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Cringley on Wikileaks [Dec. 2nd, 2010|08:08 am]
lordmuck
[I am feeling: |annoyedannoyed]

Cringlely has written a very good article about Wikileaks from his journalistic point of view. He identifies a number of problems that I'd been thinking about and more; I've thought for some time that the Wikileaks approach is particularly unprotective of its sources - although, in this case, Bradley Manning was given a small amount of rope and seems to have managed to hang himself multiple times over.

I disagree with Cringley about the role of the New York Times / Guardian / et al. I don't think that was any kind of political cover; I think it was an attempt at covering themselves shameless veneer of respectability. What Wikileaks is doing is not journalism by any standard, it's more akin to dumpster-diving. Cringley talks about stretching the material out over a number of stories, but I think there is a much stronger point to be made here: there is a huge difference between "the public interest" and "of interest to the public". The vast, vast majority of material leaked has absolutely no public interest whatsoever. No real journalist would have covered that material simply because there is no story; having it available only makes sense from the political point of view of Assange. And I think viewing Wikileaks as some kind of journalistic enterprise is wrong: it's a political enterprise, as they freely admit.

What irks me most about their approach is that the small number of real stories contained in these cables have basically been totally blown away by the Wikileaks spin and newsmaking. And who can blame anyone? They're out there, hidden in plain sight of the multiple-gigabytes of information. We've found out (amongst other things) that it really is the US bombing the Yemen, but most of these stories aren't going to be covered in our meda - although Al-Qaeda's monthly rag sounds like it will really be going to town. No, what we're talking about is Wikileaks and Julian Assange himself.

And next he's apparently going to go after a large American bank. This man needs to be locked up before he does even more damage. I have very little problem with the real stories here coming out, but Wikileaks is doing it in such a cack-handed fashion that they really need saving from themselves, and certainly before they manage to trigger a Korean war / economic sub-crisis / etc. If Wikileaks were to make information available only to genuine journalists, I don't think we'd have half the issue: if the likes of NYT and the Guardian had run the stories they did without the Wikileaks hype, we would have had some real stories running with proper attention. Instead we basically have the "throw mud against the wall" method which is entirely useless.

I don't doubt that Assange is going to be in prison very shortly, and potentially / probably some of his Wikileaks cohorts, and to be honest it would be about time. Of course there is a free speech issue, but I don't think they deserve journalistic protection because what they're doing simply isn't journalism. The bleating of free speech from them sounds to my ears much like the British National Party: they're a nasty political organisation the world would be better off without (in their current form).
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Thoughts on "CSI: Hard Evidence" for the Wii. [Nov. 14th, 2010|02:23 pm]
lordmuck
[Tags|]
[I am feeling: |boredbored]

It's bizarre how incomprehensible this game is from the non-player perspective. I can only hope Laura is getting a lot more interest out of it than I am having to sit here watch it.

The main part of the game is where you visit various scenes, which you can "search". The way you search is by waving the mouse pointer around and watch for changes when you hover over various items, in much the same manner that a blind man would rub at a page to read Braille. Except that you can see stuff, although they make most things so small you can't actually see them so you do have to do the whole blind person thing. You also get transported from place to place like someone who can't see: there's no actual travel involved, no getting into cars and stuff. You just pull out your phone, click on a place, and Zap! You're there.

As a CSI, you get to go the lab, which is a series of five computers or each, each of which is "different": DNA, chemical analysis, etc. But when I say "different" I really mean "the same": you get a flashing exclamation on screen when the computer can do something, so you go to it and it has you press a series of buttons. So you press the buttons and you have evidence. If you're lucky, your CSI partner will insert some witticism to liven up the proceedings.

You can interrogate people. That is to say, you go to a room with a person in a computer, and a question instead of a button, and you click on the question a few times and you have evidence. If you're lucky, your CSI partner will insert some thinly-veiled insinuation of guilt to liven up the proceedings.

