New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, February 28

Music: Mouth magic

Reggie Watts: Lost in the Options from Jakob Lodwick on Vimeo.

Sigh. Just fab. Scientist and King Tubby live on ...

HT: Andy Sullivan

Thursday, February 26


Ok not revenge. Justice. Maddow nailing Pelosi (ahem) on how the Dems will prosecute the Bush admin's crimes. And she does. Go Rachel!

Get a grip people!

I'm with this guy. Comedian Louis CK on Conan.

"Everything is amazing, nobody is happy... "

Wednesday, February 25

Sir Ben Goldacre

As seen on Newsnight (thanks Rory!) destroying Greenfield and Sigman over 'Facebook causes cancer'.

Goldacre's considered post-Newsnight response

To quote Ben quoting Vaughan:

You know that awkward feeling you get when you stop laughing because you realise the person you're talking to isn't actually joking?
Er, yes. Single jabs vs MMR?

Dr Aric Sigman looks respectable but is in reality a scary idiot. Goldacre looks the opposite but is entirely respectable.

Gawd help us when we can't tell the difference.

Tuesday, February 24

Novotel bulldoze rainforest

In the Malaysian rainforest at the moment, recession et al, Novotel are building a hotel. And they are building it at the expense of the local indigenous peoples.

The Malaysian Interhill Group in collaboration with the French ACCOR Group are the corporations working on what's called the Novotel Interhill Kuching project. Interhill has a track record of destroying tropical rainforests in Sarawak and violating the native customary rights of the local indigenous communities.

The Penan of the middle Baram region, in particular, are accusing Interhill of using gangsters to intimidate them and to break their resistance to the depletion of their natural resources.

Blockades have been set up by the Penan of Sarawak (Borneo, East Malaysia) since the late 1980s as a means of protesting against the logging of their rainforests and as a tool for negotiating with logging companies and government officials.

For twenty years, the Malaysian Interhill logging company has been destroying the Penan's rainforest in Borneo and thus threatening the habitat and culture of these indigenous people. The French ACCOR Group is now helping Interhill to further boost the profits obtained from destroying the rainforest through a big hotel project.

Please help the Penan highlight their struggle against Interhill and sign the online petition.

Is your furniture certified? Find out.

Carnival In Rio 1955

Just fab. Sydney has nothing on this :{

Monday, February 23

Watch Sean Penn tear up

And me. Big time.

Finally, help for the terminally exuberant

HT: Elizabeth Pisani

Downing Street's website circle of hell

Sad to report but the blogging platform I'm using appears to be letting down disabled readers.

I was emailed by one that they'd attempted to comment on a post but were unable to because the alternative to the spam-preventing 'captcha' word verification wasn't working.

Well, I just logged out and tried it and it wasn't working for me either. It just 'hiccuped'

So I've complained to Blogger but in the process noticed that they don't seem to respond at all to accessibility issues. Have a look around the Google Group.

Other things about Blogger in this regard have irritated me for a while, such as not adding a simple field to add Alt tags to images (you have to rawcode). Hardly rocket science.

Wordpress does have this simple field, and link titling - are they the better option if you are serious, but lazy, with accessibility? Or something else?

Captcha seems to be a particular pain in the rear for those using text-to-speech.

Robin Christopherson, head of accessibility at technology access charity AbilityNet, recently examined the Number 10 Downing Street website. While he found it comparatively accessible (in a 'low-bar' field) it still had:

  • 'click here' links, and - the horror!
  • auto-start videos, with unlabelled control buttons
What the latter means is that blind users are confronted with Gordon Brown drowning out their own audio controls and cannot work out how to turn it off. Sounds like one circle of hell.

What my correspondent complained about in Blogger with captcha is also happening elsewhere, says Christopherson. He says that the sounds created in order to confuse audio recognition software are so distorted that they cannot be recognised by humans either.

Even more patronisingly, when testing Google he saw that it has a third option - contact the site's owners directly for assistance. When Christopherson was eventually contacted two days after applying for this option he was informed that everyone had to register online!

My correspondent also finds the whole accessibility attempt somewhat patronisingly unuseful:
I can't pass the eyetest and I think the wheelchair (what does wheelchair use have to do with poor eyesight anyway?) is meant to link to a hearing test, which is also a problem for me because I damaged my hearing doing factory work when I was young.

Anyway, that's irrelevant because the wheelchair actually links to a page that says "Not Found Error 404" for me. I can't even try a hearing test.

What's the point of the IWF?

Rory Cellan-Jones reports on a small ISP which is challenging the Internet Watch Foundation's anti-paedophiles methods.

This is their idea of a black list, compiled from reports by the public, which ISPs are asked to use, somehow 'protecting children online'. The blacklist onto which a Wikipedia page found itself and was then withdraw after a justified uproar.

Zen Internet, a small Rochdale-based ISP, Rory reports, "has not yet implemented IWF's recommended system because we have concerns over its effectiveness. Our Managing Director, Richard Tang, is going to meet Peter Robbins the Chief Executive of the IWF to discuss these concerns."

Rory also says that children's charities are pressuring for the few ISPs who don't automatically follow the IWF's line to be forced to do so.

He quotes an IWF critic, Dr Richard Clayton:

"Everybody thinks they've done something by blocking this stuff but in practice it makes very little difference to who sees it and it's quite expensive."
The Wikipedia episode just highlighted what webbies already know - the blacklist is just a waste of time.
Why? Because most of this material is held abroad and the IWF is ineffective about getting it removed.
But it would obviously suit government to give into the children's charities and pressure ISPs because they would be 'seen to be doing something'. But the material and the pedophile networks exist on the 'dark net', a place you're unlikely to inadvertently stumble on. Those distributing it aren't going to have it in places where law enforcement might easily find it.

