Wednesday, November 25, 2009

FW: Blog post anyone?

I volunteered to write a blog post for my employer. This is the transcript so far...

Sent: 25 November 2009 13:45
To: David Kemp
Subject: Re: Blog post anyone?

Hi David,

I’ve passed this one by [the bosses] also... so here’s our combined feedback:

While we probably shouldn't use the Swamp blog for our own political rants (if we do then deciding what we do and don't allow might prove tricky / subjective) I think it's a good thing for us to be blogging about.

Although I said it’s good to have your own opinions, can you make it a little more independent / questioning?

“Someone must have told the current government that it's nearly 2010, as they've been drafting legislation that actually addresses the online world as it is today.”

We have to be a little sensitive to the government being a big client of ours...

If we look across all the digital work the government does, Andrew would say they're probably some of the more progressive of our clients, so maybe hack this statement back.

“And, if that's not enough,” and "stupid plans like these"

Getting a bit too personal...

Does all the make sense?

We’re very keen for you to blog about this, we need to

1) get the tone right....ask questions, get a debate going....”some people might see this as being...” rather than “this is...”

2) be sensitive to the government being a client of ours

From: David Kemp
Sent: 25 November 2009 13:04
Subject: RE: Blog post anyone?

Is this too long?



Someone must have told the current government that it's nearly 2010, as they've been drafting legislation that actually addresses the online world as it is today.

Two of these bills seem particularly important, and everyone who uses a computer connected to another computer should be taking notice.

The first, mentioned by none less than the Queen, is the Digital Economy Bill. This was long awaited as the bill which would give OFTCOM the power to move the UK's creaking broadband into the future. However, there are a few 'additions':

Basically, this bill will enable copy right holders to effectively cut off your internet connection if they believe someone's been using it to share copyrighted works. (It doesn't have to be you, it could be your neighbour's hacker son, your housemate, or even someone running a botnet.)

And, if that's not enough, it also empowers the government to change this law as they feel fit.

There also won't be any costly legal appeal process against getting cut off - of course, you can protest your innocence, but it won't be in a court of law.

This is all despite condemnation of this approach from the European Parliament

There's been a lot of talk about this on the web [eg, Open Rights Group], with some pointing out that Peter Mandelson had this bill drafted after a dinner with David Geffen.

To me, it seems like an online ASBO, but rather than the daily-mail-reading curtain-twitchers complaining, it will be the likes of Sony, Disney, Fox, Microsoft, Adobe...and rather than being banned from swearing in Dewsbury Town Center, you'll be banned from using the internet.

There are a lot of legitimate isuses this bill raises - not least is the fact that tracing internet traffic is very difficult, and proving that traffic originated from a certain IP address is almost impossible. There's also the fact that you can hack WEP and WPA wireless security, so unless you've changed all the passwords and settings on the wireless router your ISP gave you, you're probably at risk of some enterprising person stealing your bandwidth and putting your connection at risk.

It also means that anyone who runs an internet hotspot will have probably to turn it off. If anyone uses it to share copyrighted material then it's the owner of the hotspot how will face prosecution.

To me, this bill seems to be trying to enforce copyright laws that simply don't make sense in an age when making a million copies of a song or film is essentially free. I fully understand that film and record companies need to make money to make films and music, but they also need to adapt to the world in which we live. It seems suprising that an industry that is less than 150 years old is so resistant to change.

Even more worrying than getting my internet cut off is the plans, under The Intercept Modernisation Programme, to require "Communication Service Providers" (such as ISPs and phone companies) to store details of everyone who you contact using their service, and, eventually, the details of the communications. [bbc news reported on this, and LSE have a nice briefing]

I wrote to my MP outlining my opposition to this idea, which fall into roughly three areas: cost, security, and privacy.

There are ongoing costs for storage (and retrieval) of this information, but the cost of writing a system to understand the myriad of ways in which communications take place on the internet is phenominal - you'd have to reverse engineer facebook, google mail, hotmail, yahoo! mail, msn, jabber, aol chat, irc, the comments system on this blog... the list is pretty much endless, and expanding all the time.

