The Information Superhighwayman

I am small and I don’t eat much…

Browsing Posts published by Michael

Battle Of The Bathroom.

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As some of you may know, I have been having a bit of a problem with Mark Wahlberg lately. He has managed to get into my house and he is scuttling around and hiding out in the bathroom. Normally, I wouldn’t really mind but I am not sure why he is here, and it’s a little disconcerting seeing him scuttle off, just on the edge of vision every time you get close to finding him. I can feel those little beady Wahlberg eyes staring at me as I sit on the loo reading, and even as I sit here, typing this entry.

I have made up a sign, so that he knows that I am onto him, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. He’s still here.

Marky Poster

There is nothing on the Internets about ridding your house of Mark Wahlberg so I am having to somewhat play this by ear. I am not sure what his natural predators are but I know that Bill Hicks is one. Unfortunately he is dead but then I realised I could just disguise somebody else as Bill Hicks and that may well scare him off. Whilst I am at it, I may as well bring in some more troops, so I got together Mark Harmon, Chuck Norris and MacGyver to command an army. Of course, I have to find them an army, but I have something in mind… I shall make them an army of Jungle Animals and Monkeys!

I present to you… My General Staff.

General Staff

And, their army:

The Army

Tonight they will seek out Mark Whalberg and remove him from my house. I am afraid I cannot post any more details, I have been sworn to secrecy. This is, after all… War!

I seem to be on a bit of an anti-Google thing at the moment, a lot of this is because of what I consider to be their somewhat questionable attitudes towards their employees. It’s odd to see how similar they are becoming to The Church of Scientology these days and as a little experiment, I decided to chat to a Googleologist I hadn’t talked to for ages (names changed, to protect the brainwashed). Here’s how it went:

Michael: How are things?
Thetan: tiring
Michael: Whyso
Thetan: work
Michael: Aaah, evil Google.
Michael: Or have you left.
Thetan: no.
Michael: Escape! Escape!
Thetan: why would I want to do that?
Thetan: the money is great, the company is good, we’re doing good stuff, we have hte biggest supercomputer in the world, the most brilliant engineers, and we’re not making weapons or being a drug company
Michael: Ah well differences of opinion about google aside, good to see you ok 🙂
Thetan: well, if you think that google’s anything other than an ad company with a sideline in search, you’re more of an idiot than I thought you were
Michael: I remember why I stopped talking to you now… You make your own world view and stick it on someone without any regard to asking someone what their real opinion is.
Michael: ah well, tara.
Thetan: whatever
Thetan: actually you stopped talking to me because I stopped replying
Thetan: hth
Thetan: hand
Michael: Erm, as I said own world view, you were the last person to speak in the previous scrollback.
Thetan has signed off.

Now I am not reading this wrong, am I? Did I ever say I thought Google was an advertising company with a sideline in search engines? Did I even criticise Google except in a slightly jokey way? I don’t think I did and this person wasn’t aware of my previous weblog writings against Google. I actually like Google search engine, it’s great when Firefox along with Noscript and Customizegoogle remove all the crap from it. My objection to Google is that that everything apart from their search engine is just mediocre garbage which simply by existing seems to stifle other things. In fact, it’s much the same objection that most people who turn into Googleologists probably used to have about other companies before they started their regular Auditing.

This is the just part of the problem. To them, there can be no criticism of Google; ever! If you dare to do so, you will be told what an idiot you are. They also ignore everything you said and make up their own reasons you have problems with Google, reasons that are easy to prove wrong. See, look above, it happened just as predicted it would and that wasn’t a setup, I think I was being perfectly friendly there.

