* Posts by Brennan Young

134 posts • joined 12 Aug 2006


Saudis cuff 'outspoken' blogger

Brennan Young

@ Anonymous Coward ("I wish..")

Comments like that give me the creeps.

You're right that America has one of the best records for free speech worldwide (although the trickle of dissident speech drowns in a deluge of mainstream media pushing the party line), but the USA very definitely does have cosy relationships with countries that suppress free speech in the most violent and ugly ways. In many cases, the USA have been actively involved in installing and/or maintaining those regimes.

I'd say US citizens have plenty to shout about 'on street corners', and I dare say most of them are complaining about US complicity in human rights abuses in other countries. Maybe you've missed the point?

Extraordinary Rendition is 'fact' in the sense that Washington has admitted to it, so the idea that 'it never seems to happen' is ludicrous. What do you expect to see? Flayed KKP corpses on the sidewalk in Times Square?

For further information, check out Craig Murray's book 'Murder in Samarkand'. Murray was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, and discovered that the local dissidents were being tortured in the most ghastly way (as in "just tell us the names of your terrorist friends, and your son gets to keep one of his testicles").

The 'information' extracted from these desperate individuals - which can scarcely be relied upon for accuracy, given the circumstances of its extraction - is then sold directly to USA where it is 'operationally useful' in various propaganda campaigns. That's what's known as being 'an important ally in the war on terror'.

You don't get to hear about those particular victims, because:

A) they're dead already and

B) their stories somehow escape the attention of Fox News editors

Nigerian keyboard firm sues One Laptop per Child

Brennan Young
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LOL bosshog

Funniest 419 parody I've seen.

A parents' guide to the HMRC data giveaway

Brennan Young

This is a gift!

This is a gift to those who believe in the noble and entirely innocent matter of keeping your private details literally private.

A gift and yes, also a sacrifice, and a very unpleasant one for those that have not chosen to be 'given' to this sacrifice but have become part of it. This isn't 'possible terrorists' or 'possible criminals' it's just a 'legal'/'legitimate' sample of the population.

There will yet and inevitably be some much more monstrous outrage committed against common privacy in the not so far future, and this business with the missing discs will be the case where people will look back and say "well it happened there, and nobody did anything. No one took it seriously, they were all trying to play it down.".

Well of course something should be done now, and of course it wont happen because they want to be seen to be right, right now. In fact it's just a new problem which the politicians should have the wisdom to take less than personally, which they don't.

... and digital civil liberties will default to zero.

But I'd like to remind all dear readers of this darling disrespectful Reg.ime that civil liberties have always defaulted to zero, just as soon as defined.

And all the civil liberties we have, we have because people have realised the rottenness of the default, and acted to get it changed.

The point is to recognise when a definition has taken place. Were you asked about that, or was it just a consequence, a side-effect?

Technological development may be somehow inevitable, but social - political development is a matter of action and choice.

If you can't choose to be ready to act on this now, prepare your information and understanding now from this case to use in the next, more serious privacy battle...

MySpace backs Google's anti-Facebook play

Brennan Young
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'Jealousy' and shedding of the shell

I agree that facebook is the better of the two, and I also agree with most of the criticisms mentioned here. Just a few more points:

1) Notification of updated content seems to be scattered all over the place. As far as I can tell I have to load at least three different pages to see what my friends are up to. What's that about?

2) How many 'wall' apps do we need? (Wall, funwall, superwall, hot...), how many 'poke' apps? They all do more or less the same thing, and worst of all, none of them are compatible with each other!!! If facebook app developers can't even be given some kind of incentive to share their data models, what hope is there for an open mashup standard? Oh yes and it is certainly Facebook that should be providing that incentive, because casual developers are too 'jealous' to have other things to think about.

Well, I discovered that you can post youtube videos with the default 'posted items' app. Works just as well, doesn't require anyone to install anything, or get spammed.

3) Most of the apps are crap. They resemble each other too much without being compatible in any way. Fatal flaw. The first thing they do (and continue to do) is encourage you to spam your friends with requests to be assimilated into their own borg/hive/leper colony. They are mostly utterly banale. (Sticky Notes, Glitter, anyone?)

Also... why must I install a "Nietzsche Quotes" app. and then a separate "Kierkegaard Quotes" app. and then a still third "Mighty Boosh Quotes" app. Have none of these developers got the vision to make even a generic 'Quotes' app which could scrape quotes from the thinker(s) of your choice from the myriad quote aggregator sites on the web??? Instead we're offered an almost endless parade of one-trick ponies. This is a very unsophisticated way of viewing mashup content. Nobody is thinking bigger than what they can see through their shirt cuff buttonhole, it seems.

