY?

Maybe part of the problem is that it seems to be acceptable in the modern work place to be connected to garbage like this. When I was at BT, it used to be a particular bugbear of one of our security people that if people got into work and sat down and read the newspaper for the first 4 hours, they’d probably be sacked but that people seemed to think it was quite acceptable to sit reading random stuff on the Interwebs all day, playing on Facebook and the like. Is it a way that office people can escape work that is more acceptable than sitting in the garden reading Treasure Island? I pity what society will become if it is. On that matter, I find it somewhat ironic that I used to effectively twitter for a living. People used to have to pay $3.00 for each of my 140 word messages but then they were sad wankers, with no other friends than the imaginary people at the other end of their phone. Oh… Wait a minute… Ummm.

Maybe it is part of the new instant news society. As news consumers we seem to expect second by second updates but they aren’t useful, they aren’t healthy and they often do nothing more than confuse the whole situation. The average person isn’t trained as an intelligence analyst and the average person’s mind isn’t quite that fucked up enough to want to be. Nicholas Taleb writes quite well on the subject of the psychological effect of constant streams of updated information in his book “Fooled by randomness” – If you can ever drag yourself away from reading inane twitter messages, weblog postings and RSS feeds full of online comics; I suggest you give it a read.

A few of the armies of the world still employ War Artists; Australia and Britian being two of the key ones. The theory is that a painting can take in all the events of a day, of a battle, of a campaign and merge them all into one single, well thought out visual statement. It can do this far better than a single photograph, a single video clip, a single report. Whilst I don’t argue that very occasionally a potographer or film cameraman does capture an iconic image of war; I do agree with history that the painting does it far better. What’s wrong with people noting their thoughts down in a little notepad, a camera or an electronic organiser and summarising their day later? They could even use Twitter to do it and write something like “Late Trian, Crap Coffee, No Seat – But Long John Silver whisked me away and saved me. Thanks Robert.”

I quite like Giolla’s Livejournal. He occasionally posts a small Haiku that summarises his week which seems like a perfect use for Twitter – Maybe people could learn a lesson from that but they won’t will they. They will continue to think that people are interested in every breath they take. Sting was wrong. We aren’t.

Why I can’t spell.

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For various reasons, I am in a reflective mood and I finally have a few weeks in which to relax. This creates its own problems in that when I have time to relax, I have time to think and when I have time to think, that’s usually not a good thing.

As a means of procrastination and to keep myself busy for a while, I thought I would talk about me! I know, it’s something of a digression in this weblog, but it had to happen one day didn’t it?

I am not very good at spelling and I am generally dreadful at punctuating. I don’t have a clue about grammar although I have read every edition of Fowler as though it was talking about some sort of foreign language. But I come across as relatively literate and clever don’t I? Even if I did just start a sentence with “But” – I mean I occasionally write for a living, I should hope that I do.

The problem is in two parts, both somewhat unrelated. Sit back whilst I tell you a story if you are interested. The dates will be screwed up and some things may be in the wrong order but who cares?

I started school at age one and a half. People these days seem to find this somewhat barbaric but I don’t think it was considered particually abnormal then. I was a day-boarder at a small, private boarding school in St Annes. I remember parts of this life; I remember the little red/pink uniforms we had, I remember having to march every morning for half an hour. The boys marched, the girls did ballet practice. I always remember wanting to do ballet too but then I was odd that way. They didn’t have assemblies and there was no concept of religion there. This latter part I feel was a very good thing. I have read some other people’s memories of this school (which is now closed) on friendsreunited and they tally somewhat with mine. I remember liking the school nurse whom the boarders put across as a tyrant though; maybe this is because I never suffered from being forced to wear my soiled bedsheets all day as punishment for wetting a bed. Damn those under fives for their inconsiderate behaviour hey?