Their employment system is interesting. They make any new employee feel like they are the most important person ever and that they personally were specially selected from everybody in the world because they were the best there is anywhere for the job that they do. Then they keep them pretty much detached from the outside world; mostly by working them every hour of the day. They don’t force them to do it but they are on a campus, so they can’t really socialise outside Google and being the most important person there, they can hardly relax, or they may upset their peers and managers. The company has its own internal language, its own ranking structures, its own inter-group rivalry and its own internal impression that the Google way is the only way and anyone who opposes that is just an idiot. Sometimes when I have to talk to one of them, I start to wonder if there is a specially converted large ship travelling around to house the Google Sea Org. (*)

The fact that they pay them so much means it loses some points on the “How to identify a cult” chart but as people may well point out, it’s not like they have much chance to enjoy their money.

Anyway, it amused me and another friend of mine has just been approached by Google. I will just hope they see sense before they are assimilated. Oh and in case you think there is some case of sour grapes here, I have been approached by Google for a job – In fact, I think I would have been the log-person’s bosses bosses boss or something and would’ve been paid shedloads of money for the pleasure. I didn’t take the job as you probably guessed.

Over the last few months an increasing number of people have told me to go to Google Maps and to plan a route from somewhere in England to somewhere in the US. What happens, is that within the detailed directions given by Google you are told to swim 3,400 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. This is funny. Google have spoken.

For various reasons, it annoyed me at the time but I behaved and kept myself quiet. Unfortunatey, as usual, the trigger for me ranting was a story about it appearing on my Wireless today.

The point is that Google Maps tries to put itself across as a serious route planning system. I assume the “Swim across the Atlantic” thing was either genuinely put in by some wit of a programmer (yes, I did restrain myself from adding a prefix to a word in that sentence) or more likely, it was designed by the Church of Googleology’s Viral Marketing Team to appear that way so that people would talk about it.

Ok, well let’s play this game and have a look at it, shall we? I will go to and I will select “Get Directions”. I think today I will go from “Cambridge, UK” to “Maryland, US” (I want a cookie, ok?). It tells me that I will have to drive 4,211 miles (about 29 days 13 hours).

The route is roughly: Cambridge to Folkestone, then on a train ferry to Calais (France). From there I do some weird little circular tour of Northern France before reaching Google’s humourous:

Swim across the Atlantic Ocean (3,462 mi) Entering United States (Massachusetts)

Ok, assuming I do that – I get into the US in Boston and then wriggle south by road until I get to Maryland.

… Where do I start? Ok, well how about the initial part of the route – Assuming I am going to make a long swim, I would prefer to head from Cambridge, south-west across the country to Northern Cornwall and then start swimming. What’s all this nonesense with taking me into France, and then putting my swim start 150 miles east of where I want to be? And why did it let me take a ferry into France, but not take a boat over the Atlantic to the US?

Assuming I am going to do the swim, then why does it detour me north to Boston when I may as well swim directly into Delaware and then take a nice little hop by land to my Maryland Cookie shop?

There is also the rather obvious point that nobody has ever done a 3,400 mile plus swim across the Atlantic and even if they were going to, it would be rather impractical. I can hear people muttering “You are taking this too seriously” and you are right, I am but see… There are other routes that are actually possible, and Google Maps hasn’t showed them to me; they’d rather have a silly little viral marketing opportunity than have the program give out a correct result.

Back to Google maps, let’s plan a route from “Cambridge, UK” to “Anchorage, AK” (Alaska). Same old wriggle into France, same old swim to Boston and a long land journey across the US and Canada, into Alaska and to Anchorage. 8,335 miles in all. That’s just plain odd.

Ok, how about “Cambridge, UK” to somewhere in Russia? Google Maps isn’t very hot on Russia so we may as well just go for Moscow. Now look! A change of tack here and it is looking a little more promising. Once more we get a ferry into France (I’d have taken the tunnel, but I won’t argue on this small point but it does mean that in theory, it is a walkable route). The route then takes us through Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus and finally into Russia. We then stroll merrily by land into Moscow for a well earned Vodka and Pierogi lunch. Who needs cookies!