Capt. Brass is of course there, although in this game he appears to be unable to extricate his lardy ass from behind his desk. He sits there, looking part-dead, and allows you to visit new places occasionally. In fact, most of the characters look part-dead; this is less-heard of pasty white zombie version of the series, "CSI: Uncanny Valley". The few non-zombie characters look mostly like Mysterons.

Back to the lab with you, because the computers demand more button-pushing to create evidence. Unlike in the CSI series, where the computers are unfathomably smart - able to create images from the grainiest of video and find DNA trace on a teflon frying pan - these computers appear to be irredeemably stupid. To do DNA comparisons, you have to load each one up side by side and see if they "match". You press the "match" button when you think it matches, and helpfully Computer Says No if it doesn't. It just can't do that on it's own, you have to push the buttons to make it say No. Same with fingerprints, each match has to be done manually, to create The Evidence.

In order to do as well as possible in each scene, you have to earn "Thoroughness Points" (TPs). The long and short of this seems to me that there are parts of each scene which are entirely empty and devoid of any entertainment, so to make up for forcing you to slog through them, they give you a TP. It's a bit like an "Endeavour" badge for scouts or something. You also get points for picking up insects; in the same way you get a TP for visiting an empty scene, you get a bug point for visiting an empty scene with a bug in it and then picking up the bug. Being a competent CSI means doing insect extermination it seems.

Being a competent CSI apparently doesn't mean knowing which tool to use, though. If you're collecting evidence, you have this box of tricks with tweezers, luminol, a camera, and all sorts of other goodies. However, you don't need to actually figure out which one is the correct one to use: you wave your blind-person-white-stick over the box and the relevant tools jump out, for you to do some clicking on (the entirety of the CSI evidence collection/processing system is basically clicking on stuff). If, by some chance, it gives you a couple of different options, you can pick the wrong one - but then your smart-ass CSI partner will tut at you and stop you using it. You don't seem to lose any CSI Investigator points by attempting to pick up a fingerprint with a plaster-cast, but that's just life.

Now and then you get these video interludes. These mostly seem to occur when the game needs to give you some new piece of evidence, but there is no available method of pointing and clicking at something in order to create the evidence.

Much of the interesting stuff I remember from CSI doesn't appear to be here. There is no ballistics lab in which you can fire bullets at pigs or blocks of jelly. You can't stuff a mannequin with bags of blood and throw them off tall buildings.

At the end of each "investigation" (which generally ends with a confession; this does seem much like the series - finally something similar!), you get an "eval" by "Gil Grissom". I say "Gil Grissom", again, it's unlikely to be him: inability to get out from behind his desk and the way his face doesn't move makes me suspect that this is merely the animated corpse of Grissom. Almost certainly there will be a plot twist later in the game where you have to click on him to reveal the mechanism or something.

I'm not sure where the "Hard Evidence" referred to in the title of the game actually comes in. "CSI: Point and Click Evidence" appears more apropos. Or maybe just "CSI: Pointless Clicking".
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The Laserjet Bombers [Oct. 31st, 2010|08:46 am]
lordmuck

Most people reading this won't know who Bunny Huang is, but he does a regular on his blog called "Name that ware". Basically, a bare PCB is photographed and put up, and people have to guess what device it came from. This is often a lot easier than it sounds: key components and design features often narrow down the range extremely quickly.

Somewhat close to the bone, this month's "Name that ware" was the PCB used in the Laserjet cartridge bomb found a few days ago at our East Midlands Airport. As per usual, the contributors narrowed down the hardware very quickly to an extremely common (and cheap) Nokia model.

Bunnie's follow-up thoughts on the design are extremely interesting. It's always insightful to get thoughts from someone expert but not State-sponsored, and there are a number of things Bunnie says which are quite inconsistent with what has been said in the media:

  1. assuming it was meant to be detonated remotely, it wasn't well-designed;
  2. in any event, it wasn't well put together.