4) Complaints and feature requests are poorly handled. If you're lucky you get an impersonal automated reply. Example: The relatively popular 'Compare People' app has recently started sending bogus notifications to its users, despite promising anonymity. "I" notified someone I barely know that I think he has 'the best hair' out of all my 'friends', and I had made no such rating. I wonder whether people receive non-anonymous notifications from family members announcing that they are the one "I'd most like to sleep with". Eurgh... Could be tricky to explain. My efforts to complain about this (and other issues) have yielded absolutely no comment or feedback from those responsible... Facebook itself needs to be much more reflexive and responsive to user feedback about third-party apps, and the third-party app developers, well they all need to read the cluetrain manifesto too.

5) Facebook needs to introduce asymetrical 'friendships' (boss-employee, teacher-student, guru-devotee etc.) it's utterly ridiculous that I have 'been to school' with some of my students, and 'worked together' with some others, just because I can't specify the correct relationship type.

6) Sloppy digital rhetoric: Why does the button say 'Ignore'? Surely 'Decline' is more polite. I don't feel entirely good about having to 'ignore' my ingenuous friends who send me dumb app requests, but I would happily 'decline' their invitations. These might seem like small details, but there are irritating quirks of rhetoric like this over the whole facebook site, including the infamous 'is' before the status line which fails miserably in languages other than English, and even in English, forces a fair amount of verbal gymnastics just to express things like "I've just had six beers" (Must be recast as "is drunk, after six beers" or - Irish style - "is after drinking six beers").

7) I like facebook, but I get the impression that it (like HTML) was let out of the lab too early. It's fine as a Harvard University intranet, but it's not ready to be the killer app for global social networking, and they'll most likely lose the inevitable 'war' against google/myspace if they don't brush up. There are too many rough edges; Too many things just not thought through properly; Too many 'lucky accidents' which conceal the fact that the critter has to shed its young shell in order to grow a more adult carapace.

Facebook promises a lot and delivers maybe 1% of its promise, mostly because of the many small design flaws and sloppy details multiplied together. The best thing it has going for it is the open API, (which is no longer a unique selling point) and the way it enforces a sober look-and-feel, with some well-designed pseudo-ajax effects. Thing is, those advantages will be worth nothing once google/myspace get their sh*t together.

Oh yeh, codebox is a great app! I also recommend WikiMono.

Microsoft vs European Commission: the verdict

Brennan Young

QuickTime != QuickTime Player

Just a small point of pedantry. QuickTime is a multimedia 'layer' supported by dozens of multimedia tools and players. It can be closely compared to 'DirectX' on Windows.

In theory you can boot Mac OSX without QuickTime, but there's no 'QuickTime uninstaller', and even if you could manage to remove every trace of QuickTime from the system, I doubt you'd be able to run very many multimedia programs, since it is required for almost all multimedia functionality on the Mac.

QuickTime *Player* is Apple's lightweight player application for QuickTime-legible media. It's just a GUI wrapper around some (but by no means all) of the QuickTime API. Apple has been very careful not to add too many features to their player because they've wanted to encourage 3rd parties to develop QuickTime-based tools, and even 'competing' multimedia players like VLC and mPlayer.

Compare with iTunes, which is Apple's heavyweight jukebox app, also built around QuickTime, and designed partly as a 'gateway drug' to the iPod experience. As has been pointed out, Apple is starting to get into trouble in various countries for abusing its near-monopoly in the handheld-music-player market, but iTunes does not leverage the iPod 'monopoly' as much as the proprietary codecs used by the iPod, which 'force' you to use Apple's players.

Then again, anyone buying DRM-encumbered music is basically saying to the seller "shaft me now, hard, and repeatedly". Most iPod users I know get their music from ripped CDs and (ahem) other sources.

Top judge: put everyone in UK on the DNA database

Brennan Young

Buttle / Tuttle

Sam Lowry: I only know you got the wrong man.

Torturer: Information Transit got the wrong man. I got the *right* man. The wrong one was delivered to me as the right man, I accepted him on good faith as the right man. Was I wrong?

Venezuela plans crackdown on bloody silly names

Brennan Young

Science and IT angle?

Venezuela is scarcely alone in having laws against 'silly' names (as the links to the other stories indicate).