So sit with me a while, sipping our vodkas and let’s have a look at a map of the world. Take a look at that huge great bloody land-mass to the east of Moscow. The land-mass that goes all the way to the Bering Straight, a 90km stretch of water that separates the far east point of Russia from the far west point of the United States. If your atlas is good it may mention that the 90km stretch is quite often frozen so you could actually walk over it. In fact in 2006, a couple of people did ( link ). Even if there is no walking path, a 90km swim is going to be a lot easier than a 5,630km swim, in the sense that it would actually be possible. If you are actually interested then this page has lots of advice on making the crossing. I found the page using Google Search, it was pretty much at the top of the list.

See my point here now? You can get from Cambridge, England to Maryland, USA on foot. Every stretch has been done but Google Maps would rather trade accuracy and quality of information for a cheap viral marketing gag.

Obviously, the Church of Googleology believe in a flat earth and so it is decreed, will users of Google Maps.

I have some advice – I don’t give advice very often, but this one is important, so listen up.

When I was younger, I had a near perfect memory. I could remember 62 character random passwords fairly easily, I could remember passwords from years earlier and having a head filled with god knows how many passphrases seemed to be a fairly normal thing. I didn’t forget them, I didn’t need to keep a note of them.

Then I got ancient, and senile.

I found today that I can’t remember passphrases I set 10 years ago even though oddly, I can still remember passwords I had 25 years ago. The problem is that sometimes I need passwords I set 10 years ago. It’s not that I completely forgot them, I remember it is a passphrase about a sheep and a thunderstorm and I remember some of the words, but I can’t remember the capitalisation nor the punctuation, nor even really the word order. It’s useless, I doubt I will ever actually get it. I also have endless boxes of tape archive that when I contemplate it, I know I don’t actually know the passwords to any more (even if I can find the software).

The point is, I never thought I would forget them so I never thought of making a note of them.

So my advice? Despite everything that grown ups will tell you, and despite everything I tend to teach normally, start making a note of your passwords. Keep them in a heavily protected storage device, and use a passphrase that you will certainly remember and use it every few days to make sure you do remember it. Make it a good one, and you’ll be fine.

Whilst you are keeping the passwords, you may as well keep copies of the software that will allow you to use the encrypted thing, the backup program you used, the weird mailer, the weird key storage utility or ssh program. In 20 or 30 years when you want to read your old mail, you may be glad of it.

Pop to – Install that and make yourself a disk that you can keep all this stuff on, without having to worry about extra security. Hell on an encrypted disk you can even store your passwords in plain text in a text file. Keep a backup copy of that password file on another encrypted disk and tell a close friend the password to it – Don’t give them the disk but ask them to keep the password safe, this’ll cover you in the event of complete senility too as long as you remember how to use a computer. That’s all, nothing complicated, just do it, and you will thank me one day.

Now, with all that said and done – If anyone remembers the sodding password to my PGP keys, and what on earth those sheep were doing in that thunderstorm, can they please tell me? Quickly? Before I go even more mad?

Little Lost Sheep.

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Sharon came up with one of the most concise summaries of LOST I have ever heard, today:

<Pluteau> Shaun the Sheep is great!
<Pluteau> we’ve recently started watching it
<Pluteau> big fans now
<Pluteau> Shaun rules
> Well I want the episode where Shaun gets stuck on an island, after a plane crash…
<Pluteau> yeahyeah, he’ll go into the jungle, see a polar bear, get locked in
a cage, find a girl-sheep, try to escape on a submarine, realise he’s
actually dead, then forget any of this happened and go into some random story
about his parents
> Actually, Sharon, that may be one of the most concise summaries of LOST I have ever heard though, well done.
<Pluteau> thank you

And on a complete sidenote – I was reading a little about Fingerbobs today and discovered this little gem I knew nothing of:

“At the end of the series Jones [who played Yoffy] was so sick of making the show that he destroyed the finger puppets while the camera was still rolling.”


What a nice chap.

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I finally got around to dragging all of the photos from my mobile phone last night, and found this little shot that I took in a tacky tourist shop in Berlin.


Can I just say… amazing! But then I guess every Revolutionary needs their own lip-balm.