Clearly, it has been put together to some kind of recipe, though. PETN, the explosive used, is slightly more stable than simpler compounds, and can be manufactured from simple components. It's World War 1-era, so quite basic, but effective - and doesn't need an awful lot of expertise to put together (the news says they're currently holding a medical student: that would fit; PETN is also used as a heart medicine...)

In addition to that, they made sure to pick the right type of handset: the Nokia model is quad-band, so you can send it pretty much anywhere in the world and with the right SIM it will work, but it's so simple that anyone can modify the PCB without too much hassle.

The picture of the PCB shows it was mounted onto the printer, which from the pictures on the news is an HP Laserjet P2055. Again cheap and common, but someone would have needed to do a bit of research to make sure that there was room for the PCB in a location which wasn't suspicious - this one was mounted just below the main controller board, and on an X-Ray machine would have probably looked quite normal.

For it to work, someone would have also needed to research the cartridges to make sure that they had enough capacity for the explosives (cheap printers often can't take much toner), and that there was some sensible way of getting the detonation wires into the body of it. So again, someone figured out how to get this all done, but the person who actually put this together probably didn't need to know that much: anyone with basic electronics skills who knows the business end of a screwdriver and soldering iron could have created this thing.

So the whole "this was put together by professionals" schtick I don't really buy. It's not unbelievable that someone posted the guide to making these things online at some point for anyone to put together. Obviously some thought was put into the making of this, but when you think through the logic:

  • We need space for explosive, packed into some area that would usually have some kind of inert substance;
  • We need electronics to hide our trigger mechanism in;
  • We need something of a decent size so the extra weight isn't noticed.

... things start getting pretty easy, and a Laserjet is a decent choice. But if the idea was to blow a plane up mid-flight, it's not a great design: as well as the problem with the aerial on the PCB, it was mounted against a large piece of metal which could also cause problems with signal reception. The only chance would be as the aircraft comes in to land, which would require some spectacular timing on the terrorist's part (not to mention danger, as they would need to be pretty close to the airport they're trying to cause the accident at, unless they just war-dialled the device continually).

This kind of home-brew kit doesn't make me think this is some kind of well-organised and orchestrated effort. If you set this same problem to a couple of University electronics/chemistry students, they'd come up with something similar but (I would bet) much better designed, and it's a level of engineering which anyone with sufficient motivation could teach themselves this stuff.

Of course, that's not to say it's not scary: of course it's incredibly scary that people can get PETN onto aircraft, and the fact that they've come up with a half-practical design is also worrying.

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Libya & Oil [Jul. 24th, 2010|12:16 pm]
lordmuck
[I am feeling: |calmcalm]

It's with some increasing bemusement that the "Terrorist for Oil Swap" scandal is being played out in the media over here. The story, which seems to be mainly driven by the varying demands of a committee of US politicians, seems to be a pretty straight-forward story of appalling Government self-interest the way you would read it in the US press.

Over here, though, the media are having trouble with the story. Mainly, because it was only a few years ago that the scandal was al-Megrahi - the terrorist in question - remained behind bars. Contrary to their US counterparts, the UK-based families of Lockerbie victims have been increasingly suspicious of the conviction as the years have gone on, and indeed the case of al-Megrahi has been investigated by a variety of extremely good journalists and the story gets increasingly murky.

In fact, one of the journalists - Paul Foot, well-known for his investigate reporting - went as far to suggest that not only was al-Megrahi not responsible, he didn't think Libya had much to do with it either and it was far more likely that Syria was the actual culprit.

When al-Megrahi was released, there was of course an undercurrent of "What happens if he doesn't die?" - but it was obvious to everyone, in this country at least, that his state of health was not quite as poor as described (though it's also pretty clear he doesn't have long left). There was also the "What happens to his appeal?" part of the story, which the media had a truly difficult time addressing - serious journalists again suggesting that his appeal was staggeringly unlikely to fail and his conviction on the say-so of a Maltese shopkeeper was on decidedly dodgy ground.