Here in Denmark there's an official list of 'acceptable' names (believe it or not). Children may only be named if the name is on the list. OK, it's a long list, which AFAIK is kept 'up to date' with worldwide trends in child naming (in particular 'foreign names' need to be added occasionally). I believe you can get special dispensation for a special name (for example if God revealed himself to you and commanded you to name your child something unusual) if you can be bothered with the red tape, and presumably if the name is not 'too silly'.

Doubtless there are similar laws elsewhere in the 'developed' world, but given that this story is about Venezuela, I detect implicit and explicit 'washington consensus' propaganda entering the 'debate'.

Apparently we should concern ourselves more about the oh-so-important freedom to call your child "Asswipe" or "Cuntface" rather than the fact that some folks are trying to introduce some social-democratic structure.

Frankly, if I was a latin american leader embroiled in a 'bolivarian revolution', passing laws against silly names would not be top of my list of priorities.

I'm reminded of Stephen Fry's (Saturday Night Fry) letters from listeners about unusual names:


"Dear Stephen, My aunt has a most unusual name. She was christened Jenny Split, which was odd enough, but for forty years, her married name has been 'Moist'. Pretty strange, eh? Yours sincerely,

Crampwell Barhostage"

...or what about this one...

"Dear Stephen, I once met a man called Dintley Titmeaning. His children were called Dengulphus and Pantygrace. You can imagine how I laughed. Yours etc.,

Frillady Waistsplendour"

A card here from a listener in Lincolnshire:

"Dear Mr Fry,Some people really do have absurd names. At a coffee morning in Louth, I was introduced to a girl who told me her name was Cleftene Straightbladder. How we all howled! Faithfully,

Milden Nipplecream"

"Dear Stephen, For ten years, I have lived next door to couple called Stank and Mulina Stopfroth. I giggle every time I see them. Best wishes,

Suckmaster Burstingfoam"


And, er... what's the science/technology angle here, exactly?

Facebook moves to cut down application annoyances

Brennan Young

A 'decline all selected requests' button?

I like the idea of a 'ignore all app requests' preference. Very simple. If I want to add an app, I'll do it because someone convinced me in some other way than a cold, impersonal 'spam-a-like' with one of my friends' pictures on it.

And why do I have to click 'ignore' on each and every damn 'pirates and emperors' (or whatever) request I get. If I've said "Ignore" for a given app once, I mean it. I suppose Facebook should probably ask me "do you want to ignore all further requests for this app? Y/N" and I can get the whole thing done in one fell swoop.

I'd also like some kind of checkbox beside each request, and a button for "decline/accept all selected requests".

Finally, I think the choice of the word 'Ignore' was ill-advised. It sounds rude, and makes me wonder whether my trigger-happy friend is going to receive some uncouth automated refusal with my picture attached. "Decline" is more polite.

Facebook clearly needs to hire some copywriters with good manners.

They also need to realise that words like 'liberal' mean almost the opposite outside the USA. And what about ideologies like islamism, libertarianism, anarcho-syndicalism etc.? None of their listed political orientations are to the left of Obama Burak, or to the right of Gerald Ford, which frankly is an insult to the intelligence of most of the world's population.

Finally, they need to realise that it is perfectly normal and even socially acceptable to know someone via assymetrical relationships like teacher/student, parent/child, guru/devotee, boss/worker, Dom/sub, project manager/contractor etc.

Spitzer team spots stellar sauna

Brennan Young

How and why

Science deals only with what can be tested.

We wouldn't have any 'Hows' (testable hypotheses) if we didn't first start with the 'Whys" (curious phenomena).

Apple 'retires' AppleWorks

Brennan Young

More history than you could ever want to know about ClarisWorks


Social networkers lack loyalty: report

Brennan Young

How is this surprising? We need 'multi-headed' social networking.

Worst thing about those sites is the way they exclude their competitors (or rather they pretend that the competitors don't exist). None of the users benefit from this idiotic policy, which after all is just a dumb strategy tax. For that reason they will never be able to compete with good ol' fashion email & telephone, unless they can come up with a more inclusive business model. It's not platform lock-in, it's platform lock-out!