I am not a fan of Ernesto so I don’t think I will be wearing his lip balm. The only thing that amuses me is that it is being sold in what was formerly East Berlin, and his various dodgy causes won’t benifit even slightly by any sales of this, nor do they from the wonderfully Capitalist use of his image on just about anything that will take it.

I don’t like regurgitation in weblogs, so I will simply paste a couple of links:


Actually, thinking about it – I may be wrong. Ernesto Guevara may well have been quite the fan of the capital of Capitalism that is modern America; they are, after all, both huge fans of concentration camps in Cuba.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
We’ll watch them carefully, inside our golden doors.
And should they stray, or think aloud,
Thoughts deemed extreme, rebellious or untrue.
So onto Cuba, they will go.
To keep this young land, pure and clean.

(Apologies Ms. Lazarus for not keeping it as a Sonnet)

I found this picture on the net last night, whilst on a hunt for pornography. It has made my head hurt ever since.


They are not the same colour! They can’t be… They look nothing like one another. I figured it was one of those cons that makes you waste hours checking. Ok, so I admit, I checked and cut the squares out and popped them side by side in Microsoft Digital Image Editor.


It’s not fair! There must be something wrong with my picture editing software – That is the only explanation.

Just to further confuse me, when I tried to convince Giolla that this was just the Internet and Microsoft, trying to mess with my head, he sent me another – In this one, the central cross colours are meant to be identical…


Sure enough, as proof positive that it is my graphics program and not my brain that is fucked, this is what it came out with:


See, don’t trust computers, they are all in collusion and mess with your head and eyes. Well they won’t send ME mad. I am wise to you all, do you hear? DON’T MESS WITH MY BRAIN!

The Penis Mightier

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I received the best email in the world yesterday. It was even better than the Mr Chicken email which I lost years ago. This may require a short introduction to give you some context.

I casually collect fountain pens; it’s not a serious collection and I don’t collect old ones. Mostly I just like to try and find ones that I like and am happy using and that’s not an easy task. There is a chap in China called Alan Koo who is a much more serious collector, and seller than I am. He collects and sells all the original, fakes and cloned pens that the Chinese made over the last 50 or so years and his stuff is good and cheap. He sends a newsletter out every couple of weeks, and this email message was one of these.

So, for your delight:

Date: 18th April 2007
From: Alan Koo
Subj: Inside the Mind of a Korean Killer

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Between his first and second bursts of gunfire,
the Virginia Tech gunman mailed a package to NBC News containing
what authorities said were images of him brandishing weapons and a
video of him delivering a diatribe about getting even with rich

Colleges nationwide are reassessing how to alert students during
emergencies, with hundreds of schools seeking advice from campus
safety experts Tuesday, the day after the Virginia Tech shootings.
Private security firms also fielded scores of calls.

Students at Virginia Tech were informed of the violence via a mass
e-mail about two hours after the first shooting, and about 20 minutes
before the second.

Security experts Tuesday urged universities to use a variety of
techniques to reach students. Many already deploy website postings,
voicemail, public address systems, phone trees or even bullhorns.
Some, such as USC, are considering text messages and podcasts.

What happen to the student of these days, willing to buy a gun and
unwilling to spend on a fountain pen. Maybe future fountain pens
can be designed in this way to serve their killer instinct, see

Alan Koo (Dr. China)
Your China Pen King

Unfortunately, the link doesn’t work – If I find the pen he means, I will update it.

Tiff of the Worlds.

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Something odd has been happening this last few years and even by talking about it, I am in danger of accidentally walking across the front of a religious war.

In computing terms, I probably class as somewhat experienced. Back when I used to do computer things, I used to systems manage whole countries and in my time, I have managed networks with hundreds of thousands of machines on them of all different types. I was almost certainly one of the first systems manager in Europe to be perfectly happy managing VMS and Unix Systems on the same network with no preference to which were there – If I wasn’t the first, then I was certainly the only one who would ever admit it and talk about it at the DECUS conferences.