In any event, those who released al-Megrahi undoubtedly expected that although he wouldn't slink off to the next life quite on schedule, the matter would quietly die - and the calls for a new investigation, a new inquiry, or even a new trial, could be swatted away. With BP's current US profile, though, that seems a bit more difficult now.

What will be interesting is how far the US Senators press the issue. They clearly believe al-Megrahi guilty, and see mileage in the issue. Others believe this to be a classic CIA fit-up, the details of which could be explosive politically. In that regard, if you believe such a line, the US Senators could get far more than they bargained for if details did start to emerge - which is almost certainly why the issue will disappear in the next few weeks. At least, unless more people pick up and run with the story.

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Post-World Cup thoughts [Jun. 27th, 2010|10:36 pm]
lordmuck
[Tags|, ]
[I am feeling: |aggravatedaggravated]

Now the World Cup has ended and is completely over (for England) we can now get onto the post-mortem. For once I might actually go out and buy a paper tomorrow to see what the pundits say, but here are my initial thoughts:
  • we've been moaning about the technical quality of our players for a long time; as long as I can remember watching. But this world cup it seemed to have sunk to an all-time low: inability to pass, inability to control, no first touch, etc., on such a frequent basis it's not funny. Something really has to be done about it, quite what I don't know.
  • I think we play too many games, but in particular, too many league games and not enough knock-out fooball. England tend to play better in meaningless games and friendlies - and often buckle under pressure. You can make the same comments about top league sides in this country too.
  • Are we an amazing side? No. But, they should have come out of the group stages winners, not runners-up. Then we would have played Ghana instead of Germany, and on good form would have beaten them. Would we beat Uruguay? Maybe, maybe not, and certainly not Brazil or Holland next game, but that would be a decent run. We should be able to score against Algeria, seriously.
  • Are Germany an amazing side? No. They're playing Argentina next, and oh boy will that be knock-about. But Germany thrashed us today :(
  • Who are we going to get as manager now? We tempted Capello with large bags on money, and if he leaves now he will undoubtedly run off into the sunset with most of it. Does anyone English want the job, with two years to the Euros?
  • In fact, are we even going to get to the Euros? We didn't make it in 2008. On this form, we won't make it to 2012.
  • It's a nonsense to talk about our system or formation, it really is. Germany played basically 4-3-2-1 - a.k.a the Christmas Tree that we in this country introduced! Capello is a master of 4-4-2, and anyone expecting him to play something different is daft. In a poor formation, the players play well but are at a tactical disadvantage. We simply just didn't play well, and putting them in a different order wouldn't make any difference sadly.
First qualifiers for Euro 2012 are September. Not long now...
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Alex's Lazy Guide to F1 Safety Car Rules [May. 16th, 2010|08:16 pm]
lordmuck
[Tags|, ]

So the complete shower that is the F1 rules committee has managed to turn up another trump today; Schumacher has been demoted for overtaking behind the safety car when he, er, wasn't behind the safety car. Let me say up-front, this is a complete pile of crap; it was a valid manoeuvre. But they've found a rule which supposedly outlaws it, 40.13:

"[i]f the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking."

Just to re-cap what actually happened in the race. The safety car was going around on the last lap, and then indicated - by turning off the orange lights - that it was pulling into the pit lane and that the race cars should proceed:

Picture of F1 safety car at Monaco

You can clearly see the lights were off at this point.

The nonsense is that there is this new safety car line, after which racing is supposed to start - it used to be the start and finish line. So, previously, there was no way that the safety car could pull in on the last lap and racing could restart.