The killer app would be a social networking site which automatically registers you with [your choice of] the most popular social networking sites, gathers your contacts from all those sites, synchronises the data (so that if you have a friend on more than one site, the profiles get merged), scrapes any updates and presents them for you in a nice, user-friendly way. I know that's a tall order, technically speaking, but in terms of commerce, it seems like a no-brainer, so why has nobody done this yet?

facebook appears to be the most 'open' because it allows you to mash up apps which scrape content from other social networking sites, even lets you link to them directly, but you still have to set up an account with those sites manually. facebook also lets you share your actual email address and phone number, which the others seem to actively discourage.

With messenger clients, it will always make more sense to use (say) Trillian or Adium instead of the locked-in single platform versions. First to market with a 'multiheaded' social network site will score big.

It would be great to be able to pick a social networking site purely on the basis of features, but of course, no matter how great a site is, they insist on resorting to some kind of platform lock-out because they force their users to be fickle.

Sentient world: war games on the grandest scale

Brennan Young

They obviously didn't pay attention...

to Michel Foucault (who deconstructs the whole cause/effect thing).

And if they didn't even pay close enough attention to Machiavelli before invading Afghanistan and Iraq (he advises against exactly what the USA did in both cases), and if they didn't even pay attention to their own intelligence reports about WMD, or 9/11, what hope is there that they will actually use this very expensive project for anything except 'fair weather' predictions?

That's if it even works. Seems to me it builds on fairly shaky and self-referential assumptions about 'why things are the way they are' (back to Foucault again).

Gathering knowledge is one thing, but using it wisely is not something the American Miltary have demonstrated great aptitude for. (Pearl Harbour onwards).

Open sourcers rattle EU sabre at BBC on demand player

Brennan Young

Marconi vs. Baird

The BBC's earliest tv broadcasts were for both the Baird electromechanical system and the Marconi electronic system.

If you think there are incompatibilities today, consider that the Baird and Marconi systems were so different that each show had to be recorded twice. With the Baird system, the studio lights were so intense that the actors had to wear green(!) pancake makeup so their facial features would still be visible.

Baird was no Tesla, but he was still an inspired inventor, and certainly the first to bring a functional mass-produced television to market. He even got as far as video disc recorders and even color systems.

Guess what decided it in the end? It wasn't the lobbyist 'muscle' of the Marconi company (already well established with 'wireless receivers'), or the quality difference between the two systems. It was the actors who refused to work under the hot Baird lights. They would fall unexpectedly ill on the days of the Baird broadcasts, but turn up for the Marconi ones. (Everything was live streaming in those days).

Still, the BBC might have considered that noble precedent from the 1930s, and run with two systems simultaneously for a while.

Privacy chief warns EU on terror laws

Brennan Young

Don't feed the troll

Campbell is playing the 'total awareness' card a bit too faithfully. I call "troll".

Porn mag ed sacked for inadequate smut

Brennan Young

Soft porn is crap (and sexist too!)

I dunno who to blame, the anglosaxon puritans or Andrea Dworkin and her 'feminist' Dworks who sidelined the womens' movement into a witch hunt against any erotica which offends to the slightest degree. (By my definition, porn is 'erotica that the mainstream doesn't approve of').

I've been living in Denmark for over a decade. I'm not a consumer of porn, but hardcore is readily available from most corner shops. You can't even get soft porn here, and there's a good reason for that: It's juvenile and idiotic.

Hardcore, on the other hand, shows women AND men (and other species and other objects) doing what comes naturally and unnaturally. There's no pretense, no hypocrisy and if the women are objectified, the men are too.

Conversely British soft porn typically shows women only, stretching out their labia and pretending to have a Meg Ryan-style fake orgasm for no apparent reason. Not really my idea of a good time.

IIRC Britain also has some absurd law about not showing the erect phallus, which means softcore porn has only women showing their bits. Ergo, softcore is more sexist (and to me, more offensive) than hardcore. The sooner Men Only and their ilk become niche products the better.

Last.fm scrobbled for $280m

Brennan Young

There goes the neighborhood

Last.fm was one of the few web 2.0 sites that was actually useful. Now I guess we'll see CBS artists promoted over and above any others. Too bad.

Expel the IT bodgers, says Microsoft

Brennan Young

Culpability in Software License Agreements?

If Software License Agreements didn't systematically close every conceivable loophole of culpability, maybe developers would take this issue more seriously.

As it is, we see that MS and most other companies expect people to click 'agree' under a document which says "no matter what happens, it's not our fault". (GPL and the like are obvious exceptions, where it's more like "no matter what happens, anyone can go ahead and fix it").

That contributes to the kind of "shit happens" attitude which would be unacceptable in professions like medicine, teaching, law and so on.

