The Information Superhighwayman

I am small and I don’t eat much…

Browsing Posts published by Michael

There is a worrying thing happening at the moment. People are giving money to Pirate Bay so that they can buy Sealand. If you don’t know what Sealand or Pirate Bay is, then have a look here:

The theory is that if Pirate Bay buys Sealand then a whole pile of operations varying from the mere dodgy to the sheer criminal can be run from there and nobody can touch them. So far they have raised $15,327 from donations. They state that if they can’t afford Sealand (I believe Sealand are looking at something in the region of half a billion dollars) they will buy another small island and declare independence.

Now I am a fan of Pirate Bay. If they want to give me a means of downloading episodes of Battlestar Galactica and Veronica Mars when I miss them on telly then I am all for this. If at the same time they are pissing off big companies that makes the whole thing even more fun. My problem isn’t with Pirate Bay, it is with the utter legal naivety and idioacy of these people. They seem to inhabit a world where they can own a nation state and commit illegal acts from it with no consequence. At the same time, there are wars going in in both Afganistan and Iraq against reghimes that supposedly committed illegal acts thinking they could do whatever they wanted.

Simply put; if they buy Sealand and start pissing off Sony or Murdoch, there is nothing stopping either of them getting a gunboat and blowing the thing out of the water for ever. They flaunt French Law? It’s not that hard a target for a single Exocet and those things sting! Why don’t they see this simple fact? They want to break the law and yet they want the law to protect them. Nobody out there is going to help them if someone decides they don’t like them; they are a large open target with “ABUSE ME BIG BOY” painted in neon on the side.

As I said, I rather like Pirate Bay and I’d prefer not to see it sunk for ever letting another pile of people with guns and money win. The legality of Sealand as an independent state is also very dodgy and even more so if it is sold. Nobody has ever taken that much time disputing it because previously it was just some random nutter waving a flag; as soon as they start to actually piss people off, methinks they will need a lot more than $15,327 to pay those legal fees. I have spent a good deal of my life and my money in court on issues like this over the years, it’s neither fun nor fruitful and the bastards nearly always win.

The other thing I find mildly amusing is the idiots who are giving them money. Fifteen years ago I wrote an article about the rot that sets in when things like this start asking for money – You can find it at if you are curious. What is going to happen with all this money? Will it just end up being wasted on buying a pile of rock somewhere? It’s all very odd. Still they are Pirates, maybe it is all an elaborate scheme to relieve naive tossers of their money. If so then I wish them the best of luck!

The Technophobe News

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The Technophobe News, the flagship magazine of The Technophobe Press is now open for business.

That is, it would be if the Editor, Printer, Binder, Distributor and only Author of this rather short lived journal wasn’t quite so terrified of his printer.

It happened yesterday. Previously the offices of The Technophobe Press were inhabited mostly by a comfortable old HP Laser Printer that had formerly been the property of BT and had been thrown away because it was obsolete. Obsolete is a word that the The Technophobe Press like. In our dictionary the entry for Obsolete reads:

ob-so-lete (adj): See Comfortable, Familiar and Useful.

The Technophobe Press were tempted yesterday by the offer of a supposedly obsolete colour laser printer. This offer sounded too good to be true, pretty colours would boost our readership no end and since this printer came with toners, it would save some load on the ageing HP. We were informed that it was large, we didn’t contemplate how large.

The first issue is that the offices of The Technophobe Press only have mortally sized doors. This is not a printer for mortals. The only place it would fit was in the porch so we had to clear away a whole pile of mouse eaten junk to create it a new home. At this point we were already in mild fear of it and wanted it to feel comfortable. A couple of hernias, some broken fingers and a lot of bruises later, The Printer was now settled and had power. Getting a network connection to the porch was a slightly more complicated matter involving moving a hub into there. When you have a hub in the porch, you know things are starting to get ridiculous. To make The Printer feel more at home, we introduced him to some locals, and tried to make him look as in place as possible.

The Printer

It was time for a test print. After pressing buttons randomlyfor a while, a noise like a small jet engine started to issue from the innards of this beast; it rattled somewhat in the way the Tardis used to rattle back in the days when Dr Who had more comfortable special effects and after a little whine, it started to shoot out sheets of paper faster than should be possible. They weren’t blank sheets of paper, they were all full of tecnical stuff that looked important. At this point, we started to get suspicious that we may have allowed a Trojan Printer into our midst.

After downloading new drivers, setting the IP address and things that are not too complicated, and permissable to us here, we sent a few colour photos to The Printer. The house shook, the Tardis spoke and the colour pictures appeared as if from nowhere. Somewhat curled up but none the less excellent quality. Something that would have taken about 5 minutes on a mere mortal printer.