The interpretation of the rules is that basically this still isn't the case: no matter what the safety car does on the last lap (and the lights indicate where it's going, not the track status), there can be no more racing. Why is this? Because there's no other option on the last track; the safety car cannot relay back enough information. Either they:

  1. Keep the lights on, and don't pull in to the pits (obvious 40.13 violation);
  2. Keep the lights on, and pull into the pits (cars follow, race doesn't finish - nice!);
  3. Turn off lights, don't pull in (clear nonsense, no racing);
  4. Turn off lights, pull into pit (only situation 40.13 can exist)

The problem, of course, is that the rules don't say this clearly. They say, "if the race ends while the safety car is deployed.." - when, of course, the race hasn't ended, making it read like there is an option for the safety car to return to the pit lane without the race ending under safety conditions.

I suspect that Mercedes will win their appeal, and Schumacher will be re-instated. I think the reason for this is not the rules themselves - even though they're dreadfully ambiguous and Mercedes' reading is reasonable - but because Mercedes were given the track all-clear (unless they're lying about that, which is possible).

It would be nice to see the official track timing information as relayed by race control; that should be definitive. But I can't be bothered trying to fight formula1.com - it seems to be enough effort to receive the non-mobile site on my non-mobile browser. But eh.

Update 21:24:

So, autosport.com basically agrees with my assessment of the situation - it comes down to whether or not race control were telling people that the race was finishing under safety car conditions. I went back to have a look at the end of the race just to be sure, and I don't think it did:

Side-by-side of last laps on start/finish line

On the left, you have lap 77, which was indisputably under the safety car - you can see the gantry is showing the yellow light, and the marshalls are waving yellow flags. On the right is the last lap, with green lights on the gantry and a marshall waving the green flag (just beneath the chequered flag).

Now, according to rule 40.11 (when the track is declared safe and the car called in):

"As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line."

It's going to be extremely difficult to argue that Mercedes were out of order overtaking a car when the safety car was in the pits and they were waving green flags, not yellow. At a bare minimum, Schumacher must get back his 7th place.

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Post-election aftermath [May. 8th, 2010|11:49 am]
lordmuck

For those who haven't seen, I did a bit of a general election prediction before the count. How did I do? Well, not great - I predicted a hung result, but with a much weaker Labour and a stronger Liberal Democrat seating. I got the Tory numbers closer, though they are slightly weaker than I predicted.

The big news, of course, is that the Liberal Democrat vote didn't grow as predicted - in fact, in terms of seats, it shrank. I said less than 70 seats would be defeat for the LibDems, and they got 57. It has been seen as a defeat, with what was a particularly good campaign.

The news that hasn't made the headlines is how deeply unhappy the Tories are. It's quite clear that they could have achieved a majority if they had managed to take votes away from right-wing minority parties, but given the massive amounts of money they spent the grass roots is dismayed, to put it mildly, that they haven't achieved a "result".

In terms of my post-election predictions, it does look likely now that Cameron will attempt to lead a minority Government without a full coalition: they are attempting to hammer out a coalition agreement, but I don't think either the Tory party or the Lib Dems will be able to stomach it. However, it does look likely that Brown won't go immediately - the result for Labour was not as bad as it could have been, and that has bolstered him somewhat. It does also look like voting reform isn't realistically going to happen.

Interestingly, there is already talk of an October election - for which both the Tories and Labour have financial reserves to do. By that point, though, the Tories will have passed their emergency budget and the cuts will have started - it's somewhat difficult to see how they would be able to gain ground in those circumstances, especially if Labour have a shiny new leader.

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Big General Election Prediction [May. 5th, 2010|10:29 pm]
lordmuck
[Tags|]
[I am feeling: |boredbored]

Long time no post, so here are my predictions for tomorrow night (well, let's be realistic: Friday afternoon):

  1. 6% national swing to the Tories, leaving them with 315 seats;
  2. Labour down a fair bit, finishing on 230 seats;
  3. Lib Dems down on what they expected, with around 70.