In terms of systems management, PRIMOS was my first, on a 2250 in the early 80’s, and Unix my second, on GEC 63/30’s in the later part of the 80’s. By the early 90’s I had started managing bigger VAXes and in 1992/93, I started doing DECUS presentations on managing VMS and Unix on the same network. After that I had started writing more on managing large networks as it was becoming commonplace for the old single-flavour networks to be picking up VMS, Unix and various PC Network Operating Systems. At British Rail in 1994 I don’t think I could even count the number of systems and lightly connected networks there were all over the country. In the last few years Unix has got a new lease of life with BSD and Linux going open-source, Sun pushing more and more into various places and now even Apple getting in on the bandwagon. I haven’t really kept up but Unix is Unix is Unix.

I run Windows on all my machines at home. Well that’s not strictly true, I run Ubuntu Linux on my nameserver, but pretty much everything else is on Windows. This seems to shock people and I don’t understand why. Because I have experience with all these other systems there seems to be an assumption that I would run some sort of Unix clone on my PC but I don’t understand why; especially since I learned to hate the thing before most of the people who assume this were born.

So now… For my convenience and so that I don’t have to explain myself once a month, I will write it in here.

Yes. I use Windows (currently XP, I am sure I will go to Vista one day when enough people have told me that it is any good) at home. Yes, I rather like Windows even if I do think the logo has an obvious Swastika in it. On the whole, it does what I want it to do and it does it fairly smoothly and easily. I admit, I have to fiddle. I admit, I swear at it a lot, I admit, I get pissed off with it and blame it all on Bill Gates and yes, sometimes I despise every atom of Windows’ being. It’s not perfect, but for a desktop system it’s the best I have found and for the vast majority of people reading this, I have used a lot more than you to make that comparison. When I want software I can usually find something free that will do what I want; if not I can usually download a trial version that will do it anyway. Stuff I buy in shops (or at carboot sales) usually comes with a Windows Driver on a CD and plug and play no longer seems to be “Plug and Pray” as long as you have decent USB hubs.

I have a whole room full of VAXes, SGI machines, Suns and other odd machines. The operating systems these things run were good for what they did, but I really have no urge to fight with them any more. I am happy to let Windows win. I miss not having a simple command line interface sometimes but then again I have add-ons to Windows that let me do a lot of that now. I have tried to use Apple machines but honestly, I just can’t bring myself to feel “Holier than Thou” enough to be an effective Apple User, my Sanctimony Quotient and available money are too low for me to be an Apple User.

I have tried most of the mainstream BSDs and Linuxes; they annoy me. They are all subtly different and most of them won’t install on most of the (not very complicated) hardware I have. The fact they all seem to want to put the configuration files in different places and in different formats is really irritating. I installed Ubuntu Linux on my nameserver to replace FreeBSD (which as Unixes went, was the most consistent of the new ones) when FreeBSD failed miserably to install on the new machine. Ubuntu worked out of the box and was easy to install and run but I got locked out of the machine for 6 months once because of some ridiculous crapness on its part, and eventually had to reinstall when I needed to upgrade something. It works now, as long as I leave it alone but I really don’t like using it, even with the windows looking user interface it feels like stepping back 10 years.