With regards to security - so far the government have proved pretty inept at handling personal data, and a hacker would have a field day with this volume and detail of information. Also, the interception itself opens a new possible attack - lookup "man in the middle attack" and you'll get the idea.

The privacy issues are the same as ever. I thought I had the write to conduct my business without the fear of incriminating myself.

What can we do? The biggest hope is that these don't get implemented until after the election - the tories claim to be against the digital economy bill, and we're going to have to face the reality of the broken economy sometime, so hopefully stupid plans like these will be scrapped on the grounds of cost.

You can, however, take more active action - the Open Rights Group are urging people to telephone their MP, and sign the petition (over 20,000 people had at the time of writing).

Despite its foibles, I love the internet, and I certainly think it's worth taking a few moments of time to try to protect.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chewie does what?

Chewie dancing with a Jawa (from "Disney Weekends #3: Dance Off"). WTF?

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Not in my name


Apologies for the impersonal email, but the people who I live amongst have done something really stupid...

The racist BNP have two seats in the European election. It's a disgrace - they hate everything great about Britain.  I've just signed a petition which says NOT IN MY NAME. The petition will be handed into the European Parliament on the day that BNP leader Nick Griffin goes to the European Parliament. I'd like you to sign the petition as well - let's show the rest of the EU what we think of the racist BNP:


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lies, damn lies, and more lies

Heard on Radio 4:

Children are at school for 1,000 hours every year

That sound like a lot, until you realise that there are 8,765.81277 hours in a year.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Room Full of Luthiers

A Luthier is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. (

On Tuesday night, I started my lutherie course. Or, more specifically, a guitar making course. I've been excited about it since before Christmas, even though I had no more details about it than it's name, location and time. So, it was in almost complete ignorance that I entered a woodworking room in the bowels of Dewsbury College and entered a room full of older men working on guitars in various states.

I was enchanted.

The first thing I saw was a man carefully pairing away the waste from the top of the guitar, which he'd got stuck onto the body, ready to fix the beading.
The man next to him was carefully sanding and shaping the braces on the inside of the back of his guitar.
Another man, opposite, was trying to figure out how to carve intricate decorations onto the top of the vihuela he was building.
There was also a man sharpening a plane on a large oil stone. This was John. He was taking the course.

John quickly explained to me that it could take three years to build a guitar (if I came for two hours a week), and a lot of people were put off by that. Also that, along with course fees, there was the additional cost of materials for the guitar itself. Given that it's a 30 week term, this means that in 180 hours, I could have my own, custom, hand-built guitar. John sells his from £2000, and whilst I can't claim that my first attempt will be anywhere near as magnificent as an accomplised luthier, mine will cost £630 on course fees, plus whatever materials I might need (yeah, ok, this could easily stretch into a significant amount of money). But again, I will have a guitar that no one else has, and that I have shaped and loved from the time it was just a few pieces of wood.

John hand builds his guitars, and expects his pupils to do the same. The main tool for this is a No 4 plane (the closer one in the picture), as there's a lot of thickness and shaping of wood. As this has to be entirely accurate (to within stupid tolerances), the most important thing is that the plane is sharp.

So, I spent my first lesson firstly sharpening a plane. Then, when I'd got it nice and sharp (which I almost managed by myself), I practiced planing a piece of wood.
The idea was to reduce its thickness, but still leaving a flat surface. I did alright at this. It's surprisingly hard. Although the theory is that the perfectly flat shoe (bottom) of the plane can be used to take out on lumps and bumps in a piece of wood, the fact is that it requires a lot of technique to get this right. Also, it requires a lot of strength.

That was my first step on the road to building my guitar - a slightly less than flat piece of scrap wood and a very sharp plane.

John showed me what I can hope to acheive by easter - it was three pieces of wood stuck together - the top of which had be very carefully shaped so that it was thinner at one end. This was going to be the neck of someone else's guitar.

I'm going to start in earnest on this next week. It seems like it'll be a long task, but no doubt one that I can learn lots from and end up with something special and unique.