So this beggars the question which I made during the Wikipedia episode: 'what is the proven value of the IWF?'

What - exactly - are they achieving?

If you're trying to stop criminality and the exploitation of children, why aren't the police funded to do the job? Where else do you see amateurs, like the IWF, being presented - and being funded - as our best hope to 'protect children' ?

I think it's time for webbies to really step up and demand the government stops faffing about and that the IWF funding spent on this pointless blacklist goes to specialist police who can really challenge the distributors of material that exploits children.


Comment from another small ISP on Rory's blog, nailing the IWF's dodgy business interest:
1) They only provide a list of Child abuse Images hosted outside the UK. They issue takedown notices to anyone hosting this content in the UK but this has an interesting side effect, see later.

2) This list contains only a few thousand http urls - nothing more and an insignificant fraction of the amount of website urls in the world.

3) They don't provide any technology to enable this filtering, they leave the technical implementation to the ISP

4) They refuse to allow an open source implementation of the filtering because of concerns that it would allow the list to become public.

5) They charge a minimum of 5000 pounds per year for access to the list (going up to 20k+ for people who want to use the IWF approved branding etc).

6) There is no oversight on what goes on to this list, we only have the word of the IWF that it contains Child Abuse Images that infringe the appropriate laws. No ISP is going to risk looking at the sites on the list to check. There is nothing to stop them from adding sites critical of the IWF to the list, or for the scope of the list to be increased to block other types of sites.

7) The preferred method of blocking is to pretend the file could not be found and not to draw attention to the IWF list.

From this you can see that you are paying a significant sum for the list plus have to then spend additional cash and resources on a filtering system which then only blocks a tiny fraction of sites and adds overhead to every single page request.


* If you don't block these images you are supporting Child Abuse - How would your boss feel if we told him you supported Child Abuse (Direct quote from an IWF "saleswomen")

Sunday, February 22

"The unemployed builders of Europe should be insulating all the houses of Europe"

Climate change is real, as anyone who has been to the Arctic knows. But we live in a world which is a little distracted at the moment by, er, global economic meltdown.

In this situation, the coming disaster of climate change has disappeared as ordinary people worry about now (rather than, say, their children's future). Short-tern profit, which is a big part of the banking disaster, also applies to the way the oil corporations operate, and they are the ones fueling climate change denial.

So it's a little difficult, given the usual politics, which we're still in, to get any buy-in to the sort of real meltdown which we face.

Waiting for a trip to Antarctica, to view the pools of melted water accumulating on the glaciers, Baron Nicolas Stern could have been speaking to the four winds in saying that if we don't deal with climate change decisively, "what we're talking about then is extended world war."

Later, at dinner, the heavyweights heard from smaller or poorer nations about the trials they face as warming disrupts climate, turns some regions drier, threatens food production in poor African nations.

Jose Endundo, environment minister of Congo, said he recently visited huge Lake Victoria in nearby Uganda, at 80,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles) a vital source for the Nile River, and learned the lake level had dropped 3 meters (10 feet) in the past six years _ a loss blamed in part on warmer temperatures and diminishing rains.

In the face of such threats, "the rich countries have to give us a helping hand," the African minister said.

It's not happening. And western electorates just aren't interested (except in drought-ridden Australia), therefore their politicians aren't either.

Stern, drawing on the accumulated evidence, says:
"People would move on a massive scale. Hundreds of millions, probably billions of people would have to move if you talk about 4-, 5-, 6-degree increases" _ 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. And that would mean extended global conflict, "because there's no way the world can handle that kind of population move in the time period in which it would take place."

And this won't affect the UK? Our elderly future and the future of our kids?

So why aren't the various economic 'bailouts' focused on, as Stern puts it, getting "The unemployed builders of Europe insulating all the houses of Europe"?

Parochial and pedestrian Britain

Just published elsewhere a couple of long articles about new visa restrictions which are stifling - if not stamping out - cultural exchange with artists outside the EU and Commonwealth.

The new regulations enacted by the Home Office impose large fees and monitoring requirements on arts bodies regarding artists they invite. This has led already to a restriction on vists and cases of visas being denied, such as one by the virtuoso Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, who cancelled what was to be his second performance in this country at the Southbank Centre in London when he could not provide the excessive amount of documents required for his weekend visit in April.

When a small regional body wanted to invite a group of Kurdish artists the Home Office told them they must travel 900 miles to Beirut and stay for three weeks and only then could they apply for the correct documents.

The entire regime is predicated on what must be a very few cases of people either over-staying or claiming asylum (though, as usual, the cost-benefit analysis is no part of their argument). What the Director of the National Portrait Gallery is quoted in the Observer saying is the new regime's "unintended effect" is actually, I think, more like what the actress Janet Suzman describes thus:

This country has always been a hub, an airy place where people from all over the world could come and express themselves in art. This legislation stamps on all that with a clunking, hobnail boot.
This 'stamping boot' attitude is totally confirmed in a statement from the Home Office:
It is only right that those that benefit from the great cultural contribution migrants bring with them play their part through our system of sponsorship in ensuring that the system is not being abused.
Excuse me but it is not just the 'arty' who benefit, it is everyone. The idea that art in its many different varieties - think of the explosion of interest in 'world music' - is only of value to a few British people and not to all - in fact, not to what this 'airy place' country should be all about - strikes me as the very definition of a nationalistic, parochial, commercialised and in the end pedestrian stance.