They taught me to read and write there pretty much as soon as I started in a curious mixture of phonetics and real language. I remember being taught my alphabet as phonetics and to this day I spell words out when people ask me in this way. Ah, ber, ser, der, eh, eff, gur. I have to translate to normal alphabet in my head later. I can read phonetic books without thinking about it still but then I also remember copying out endless cards saying things like “Mummy, daddy, Bill and Anne, are standing by their caravan”. Why they operated in this mixed way I have no idea. I am tempted to think that they enjoyed screwing with kid’s heads but I enjoyed my time there a lot so I have no complaints at all.

When I was about 7 my family lost a lot of its money when my Grandfather died. I had to move from that school because we moved away and for a few weeks I was put into a state infant school. That was terrifying! It wasn’t terrifying because the kids were bad or anything, they were just all so utterly dense. They couldn’t read, they couldn’t write. I had consumed most of Enid Blyton’s entire output by this time and they were struggling with the fact that Peter liked Jane and the dog had a ball. Luckily, I didn’t stay here for too long and we moved to the Isle of Man where I started in a junior school there. Within about 2 weeks the teachers had complained bitterly about me and they moved me up a couple of years to a class that I may actually get something out of. I was still far too ahead of them but at least there was something that interested me. It is something of a tribute to the Manx school system that they were happy to do this. I don’t know if they still do but I hope so.

Of course… At some point we lost all our remaining money and we moved back to England where I was soon to discover that the English school system lacks a lot in terms of progressieve thinking. I started at a new school and they put me back in the year appropiate to my age. I did the entire year’s maths text book in a lesson, I did the same with every other class. They had no idea what to do with me so they just left me alone. The only lessons I got anything at all out of were History and Religious Education; the former because I had never really studied any British History and the latter because religion was entirely new to me and fascinated (and still fascinates) me in the way that watching Big Brother fascinates me now.

I lost the ability to learn completely. I had nothing to do for a couple of years, I had no challenges and teachers just avoided me. We moved around a lot and I went to a few schools; all with the same issues and all I really learned in the end was to pretend to be like the rest of them so I didn’t have to do any work at all. I managed to miss learning to spell, I managed to miss learning any formal grammar and anything about punctuation. I never did manage to learn to handwrite, I had learned to write in print at age 2 and never learned any different. Teachers would tell me off for printing and not doing joined up writing but none of them ever thought to teach me. I tried to learn from a book once, trust me the results are somewhat amusing. One plus point at this time is that I had been thrown out of games lessons for being a monumental pain in the arse and I had to spend every games lesson playing with computers instead as an alternative. Mostly I spent 1980 and 1981 playing Colossal Cave on a 380Z. It seemed like a good thing to me.

Eventually I think I discovered that during my few years of hiding the world had caught up on me. People around me were being taught stuff I didn’t know and I was falling behind. I was no longer the cleverest person in the school, not by a long way in fact. Of course by this point I was not only behind in a lot of things, I also had no clue how to learn any more and was far happier in the middle classes than in the top ones anyway. I coasted and blagged; I got the smallest amount of O-levels required to get into college after school and then got the absolute minimum qualifications that I needed to get into University. It wasn’t quite all coasting; I enjoyed things like photography and at this point I still wanted to be an Archeologist, something I was never allowed to do in the end because I hadn’t studied classics – In industrial schools in Central Lancashire they don’t tend to study Latin and Greek.