Now firmly convinced that something was wrong, it was time to search the Interwebs for details of this beastie. The results were shocking. It can print 28 sheets a minute in full colour and just under 40 a minute in black and white. It can take just about any size of paper you throw at it, it can print it on both sides and it has four drums inside it so that it can simulateneously print all the colours at once in a single pass. As if that isn’t enough, it can print its 1st print in less than 10 seconds and can hold over 3,000 sheets of paper inside it.

The staff of The Technophobe Press are now in fear. The porch has become out of bounds because we are scared to breath on it lest one of those hundred zillion parts gets a slight warp and breaks everything inside there. If this happens, it may well cause chaos not just to the porch but to the Universe as a whole. We can see it, on the network staring at us, begging us to use it but so far, we are resisting temptation whilst we ponder our fundamental position on this matter. What if we start to get attached to it and one of the zillion irreplacable parts breaks? Who will look after it? And importantly… What does it eat?

Come to think of it… If it eats mice, it can stay for ever.

The offices of The Technophobe Press will keep you informed. Watch this space.

After long and careful study of the world in general I have finally identified a foolproof one step plan for fame, fortune, success, power and wealth beyond your wildest dreams.

I realise I could sell my success formula for an absolute fortune but frankly, that would be hard work and I can’t be arsed so, in this one time exclusive offer, I am prepared to offer my secret for free.

My secret is simple, all you have to do is to change your middle name to “the”.

Think of it – Throughout history anyone who has ever had the middle name “the” has been a great success and if you don’t believe me ask Ivan the Dread, Vlad the Impaler, Erik the Memorable, Magnus the Law-Mender, Conan the Barbarian and his chum Conan the Crooked, William the Conquerer, Edward the Confessor, Henry the Rich, Ulrich the Beloved, Pliny the Elder, Pitt the Younger, Martin the Humane, Ernest the Iron, Robert the Magnificent, Lorenzo the Magnificent, John the Perfect Prince, Canute the Great, Fulk the Surly, Aethelred the Unready, Albert the Great or Canute the Great.

Aint it great? I am right… You know I am right so there. Just remember when you are rich and famous it was all my doing and send me some cash. Thank you.

The High Council of Master Bloggers and Online Mass Debating rejected my essay on the basis that it didn’t say what they expected to hear from a Master Blogger. Apparently, my point of view was completely at odds with the rest of the Mass Debating Society’s.

On the other hand, I pointed out that since I owned their website, they should reconsider and as such, I have been reinstated with full honours. I may now consider myself a Master Blogger and do my worst.


So… To get my Master Blogger status back, I have been ordered to write some garbage on privacy, on-line security and freedom of speech. I am not really in the mood to make this a well written essay but this is for a weblog so it hardly needs to be Pulitzer material. I may rewrite it one day to make it read better.

I am a big fan of freedom, the right not to be watched 24 hours a day and the right to say pretty much what I want without being locked up for it. This is the reason I am leaving the UK; if you Americans think you have it bad then think again and look what is happening here too. I also think that I know something about on-line security and “Big Brother Monitoring”. I know this because I used to do it.

The problem with all of this is that I am somewhat divided in what I actually believe.

Generally speaking, I couldn’t care less personally about “The State” watching my Internet usage. I don’t do anything interesting enough for them to have any interest in me. Last week I looked up how they went from Nitro-Glycerine to Dynamite and I really didn’t see the need to hide my address when I did so, a few days later I ordered a new shemagh from a large Islamic web site. I think if anyone was monitoring my IRC usage they’d know I was fundamentally opposed to the hanging of Saddam and I have been chatting a lot lately about various socially subversive things that in Orwell’s 1984 would have had my testicles wired up to a flashbulb. The thing is, I am one of 60 odd million people in the UK and the amount of computing power to pick me out and profile me from this sort of usage is far too large for me to assume they are using it. The profile would also be quite wrong, I am not a terrist, I am a dissenter so I have to assume there is some sense there that would make the distinction. There are not enough people employed by the security services for them not to have. Ultimately this whole digital monitoring has to come down to them putting feet on the streets and actually physically watching the people they profile and with the money that our security services pay, this just aint going to happen.