If MS is serious about this, they should lead the way and take responsibility, instead of just blaming their developer community.

Half a million kids' DNA on UK police database

Brennan Young

Unwritten constitution

Just a comment after Gareth's comment that "it isn't worth the constitution it's written on."

Well, the UK doesn't have a constitution!

Sure the apologists for the regime like to talk about an 'unwritten constitution' as if that means something. You think I could sell my unwritten novel? There's no constitution. There are only laws and more laws. All of which can be changed at any moment without even a referendum or election.

The fact is, parliament can invent any new laws and repeal any old ones as they see fit, and there's really nothing to stop them except civil disobedience. (If you want to rely on the mass media to protect civil liberties, good luck to you).

It is ethically and morally 'right' for citizens (sorry, I should say "subjects", there is no such thing as a British "citizen") to break the law when the government is doing something ethically and morally 'wrong', like committing war crimes. It can be argued that it is our civic duty to do so.

Should we risk ending up on a DNA database for doing our civic duty?

The need for a proper written constitution has never been more urgent.

SanDisk and Microsoft BFFs around software-stuffed memory

Brennan Young

Yet another attack vector for Windows-only malware?

Malware which uses USB flash drives as an attack vector is just starting to appear. Now it seems Microsoft is introducing yet another 'automatic exectutable' feature with these Sandisk devices. What can possibly happen next?

Xoro HSD 7510 DVD player-equipped LCD TV

Brennan Young

Xvid support and...

...two other 'features' that ought to be mentioned in any review of a DVD player (portable, or otherwise):

Is there a region-free hack?

Is there a UOP override hack?

DivX/Xvid is often indicated as 'MPEG-4', even though DivX is strictly speaking a 'bastard' MPEG-4.

Otherwise, this looks like a nice unit.

How to enjoy media in any region

Brennan Young

UOP not mentioned

The last piece of the puzzle is "UOP" or 'user override' .

This has nothing to do with travelling around the world, but hey, while we're at hacking our players so that they do what WE tell them, rather than what MPAA would prefer, we might as well deal with UOP too.

GettinSadda mentioned the frustration at sitting through anti-piracy propaganda, ads or trailers without any way of skipping it, even if you've seen it a million times already. That's UOP, and yes, it can often be disabled, so that you can fast forward past the Universal ident or the trailier for some crap film you'll never watch.

So... when you're hunting for region-free hacks for your player (or for the player you are considering buying), be sure to look out for a UOP hack too!

HP to sell low-cost ink

Brennan Young

Nice page about printer cartridges & ink longevity

This announcement from HP is good news. Anything which demystfies the opaque inkjet market is a good thing. We know it's the 'razor blade' marketing model, but there's enough difference between the various manufacturers that one can't help wondering what kind of razor blade will give you the best shave (so to speak).

... and I just wanted to pass on this link to you folks:


Yes, it's 'the' Tim Hunkin of 'Rudiments of Wisdom' and 'Secret Life Of Machines' fame.

Hunkin points to a dearth of reliable (non-partisan) information about cartridges and ink, so he set about dismantling old cartridges (legit and no-name brands) and leaving prints out in the direct sunshine to discover what we're paying for.

He has some very interesting comments about Epson vs. the other brands, and the importance of laminating. More of this stuff would be useful. Anyone else got any tips or resources?

Greece and William Hill get ready to rumble, as gambling arrests continue

Brennan Young

"Vice" must be in the hands of public institutions

Gambling wrecks lives, not just the lives of the people who end up in the self-destructive loop of ludomania (fully understood by psychologists and casino owners), but also the lives of their families and loved ones. Most people who are pro-gambling are either hooked themselves, are profiting from it, or have never had a ludomaniac as a familiy member.

There are similar mechanisms behind the private (i.e. black market) control of drugs or prostitution.

We may not like it, but we're going to have to accept that 'vice' is going to happen, and there's going to be social consequences.

It's a matter of damage control, and private/corporate enterprise (legal or illegal) in its inevitable attempts to 'grow the market' for gambling can only make the damage worse.

The writer of this article appears to believe that private bookmakers are somehow the underdogs. In reality they are subverting democratic attempts to restrain the worst evils of gambling by offering online betting across national borders. This in itself is forcing the state gambling monoplies into competition!

While it's true that a state gambling monopoly which seeks to grow or expand is acting immorally (just as taxing cigarettes without spending the money on health campaigns is immoral), liberalising gambling is no solution.