At University I pretty much coasted. I got the worst maths mark ever at the end of my first year. When they made me resit it they kindly told me that I had to double my original 4% to be allowed to come back and just in case I couldn’t work it out, that was 8%. I slept through all my psychology exams (literally) and failed that as well. In my second year I attended just under 20 of the few hundred lectures I was meant to. I had no intention of coming back for a 3rd year by that point but I had to stay till the end so I wouldn’t have to pay my grant back. I had a job to go to, my Supervisor, one of the very few members of staff I liked was about to leave and I had zero respect for most of the members of staff and students on my course. I did no coursework at all and I guess my faculty got sick to death of trying to nag me. I had been suspended more times than I care to think about. They hated me, I hated them. The exams were hilarious because I didn’t have a clue what most of the papers were about but I guess there were some I already knew a lot about so somehow, to my horror, I passed the year. This was a problem now – I didn’t expect to pass, it was never on the cards. The job I was going to take fell through so I decided to take my third year and eventually graduated with a Third which was probably the best I could ever have got at that point really. They did make me do my second year coursework before they awarded me my degree. They really didn’t want to make it easy.
Leaving University with a Third Class Honours degree doesn’t usually allow you to take up a funded postgraduate but I had a friend, David Stretch who was looking for some students to take up a European funded postgraduate in Psychology at Leicester University in the Hospital’s Psychiatry Department. I had nothing else to do so I decided to go. That was when everything changed. I was 21 at this point and although it was a little late, I finally met that “teacher that changes your life”. David didn’t push anything, I don’t think he ever really tried to teach me much but he did suggest things and set seeds of things that interested me and then allowed me the freedom to explore and learn in my own way, with support when I wanted it and without criticism. From then, I went back to my old University to work much to the horror of my former faculty and carried on learning. It’s amusing really, looking back that most of what I have learned academically I learned myself after I was awarded my degree. My writing style I have discovered I owe to Cassandra; I fear he would cringe at how I occasionally butcher it though.

So that’s it. That’s why I can’t spell. Now you know so am I forgiven now?

Here’s an interesting new scam I had never heard of before.

The scammer breaks into a hotmail, gmail or other free-email account and then sends the following email out to everybody in their contact list:

  • Hi
    I am in a hurry writing this mail. I had a trip to Nigeria visiting the tinapa opening ceremony. Unfortunately for me all my money got stolen at the hotel where i lodged from the attack of some armed robbers and since then i have been without any money i am even owing the hotel here,So i have only access to emails,my mobile phone  can’t work here so i didnt bring it along.Please can you lend me 1000 pounds so i can return back and settle the hotel bills i would return it back to you as soon as i get home, I am so confused right now.You can have it sent through western union.I have already spoken to the hotel manager, please let me hear from you so i can collect his full name and address where you can send the money tomorrow please or if possible today. I am waiting for your reply.
    Thank you.
    (Person’s name)

It’s an interesting one in that it may actually work (provided the person is usually illiterate anyway). A whole new clever little twist on the traditional 419 scam. I shall watch this one with interest.

Antisocial Security

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A while ago I pondered starting a weblog devoted to security. I occasionally feel the need to write something about this subject and I was worried that my one loyal reader would probably get bored stiff if I wrote too much in amongst my generally pointless rants.

My problem is that I know more about security than you. I am pretty safe in saying this unless you are one of a handful of people, all of whom I could name and none of which would be reading my weblog. Don’t get me wrong – If you are an expert in Linux, I bet you know tonnes more about Linux security than I do and I know 12 year olds who know more about modern hacking tools and methods than I ever will. The problem is that these specialisms don’t make good all around security experts; experience and exposure does and if nothing else, I have a lot more of that than most.

I got an email from an old adversary of mine today and part of my reply got me thinking about how I view a profession I used to be very much involved with. I quote:

“My former industry is full of self-publicists who are dreadful at
what they do; I care nothing at all for them and their paranoia
fuelled money making machine. I’ll stick with breeding camels and
just drag myself back into security when I need to eat occasionally,
but even so I don’t much think that will last.”

I’d like to write about security. As an odd kid working out better ways of nicking things or how to open locks I wasn’t meant to open, I have always been interested in the topic and I have devoted most of my adult life to it. When I was at school and a teacher of mine suggested that I manage the school computer systems as an alternative to trying to pull them to bits to see how they worked; I had no idea that a few years later I would be in the position to happily ignore fax requests for help from the FBI because they refused to give me a cool baseball cap or getting hate mail for working with the government to get Universities to prosecute hackers under the then new Computer Misuse Act (an action on my part which was  very misunderstood since I was actually more on the side of the students trying to make sure that they received a fair trial where the Rules of Evidence applied). Incidentally, we haven’t even hit the 1990s nor the start of the Internet in the UK yet.