Much as I don't particularly like the idea of this result, I think it means a few things:

  • Cameron will claim a mandate from the people and will set himself up as leader of a minority Govt. He won't try to do a formal deal with any party, relying instead on key votes from Unionists, and there will be a major media push to install him quickly even though Parliament is technically hung.
  • Brown will survive until Saturday, at which point he resigns and Harriot takes over. Labour contest will obviously last months, and on the basis that the Tory Govt. will be extremely weak and likely to get a short honeymoon with the electorate, David Milliband will be installed as leader before the emergency budget.
  • The Lib Dem wish for voting reform will not come to pass, and this election will seem like a bit of a wasted opportunity in a few weeks' time. However, with Labour, they will inflict some bruising defeats on the Tory Govt.

Feel free to add your own predictions below. FWIW, I also think:

  • the finishing line for the Tories is 300 seats; they will claim victory and the right to form a Government at any point above that;
  • any number of seats above 100 for the Lib Dems is a win; anything below 60 a crushing defeat;
  • anything over 240 for Labour and Brown might be able to keep his job, for now at least - particularly if an alliance with the Lib Dems looks on the cards;
  • at this point, a weak Tory Govt. might be about the worst thing this country could get, but it may also be the end of the Tories: mark Eddie George's comment that the next administration may find itself out of power again quickly and for a long time.
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Worrying notes on the "big freeze". [Jan. 8th, 2010|09:35 am]
lordmuck

Fig. A. Paul Simons, The Times weatherman:

“If the Gulf Stream slows down/diverts, we're in big trouble. Thoughts are that it hasn't changed yet, and it will take a lot more meltwater from the Arctic to change it - but we need a lot more information about what's going on with the Gulf Stream.”

Fig. B. that now-famous picture of ice-bound Britain:

Fig. C. the Gulf Stream on December 30th:

The left side is the US east cost, Africa is bottom right and we're in the top-right - land mass is grey. The red bit is the gulf stream.

Update: a little bit of fantasy from the Grauniad last November, about what disaster might strike in the unlikely event the gulf stream was disrupted, and how quickly it might affect our weather.

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Some notes on the amazing Republican double-speak [Nov. 14th, 2009|09:51 am]
lordmuck
Now that Guantanamo is in the process of shutting down and the inmates are being given decadent luxuries such as defence attorneys, the right wing is bleating about security and justice again:

Sen John McCain, a Republican who lost to Mr Obama in the 2008 presidential race, stated that military tribunals were the best venue for terror suspects.

"They are war criminals, who committed acts of war against our citizens and those of dozens of other nations," he said.

- from BBC News

...and...

“The terrorists who planned, participated in, and aided the September 11, 2001, attacks are war criminals, not common criminals. ... They are also not American citizens entitled to all the constitutional rights American citizens have in our federal courts,” Lieberman’s statement said.

- from New Haven Register

(syracusah - I got that right, Lieberman is a right-wing Republican, yeah?)

Except that, of course, these guys weren't treated as war criminals right from the point Bush got his hands on them:

In the United States the use of the phrase "enemy combatant" may also mean an alleged member of al Qaeda or the Taliban being held in detention by the U.S. government as part of the war on terror. In this sense, "enemy combatant" actually refers to persons the United States regards as unlawful combatants, a category of persons who do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions. Thus, the term "enemy combatant" has to be read in context to determine whether it means any combatant belonging to an enemy state, whether lawful or unlawful, or if it means an alleged member of al Qaeda or of the Taliban being detained as an unlawful combatant by the United States.

- from Wikipedia

These guys have their own special rights-free status which meant they didn't have access to lawyers, they didn't have PoW status under the Geneva Conventions, they had nothing except a routine of torture.

Of course, people are now worried that some of these people are going to get off scott-free because essentially the Bush Govt. has screwed the pooch on this one: any evidence they collected via means of torture ought not to be admissable, and these detainees are now so radicalised that they'd fess up to practically anything to become a martyr to the cause.

Almost certainly some, if not all, of these charged are guilty of something approximating the charges brought against them, and probably all will be found guilty. But good grief, to hear these politicians pontificating about justice is very hard to take after all the people who've been locked up in Gitmo and freed without any charge whatsoever.

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