The state gambling monopolies need to be watched closely, and for the most part they can be in democratic societies. They may make mistakes - as has happened in Greece - but they are at least partly accountable to people who care about the social issues.

Private companies aren't subject to such scrutiny, and corporations are only subject to the desires of the shareholders - almost certainly wanting to make a good return on their investment. The result: More gambling, more social problems.

It's correct to criticise the state gambling monoplies for expanding, but it's an incomplete and incorrect picture to characterise William Hill (et.al.) as the underdogs, because they are at least partly responsible.

On the Office format wars

Brennan Young

FUD in the save dialog

I'm quite surprised that nobody ever mentions the ominous and threatening "Are you sure" dialog box that pops up in MS Word if you attempt to save a file in any other format than the one MS is currently pushing. This is one of the most sophisticated pieces of hypnosis I have ever seen in a user interface.

A message like "Some data may be lost" really pushes the ordinary users' panic button: "Oh God! That means some of MY data! I'd better stick with .DOC instead of .RTF or .HTML" It's FUD in its most crystaline form, and has nothing to do with the machinations of standards bodies, governments, or company policy.

This particular little cunning trick has been instrumental in keeping end-users locked into the moving-target which is the .DOC format. Note that the dialog pops up even if Word knows you already saved the file as .DOC and have made no changes since. So in that particular case, what's getting lost, exactly?

Oh, and Victors' idea that .DOC is some kind of holy grail of interoperability is ludicrous. .DOC files open properly in only one app, and that's 'the latest version of MS Word' (whatever that may be).

And now we can't even be sure to open older .DOC files in newer versions of Word. The MS strategy tax has got them competing with their own legacy. In what way can that possibly make me feel more secure archiving my stuff in .DOC for the long term?

Microsoft Silverlight to copy Flash video tricks, Adobe responds

Brennan Young

RSS in a media player

Chad Smith asked "what's RSS got to do with a media player?"

In a word: Podcasting. Despite the ghastly name, you don't need an iPod to view syndicated video content. Apple's iTunes has RSS built-in for syndicated audio and video content. A certain percentage of people migrating from iTunes to Adobe Media Player will want RSS in their player. RSS support is a no brainer. It's easy to implement (you can build a simple video podcast viewer with Flash in a minutes), it's useful to some folks and perhaps it even shows some lukewarm promise. (Just perhaps).

I would say Adobe have their work cut out making a media player (i.e. jukebox) which is as pleasant to use as iTunes, but let's see. (BTW I have ITMS turned OFF all the time).

Personally I think podcasting is going the way of the first generation of 'push' content (remember that?) - i.e. down the toilet, but maybe we'll see it becoming useful some day, almost certainly in another incarnation.

Note: I *do* use RSS feeds for news and web content (including the Reg) but not much else. Life's too short to have my computer nagging me about even more meaningless and trivial things I ought to catch up on. That those meaningless and trivial things should be weighed in MB rather than KB makes them even less attractive.

Still, the kids seem to like it.

Lost until translation: a book on maths and magic

Brennan Young

A little light pedantry about proper names during the renaissance

Time was when Leonardo Da Vinci was always called "Leonardo" whenever we wanted brevity. That's what they called him in the renaissance, too. Nobody called him "Da Vinci". It would be like referring to Joseph Wright of Derby as "Of Derby".

Renaissance folks are traditionally referred to in the form:

Forname (of birthplace)


Forname (of parent)

As in Piero (Della Francesca). And this was a recursive definition so you'd often get something like

Forname (of parent (grandparent (grandparent's birthplace)))

As in Michelangelo (di Lodovico (Buonarroti (Simoni))) Should I do this in EBNF notation?

Nicknames were common too, so we have Sandro "Botticelli" which means "Little Barrell". His full title was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi which nobody remembers. And of course Michelangelo is always referred to by his first name alone.

In the last few years everone has been using what is assumed to be a surname in the modern sense, but is really just a reference to Leonardo's birthplace in Vinci.

Is this Dan Brown's doing? Or maybe people are worried about getting mixed up with the ninja turtles. Maybe if Dan Brown wrote a book called "The Buonorotti Code" we'd all be using that name to describe the Sistine Chapel painter.

OK I realise that many surnames ultimately arose from birthplaces, but Leonardo was from an age when surnames hadn't yet been invented. I always find it jarring when I see "Da Vinci", used as if it were a surname.