I am not blowing my own trumpet here, I don’t like blatant self publicity and it’s certainly a bad trait in a security person anyway. That said, I am going to talk about me. It’s my weblog and if you don’t like it, then stop reading. I am making a point that I don’t like being told I am wrong by somebody who got a degree in Computer Security from Wigan Polytechnic in 2005 and then spent a few months getting a bunch of commercial “qualifications” consisting of seemingly random letters from computer-equipment manufacturers and then gets employed by some company and given a job title with the word manager, or consultant in it.

In my previous jobs I was surrounded by ’em. I’d go to meetings to be told I was wrong by people who didn’t  have a clue what they were talking about. I wasn’t wrong, I am rarely wrong about things I profess to know something about. At BT, we had a chap who I will call John (mostly because that is is name). He didn’t go to University, he didn’t have a single security qualification and he knew very little about computers, networks or telephony. He had, however, spent more than 10 years as a soldier in Northern Ireland on constant active duty. I had been told by my colleagues that John was a jobsworth and something of a tosser and although his job was to give security advice for high-profile projects, he shouldn’t be consulted. I ignored them and decided to talk to him one day  about a system I was building for one of the country’s biggest banks. It was a pretty good design and there weren’t too many flaws that I could see but as soon as he saw it, he started asking questions that other people hadn’t thought of and prompted me to make a lot of changes for the better. He didn’t know about anything like as much about technology as the people I was surrounded by but he did have a much better appreciation of security in general and he knew what questions to ask and wasn’t afraid to ask them. Although he doesn’t know it, it was him who prompted me to get more military training to increase my skill set. I would say thanks but he’ll never  read this; I don’t think he knows how to use a web browser.

It’s become an odd industry. We are talking security here and security is meant to be quite important in the modern world. There are billions of pounds flying around the world at any given moment and as you see every time the government accidentally sells a few million people’s personal details at a carboot sale, there are people who actually worry about this sort of thing. Who is protecting all this money? Who’s looking after your personal  details? Generally speaking, it’s the people with the Wigan Poly degree I am afraid. They don’t have a clue what they are doing and in the rare cases where somebody who does have a clue gets to contribute, the babbling rabble who are shouting out “We can do it for you on a Linux box for 50p” will win the day anyway since it all ultimately comes down to money.

I am not going to start a security weblog. I am not sure there is much I could write that hasn’t already been butchered by the Wigan Polytechnic Press. I may still write about security things but I will just do them as normal rants.

Now you know.

The inglorious 12th.

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The pheasant situation is starting to become silly. For those of you lucky enough not to have heard me rant in person; we seem to have a whole colony of pheasants living in the garden. I have nothing against pheasants when they are timid little things that fly away when you approach them – In fact, I think pheasants are very pretty birds generally deserving of not being shot. These ones, on the other hand, are starting to get just a little too comfortable.

For a start, they scare the cats. My cats are not easily scared, they bring me rats, squirrels, small wolves… But the pheasants just completely ignore them, in fact a few days ago, I caught Poggin inside the house, looking out of the patio doors looking oddly uncomfortable. I followed her gaze and there was a huge fat pheasant standing face against the glass, staring back at her and me.  He didn’t go away; in fact when I later returned with a camera, I swear he posed.

The other problem is the noise! Pheasants are noisy little fuckers. As I am typing this, at the opposite side of a large house, all I can hear is that bloody bird squawking about something or other. I suspect the something or other is the fact I haven’t put food out for them. I shall go and check…

Um, no, apparently the squawking was actually squeaking, and it was Tink torturing a mouse. Now I have to deal with that too. I went out to try and record you pheasant noises but I got sidetracked taking pictures of the manhole full of poo.

Anyway, this post was just an excuse to procrastinate a little and to post some pheasant photos, so here you are:

Harassing Poggin 1

And if you want the rest, then click on the little “Read more” thingumy. continue reading…

I am not writing very much at the moment but as an additional aid to my procrastination I have decided to write a few weblog entries. In the public interest I should mention that they will mostly be nothing but self-indulgent, procrastination-fuelled intellectual-masturbation and I will warn you when I have passed this brief phase and return to my normal sardonic ranting. If it helps, I will flag them all with the tag “Masturbation” so you can safely ignore them.