I think it is pretty reasonable for me to make this assumption. As I said I used to design monitoring and profiling systems to watch people doing the things that they did. I worked for one of the biggest military contractors in the world putting in systems to watch the staff. Did we do this because we were convinced that they were selling secrets? Sabotaging systems? Moving satellites with laser death rays off course to blow up Greenwich Observatory? Nope – We did it because the police caught an employee running a kiddie porn operation from company machines and we found ourselves under a duty to do something about it. When we had all the monitoring in place, it’s not like we even did much with it, there were occasional keyword scans and weird activity matches but generally speaking they picked up nothing and there was never even a hint of the higher management or the government being interested in looking at the records we kept. Usually I would be cynical and say “Well the government could just be looking at the traffic elsewhere” but in this case, they couldn’t, the paths were all on hellishly encrypted satellite links; it wasn’t going to happen.

At another company I worked for, we decided to run some test scenarios with the police to see how quickly we could catch somebody if a nasty situation happened. A rather well meaning but somewhat naive member of senior staff there refused to let us put monitoring on their dial up systems which would have made life a little easier for us. All we did was to shift the monitoring systems upstream to the exchange, where he had no access to stop us monitoring whatever we wanted. The upshot of this was that the systems people who actually cared about the rights of users lost control of the monitoring that happened and was going to happen anyway. There is a certain futility in non-co-operation at this level, there are plenty of ways to skin the proverbial cat.

Way back in the early 90’s I was working on the Mitnick case and spotted that he was monitoring everything I did on-line. Every email, every private chat, all my IRC usage, all my secret passwords to other machines. The lot. I had to take a choice as to whether to let him know I had spotted it or to just carry on and watch him, watching me so he could be kept somewhere monitorable that he assumed we didn’t know about. It was an interesting decision and I looked into my past to help me make this choice. I had spent years watching other people; reading all their mails, watching their extra-marital affairs, their various mildly illicit activities and their crap attempts to get various people into bed. For the first month or so, I admit, it was kind of interesting and odd, realising you know things about people they have no idea you know but then, after a while, it stops being a soap opera and starts becoming rather tedious. You start to realise that most people do and say the same things and have the same sort of lives – Most people have secrets that they think are devastatingly personal but most people don’t see in very real terms that just about everybody else has the same secrets. I would hope that if someone is in the position to watch people in his way officially they’d also be the sort of person good at keeping secrets so this knowledge brings no advantages either, if anything, quite the opposite since it makes it a lot harder to talk to some people you know far too much about. Based on this experience, I decided I would have no real issues with letting a Sociopathic Hacker and all the other people who got to read the logs later watch everything I did; I would probably bore him to death well before he would ever find anything useful he could use. It got to the point where after a few weeks I just ignored his watching me altogether. He did at one point try to use some stuff against me but it didn’t do him much good. I never quite forgot I was being watched to the point of giving away anything useful and as I have said before, although some stuff I do on-line may at the time seem really personal, in the grand scheme of the world, it’s not.

Maybe this is the reason I am confused about all the modern obsession with normally sane people wanting all sorts of levels of military grade encryption on the messenger they use to chat to their mum or friends. Although most people will never believe me, very few people really do much on-line that hasn’t been seen a zillion times before. The perceived subversion isn’t really very subversive at all. Having an affair, buying a few grammes of cocaine, chatting with your mate about the latest insurance fraud you are committing; none of it is very interesting, people do it every day and the police aren’t the people who are monitoring your Internets. The Security Services have a lot more things to do than to be interested in general crime and they don’t pass much on to the police unless it is in the National Interest. There are a couple of things to remember, one is that if the police suddenly started to have access to all this extra criminal intelligence they’d have to build hundreds of new prisons and quadruple the size of the force, another is that they’d have to provide an evidence trail in court, and it is very hard to create valid evidence trails from monitored data, trust me, I have spent years trying. There’s also the problem that they may well have to admit to being able to gather intelligence in ways that people don’t know about. Think back to World War 2 and all the things that were allowed to happen just to cover up the fact that the Security Services had broken Enigma, nothing much has changed.

People are watching your Internet usage, I am not arguing that but I will argue that 99.999% of the population have nothing much to worry about from the people who are doing it. The threats on the Internet are not from “The State” they are from organised crime rings and people who prey on the stupidity of people in general. No amount of encryption and things will stop this in fact, the perception that you are safe because of it tends to make people let down their guard and be more and more open to slipping up. If governments want to monitor you, they will, and you won’t be able to do much about it at all. I have watched hundreds of naive people talking about how secure they were and it’s amazing that the more secure people think they are, the easier they tend to be to get evidence on.

I am losing the will to live now, so I will end this here and maybe tidy this up. I don’t think it is quite what the question asked, but then, I don’t care.

I had to pop to Canada later that day so the time had come to deal with Neil, who was hanging in the back of my Land Rover making the place a little stinky.