...although not nearly as jarring as the way that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is chummily referrred to as "Toulouse" in that ghastly Moulin Rouge flick. That would be like referring to Sophie Ellis-Bextor as "Ellis" or Sacha Baron Cohen as "Baron". Both Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Lloyd George would be "LLoyd", if they had appeared in the film

...and quite frankly I wouldn't be surprised if they had. The two Lloyds in plush waistcoats, alongside "Ellis" and "Baron" singing "You know my name, look up the number".

Good daze.

Surfers protest wave power project

Brennan Young

Wind farms are beautiful!

I live in Denmark. There are windmills all over the place, so listen to someone that has actually lived near a wind farm. I can see a bunch of them beyond the end of our road. They're mounted about 1km offshore but visible between the buildings.

They are exuisitely graceful and elegant because of the way the blades spin slightly out of sync with each other. An array of white windmills, sails rotating against a blue sky gives you that warm fuzzy feeling of harnessing the power of nature without spilling out ghastly waste products.

You can only hear them if you get right up close and then they make a wonderful deep-toned 'swoosh'. Most people who complain about the aesthetics of wind farms have never been anywhere near one. Anyone who appreciates the aesthetics of golf should 'dig' wind farms. They look so clean, and they operate in complete safety even when unattended.

Compare with a nuke plant or a CHP installation: Chimneys, smoke haze, cooling towers, high security fences, the accumulation of dangerous waste products, ugly, monstrous architecture which doesn't even move, and which (in the case of nukes) are always at risk of causing major disasters, genetic mutations, cancer and so on if not continually supervised. (That makes them ideal terrorist targets too. Would Al Qaeda be interested in blowing up a windmill?)

They key word here is British *Isles* - i.e. surrounded by WAVES. Not using them for energy is absurd. Plenty of wind too, and I'm not just talking about the warm guff breezing out of the politicians mouths.

If wave farms are even one tenth as elegant as wind farms, I'm almost sold on the aesthetics alone.

US nuke boffins rubbish polygraph testing

Brennan Young

CIA doesn't care if they work. The results can be "Operationally Useful" anyway.

As reported by the ex British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, the CIA doesn't necessarily care whether the intelligence they acquire is true.

For example it may be considered 'operationally useful' when trying to convince large populations of western countries to go to war (or support a coup d'etat) to say something like "We have intelligence that Chavez has been hobnobbing with Osama" (just some random names pulled out of a hat).

The CIA gets to choose if it uses any particular piece of "intelligence". Whether the "intelligence" came from a dodgy US polygraph session, or as a result of boiling the limbs of assumed political radicals in central asia is entirely secondary to the fact that there are 3 kinds of lie, the third being statsistics.

Hit the DECT: cordless phones on test

Brennan Young

Me too! (DECT interoperability)

I'm also very curious about this DECT interoperability business, and various other features that came 'for free' with good ol' analogue telephones.

In the shop where I bought my AEG phones (a 2 handset... set) I asked the sixteen year old 'salesman' about interoperability and he looked as if his boss had asked him whether loyalty was more important than obedience.

When he eventually came out of his trance he answered "er... no I don't think they be used together" in a fairly unconvincing way.

I've learned to disregard such tech 'know-how' from teenage staff at electronics retail outlets ever since one of them assured me that the MiniDisc was not digital but an analogue recording format - 'like a cassette'.

But... but... what's the deal. Does 'DECT' imply anything useful for consumers or is it just hot air? Can I buy some more DECT handsets from another manufacturer which will work with my existing DECT phones? Who can answer?

I also discovered that the handsets can have some numbers programmed into them. Great! Except you have to program handset A and handset B independently. No way of sharing the digital telephone book between handsets (pretty stupid). Watch out for that one.

Oh! One more point: When we used to have two analogue phones in our flat, we could use both phones simultaneously - I mean, both me and my girlfriend could speak to 'the caller' or 'callee' at the same time. (I believe this was called a 'Party Line' in the old days).

I naturally expected my DECT phones would offer the same functionality, but noooo.. Far too exotic. I really miss that sometimes when talking to relatives from abroad. Just a warning to you folks out there. This feature is not mentioned in the Reg review either.

How hard can it be?

Israelis vote for Eurovision nuclear apocalypse

Brennan Young


Sounds like an utterly tasteless contribution to the a competition which is hardly noted for good taste.

GettinSadda makes the best point. Israel has nukes, Iran doesn't, but it's telling that a few Danish satirical cartoons taken out of context caused a massive international brouhaha. I doubt this is going to cause more than a ripple, but let's see...