Apropos nothing; today I smell of Cherry and Almond and as I was putting this gloop of a shampoo on my hair earlier I started to wonder what had happened to The Body Shop’s dewberry range. Back in the early 90’s, White Musk and Dewberry were the Body Shop’s two original smells and the country stank of them. I am fairly certain that this was the thing that introduced our obsession with smelling like berries but the original source seems to have vanished from our memory altogether.  Bring back dewberry! Just not quite as much as before. is quite a sweet article on Body Shop dewberries.

Note to self…

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Don’t read this! It’s a note to me not to you.

I just wanted somewhere to remind me about things I was going to write in the future. So here it is.

  • Yet another Global Warming grumble.
  • Judges and their concept of computer evidence.
  • Whether I should start a security weblog.
  • Michael on Containers.
  • An update on TV after my last posting on it.
  • The curious incident of the Mouse that died horribly
  • The top 10 ways I have nearly killed or maimed myself.
  • How to win the Widget game.
  • The top 10 reasons to leave this dump of a country.

That’s about it for now, but I will probably edit it. If you did ignore me and actually read this, then you do realise I will probably never write any of this don’t you?

Warning – This is in draft and is hard to read, I will add/remove some punctuation and proper connecting words later.

I don’t write much about me in here so people who don’t know me won’t have been following my year long war with my Landlords and their agents. It started with the landlords coming back from Canada for a visit and wanting to visit the house they have rented to me for 10 years (apparently I am a tourist attraction) and ended a couple of months ago with them having spent a fortune, made zillions of stupid legal mistakes and getting a possession order to get the property back a year after they started when they could have got one months earlier or, just asked me to leave.Part of the collateral of this little battle has been that the Landlord’s letting agents who are the people who look after the property and who were the people who messed up anyway and apparently seem more than happy to lie about it all in court; have stopped talking to me. They don’t acknowledge my mails, and I gave up actually trying to talk to them in person ages ago. This means that they don’t respond to any of my complaints about any of the problems with the house: the fact that power points seem to randomly blow up; the fact the roof lets in water (lots of it), the fact that the oil tank seems to have a dead goat in it (ok, so it’s probably a rat, but you get the idea); the fact that the windows have all started to fall out… They also don’t seem to care that the sewers are blocked – Not just blocked, but blocked badly. They have been like that for about 3 months but are getting worse to the point that the neighbours really must know by now, mostly because every time we flush the toilet, the whole street stinks and their gardens fill with the previous contents of our toilet.

I have told them I am not paying any rent until they fix it, since I will probably need the money for long term medical care for acute Cholera or something but of course, they always pretend never to have received my emails (they claimed this in court when they said I hadn’t sent them anything and couldn’t produce it in discovery – Somebody should probably fix their mail system!) – It doesn’t much matter to me anyway, I am out of here and to the land of Camels soon. I do pity the next tenants here though although supposedly the landlords are actually moving back from Canada to live here. Well I hope they enjoy their 1st job, cleaning out that hole. I suspect it would have been a lot easier for them if they’d done it when we first told them but then, I guess it’s a very good way to get somebody out of your house. Biological Warfare. The Way Forward!

Enjoy the video… I can’t get it to embed in this so apparently I just have to include a link to Youtube. Crappy bloody weblog software. All the cool kids have software that lets them include videos. Grrr. Anyway:

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oh one thing – Apparently the video narrative is wrong – The bath was emptied first and then after about 3 minutes, the toilet was flushed. It’s at that point in the video that things turn from unpleasant to fairly revolting. What you also don’t see is another drain behind me which is also blocked up, but not so much, and the downpipe from upstairs to that, which is starting to split and spill its contents everywhere on the way down.

As I said; Biological Warfare shouldn’t really be an option in tenancy disputes but seemingly, it is. The irony is that somehow, I am sure they will twist this so that it’s my fault and probably end up trying to sue me about it or something. They do like wasting their money in court.