Here he is, and what a fine chap he still is if you ignore the fact he is a little floppy and skanky.

Neil looking a bit skanky

On a closer examination of our patient, it appeared that the injury he had sustained by being hit at high speed by a car had caused some of his spine and various other shattered bones to peirce his skin and make him a little delicate as far as his body went. It didn’t look like plucking him with the skin intact would be that easy but none the less, I tried.

Hard to pluck

Ok, as you see, it wasn’t a great success. It looked like in this case, the best bet would be to get as many feathers off him and basically gut him and fillet him there and then. He doesn’t need his wings any more though.

Don't fly away Neil

With most of the feathers off, it was time to dismember the poor chap and make a start on that rather damaged body. They don’t make it easy.


Ok, now the messy bit – You may want to close your eyes for this bit is you are squeamish. Luckily, you can’t smell it, though in fairness to him he wasn’t too bad.

Inside Neil

Finally… As they say on Blue Peter, here’s what your Neil should look like in the end.

Readypack Neil

And of course there are some leftovers, but they are quite cute really.



I am sure we will see more of Neil later, but for now I have a flight to catch. Bon Voyage! Oh, whilst I am gone, remember to practice the Pheasant Plucking rhyme:

I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son and I’m only plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucker comes.

I have meat and potato pie, with mushy peas covered in Worchester Sauce and Squirty Laughing Cow Cheese… Haute Cuisine don’t get much lower than this!

Oh dear, the mouldy bits don’t taste too good. I think the pie was old.

Meanwhile I thought somebody had stolen Neil this morning but he’d just slipped his noose and fallen to the floor of the Land Rover he is hanging in. Tomorrow I think, poor Neil will be stripped of his dignity and trussed. Poor thing!

Tesco Finest Moussaka

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I am starting to agree with Robin (the chappie who reduces food at my local Sainsburys) that the major difference between Tesco and Sainsburys normal foods and their Finest, or Taste The Difference ones is that the more expensive ones simply have less salt in them.

With half a tonne of salt added to it, Tesco Finest Moussaka may well start to taste of something – Unfortunately without it, it doesn’t. It’s as simple as that really. It’s a shame though; I was looking forward to it. Grumble.

Ah ha! Look what I found on the way home this morning. I have called him Neil. Isn’t he pretty.

Neil Roadkill Dinner

I guess I will have to hang him for a few days and then decide what to do with him. Where is a copy of Hugh’s Meat Book when I need one!


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I have just had a message from the High Council of Master Bloggers and Online Mass Debating and I have been stripped of my title pending requalification. I was still in my probationary period and missing a day without prior notification broke the terms of this.

The High Council are not without heart, however, and have sent me a short exam. If I complete this and pass, I will recover my title and all that it entails.

I shall repeat the questions here, whilst I ponder on which one to do:

1) You must find a fully qualified Master Blogger to act as a mentor and have them send you an approved personality test. These comprise a series of questions such as “What is your favourite colour?”, “How well do you think you know me?” or “If I asked you, would you suck my toes even though I had athlete’s foot?” Firstly, these questions will require short and honest answers from you and secondly you must send your completed test to all of your friends and colleagues and get them to fill in the test and return it. The results of this personality survey must be posted in your Blog for all to see and comment on.

2) You must express an opinion on online security and freedom of speech as it effects you, the Master Blogger. You will be expected to talk at length about your right to complete privacy as you share your life with the world and how encryption on your IMs will protect you from the authorities. You will be expected to show the technical know how in how to do this, and explain the methods to other people. Finally, you should write a short political endpiece on how 1984 is upon us and how the governments of the world are more and more interested on spying on their own people and how your rights to free speech are being eroded more and more every day. The essay should end on a positive note about how you, as a Master Blogger are armed with the Internet Toolset to “Stick it to the Man” and a pledge to do so.

3) For this question you are required to search the journals of a number of other Master Bloggers and to pick out a number of pertinent online tests which you will then answer and place in your journal. Although this question may sound like an easy option, you will be judged mostly on the relevance of the tests to the style of your Blog. For example: If your Blog is an Emo Gothic affair concerned mostly with how terrible your life is then there is very little place for a test that shows that if you were a fruit you would be a Banana. On the other hand, a Blog concerned mostly with the latest in Slash Fiction may very well benefit from the addition of a “What Lord of the Rings Character are you?” test. To obtain full credits in this question you should also comment on the journals where you found the tests, discussing your score there as well as in your own Blog.

I have three weeks in which to complete one of these questions so I shall give it some thought. For obvious reasons I am rather drawn towards number 2.