Torture and '24' - because it hurts us less than the real thing?

Brennan Young

"Operationally Useful"

It's useful to study the remarks of Craig Murray, ex British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. When he pointed out that 'confessions' to terror crimes obtained by torture (a favorite technique is apparently to immerse entire limbs in boiling water) are almost certainly false, the CIA spook repeatedly told him that it didn't matter because the confessions were "operationally useful".

The implication is that if Bush and Blair can say "We have intelligence about X" they aren't lying. The intelligence doesn't need to be factual to be "operationally useful" - i.e. useful as a pretext for war.


Islamic ceramics wow mathematicians

Brennan Young

Where did we get our number system from in the first place?

This shouldn't come as a big surprise. In the XIth and XIIth century those folks were already experts at abstract symbol manipulation whilst we in the west were still drowning "cat ladies" in the village pond and using the burn of a red hot iron to establish innocence or guilt in the courtroom.

One might wonder what other scientific and mathematical discoveries might be made from investigating Arab and Persian art. architecture and literature from that period...

"Allah is in the details"

The perils of pair programming

Brennan Young

Basic cybernetic principle: Tolerance across interfaces

My father used to work in Switzerland on those fancy high-end mechanical watches they are so expert at making.

His boss would always stress to him the importance of 'tolerance' within a system. No, this doesn't have anything to do with accepting foreigners in the workplace (although the metaphor can indeed be stretched that far if you abstract far enough).

Cybernetic 'tolerance' suggests that in any interface between two components (mechanical, digital or biological), 'Component A' must match 'Component B' in terms of quality. Two enmeshed cog wheels should be made of the same grade of brass or the same grade of plastic (or whatever) otherwise there will be trouble. The lower grade component will wear out faster than the other, and probably compromise the higher grade component by dropping gunk and swarf into its delicate parts.

It matters less whether a high grade or a low grade material is used. What's important is that the quality matches across the interface. The result is that both components are balanced in terms of performance and wear. In a 'pair programming' system, both parties will contribute matching amounts of effort and require breaks at about the same time, so balancing each other.

So... congratulations Matt Stephens, you have exposed a design flaw in the 'pair-programming' idea, at least as far as cybernetic efficiency is concerned. (Really, it's a gap in the specification, which leads to a flaw, rather than a flaw in pair-programming as such).

The advantages of mentoring (as you mention) are still valid, however.

The problem you raise is more of management: If a manager thinks he can get mentoring of junior staff AND the efficiency of pair-programming for the same price, he is misleading everyone, especially himself.

What are zombie behaviours?

Brennan Young

We should be surprised that anyone is surprised

A great many spiritual leaders and consciousness researchers have pointed this out for millennia: Most people sleepwalk through life, to the delight of advertisers, cultists and spin doctors everywhere, but hold on a minute: The term 'zombie' has negative connotations which does a discredit to the automatic behaviors which keep us safe from (e.g.) traffic accidents on a more than daily basis. Your unconscious mind makes sure you don't eat bad food, leave parties when the atmosphere isn't right, and all kinds of other useful things.

The 'true' Haitian zombie phenomenon relies on a particular drug program. Drug A (which has been identified as the puffer fish toxin) causes death-like symptoms leading to burial and so on. Drug B (a cocktail of nightshade alkaloids, usually based on datura) brings the subject 'back to life', only with the conscious mind 'removed', so that he can be sold into slavery or whatever, but still be 'useful' - all the neural responses which might make someone an industrious sugar plantation worker, for example, can still be in place. (Just think how stupid bees are, next time you munch a honey sandwich).

I think it's a little sensationalist to use the term 'zombie' to mean simply 'unconscious', as the writer of this article has done. The unconscious mind is a fine and respectable thing, and deserves to be retrieved from the dark cobwebbed closet where Freud placed it a century or so ago. (Of course, without Freud, we might still have even uglier models of the mind).

Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Charles Tart's book 'Waking Up' is largely about how to escape your sleepwalker self. If you want the 'airy fairy' version, read some Gurdjieff or even Nietzsche. (The Übermensch is arguably one who overcomes zombie-like behavior).

Cybernetics pioneer Gregory Bateson once said that he was not at all surprised that we had an unconscious mind (the zombie part), but that he was very surprised that we had a conscious mind. It's clear that the conscious mind represents a tiny fraction of what who we are, but ironically it is the largest part of who we think we are.



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