Just so we are clear here – I am talking about Desktop machines, not servers. Servers I tend to login to once every few months for no more than a few minutes, hopefully. If I can avoid that and have them managed automagically, then even better. I don’t give a toss what operating system a server runs as long as it is the best one for the job and it does it quickly, securely and effectively. I don’t understand why Unix seems to have come out as the modern multi-user server OS. A few years ago, Unix was something that was there to quickly hack something up on, it was quick and dirty but effective. It was a Swiss Army knife as opposed to a Metric only Snap-On Socket Set. For serious stuff, Unix wasn’t much use, everything about it was too general purpose and hacky and all the bigger operating systems had their own specialisms and did their own thing much better. For the last 10 or 15 years a large amount of very clever people have been sucked into trying to make this hacky little operating system something it isn’t; adding more and more functions to the blades on the Swiss Army knife without realising that they are weakening the whole thing beyond belief. They aren’t doing any original research here, I heard them announce clustering a while ago, something which you really can’t beat VMS for. How about virtual machines. IBM anyone? It seems to be that every single little application on a modern Unix webserver needs to have SQL installed but if someone had worked out a decent Record Management System by now, there would be no need for a web counter to suddenly need 2 sources of data management. Don’t get me wrong here, Windows isn’t the thing for this, Windows is a good Desktop System and even though NT was developed from VMS, I have never been at all impressed it as a server. Just think though – If all of these young programmers who have wasted 10 or more years of their lives and seem set to waste another 20 had all collaborated on a project to develop a new operating system where could we be now? The networking, filing system and security of VMS, the virtual machine capabilities of CP, the security models of TOPS and PRIMOS, the Database capabilities of the AS/400 – need I go on? Think of all the things they COULD have done, instead of wasting their time with a pissy little operating system that wasn’t even much good for anything when it came out. Think of it in terms of Microsoft taking DOS, adding a windowing system to make it into Windows 2, adding some networking and multitasking to make it Windows 3.11 and then stopping pretty much there and doing nothing else to it.

Rewriting Minix (an old and obsolete small Unix system) was something that everybody who studied Operating System Design did, that’s what it was for. It was lovely as a teaching tool but about as far from rocket science as you can get in computing terms. When a Finnish chap called Linus Torvalds developed and released something called Linux as a result of one of these rewrites it seems that nobody told him he should be locked up in Luddite Prison for crimes against the development of new technologies. Torvalds and his cronies have naively and unwittingly put us back years in terms of development, especially when they all started taking the ever important commercial dollar. It is an easy and cheap path to fame to work on making somebody else’s wheel a little bit better and a little bit more round but never forget, even though it looks somewhat more hexagonal now than the square it once was, it’s the same old wheel. It’s a dangerous game criticising the historical development of Linux; its many rabid fans often make Scientologists look open-minded. As soon as you say something like “What’s the big deal? All he did was to do what everybody else was doing in school at the time.” you are instantly open to responses like “Yea, you are just bitter because you didn’t think of doing it.” – On my part, no, I didn’t think of doing it. I never for a moment believed that in the 21st century, people would still be using Unix and it would still look pretty much the same. There are people today struggling with Unix clones who have no idea of the wonderful things that older operating systems had in them that have now all but been forgotten. Oh Brave New World which has such obsolete shit stuck in it. All you clever kids, stop tinkering with somebody else’s rusty old steam engines and get out there and build us some fucking space ships!

To close, and at further risk of mixing even more metaphors and upsetting all the loonies, religious zealots and narrow minded know it alls; I am quite happy to be Windows user. No amount of nagging me is going to change my view on this and I can’t foresee anything else coming along that will budge me from this path until attitudes and religious beliefs change. For my usage, it is the currently best desktop operating system there is and until those days come, I am sticking with it, through bad and good.

Lock up your Negros

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Once more in this fine and free country of ours, the Lords are debating the passing of the new Mental Health Bill. Sensibly they have thrown it out every time it has been before them but Parliament keep throwing it back. This Bill will allow people with various forms of mental illness to be detained, indefinitely, whether they have committed any crimes or not. Ministers say this will protect the public from these nutters.

This bill seems mostly to be backed by the families of some people who have been killed by psychopaths and other people who would be covered by this act. They stand there on the TV saying how good it will be but deep beneath this emotional tinsel these people are still asking for people who have committed no serious crime (and likely as not never will) to be able to be locked up until they are dead.

I wonder what would happen if this were a couple of hundred years ago – Would they be on the Clockwork TV network saying “My son was eaten by a big black man, these people are dangerous and should be locked away in case they eat somebody else’s children too!”

There is a side issue here that a high percentage of judges and politicians are psychopaths anyway, more so in fact than are black. Maybe the politicians are just trying to remove the competition?