* Posts by Dr Paul Taylor

356 publicly visible posts • joined 15 Jul 2009


Palantir bags £330M NHS data bonanza despite privacy fears

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: opt out?

That page says "Opt outs do not apply to the federated data platform", ie Palantir.

Dr Paul Taylor

opt out?

What did you do to opt out? The news articles say that it's not possible.

The last two or three times when they "asked nicely" if they could appropriate all our medical data, we said no. So this time they're just going to take it, without asking.

Why have just one firewall when you can fire all the walls?

Dr Paul Taylor

In Greece, Ν for ναι means yes, but that's ok because you can check from the Unicode that it's not N. OK could mean yes too, but Ο for όχι would mean no.

UK admits 'spy clause' can't be used for scanning encrypted chat – it's not 'feasible'

Dr Paul Taylor

No one would ever willingly let a complete stranger read all of your mail

But they do!

Increasingly nowadays I send URLs with /private/ and /drafts/, which are "Disallow:"ed in my robots.txt, but then find them in my logs accessed by Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, etc, or obfuscated into "safe" links.

These things have been explicitly enabled in the recipients' handling of incoming email. Or more likely by their pointy-haired Boss.

Anybody know of a way of blocking such accesses on a website?

Largest local government body in Europe goes under amid Oracle disaster

Dr Paul Taylor

Compulsory Purchase of private houses

Birmingham City Council's answer to overwhelming debt is like that of an adict to drugs or gambling --- take other people's property.

Ladywood is to the SW of the city centre, within the ring road. In the 1860s it was densely built up with Back-to-Back (slum) housing. My grandfather was born one in 1902.

The City Council inflicted its first "re-generation" on Ladywood in the 1960s. The back-to-backs and the whole community of business, pubs, schools, etc were demolished, leaving a wasteland. Ugly concrete tower blocks and 4-storey maisonettes were built to replace them. But only a fraction of the 15,000 residents were rehoused there.

The second re-generation was done in the 1990s. Miraculously, that time, the City Council were persuaded to involve the local people in the planning process. Joe Holyoak was the architectural advisor. My house was built in 1992, as part of a development advertised to "professionals".

Now there is a third "re-generation". The cabal who have planned this, in secret, in bed with a huge developer have led the people of the rest of Birmingham t believe that the 1960s tower blocks are typical of Ladywood. (In fact, the plan is to keep them, because people in houses with gardens are criminals.)

"Phase One" of the "re-generation" is compulsory purchase and demolition of exactly the area that actually benefitted in the 1960s and is as good as anywhere else in Birmingham (or anywhere).

Why? Because it is mainly privately owned. It is a sweetener to the developer, in the hope they will then build new tower blocks to replace the ugly Council maisonettes. But no developer in their right mind would demolish these houses. Thy will just give them a lick of paint, cram in some extra ones and re-sell them at twice the price for which they were stolen from the original owners.

If you live in Birmingham, please write to your Ward Councillor to tell them to stop this and concentrate on the debt caused by failing to pay women equally.

See here for the local campaign.

Want tech cred? Learn how to email like a pro

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: Don't write me a damn book, pick up the phone.

The answer to that is to refuse to give out your phone number, especially mobile.

Unfortunately, so many web forms make it a "required" field and don't accept "0".

Then people really think your phone number is 09876543210

Decision to hold women-in-cyber events in abortion-banning states sparks outcry

Dr Paul Taylor

Freedom of Religion

should be accompanied by Freedom from Religion.

Oh Snap... Desktop Ubuntu Core to arrive in 2024

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: Swings and roundabouts

I & my colleagues have written about them so much

Thank you. I will try to read those things. It's good to have a few explanations here for the non-experts.

Dr Paul Taylor

immutable distributions

I had to get halfway down the article to learn what an immutable distribution is

But it still doesn't explain how this works, besides a few casual references to COW.

For the principal notion in the article, this is disappointing, considering that less important things do get explanation.

What I have wanted for a long time is a clear separation of system and userland, so that the system can be reinstalled but my personal configurations are preserved. I guess M$ is the root of this evil. Often nowadays "applications", or at leasy huge config files, get installed in userland.

My ad hoc solution is a load of symbolic links from /home/pt, which is nowadays full of this crud, into /paul, which is my own filespace. Of course this doesn't work if you're sysadmin even for a small group, let alone a company.

India official fined after draining reservoir to recover phone

Dr Paul Taylor


He was fined about £500, which is way too little!

Seriously, boss? You want that stupid password? OK, you get that stupid password

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: root password?

I haven't used a root password on my Linux machines in ages. I don't think they have one any more. "sudo" and my own password does the trick.

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: Missing part

Exactly. These stories are getting really lame now. Once upon a time, the poor but intripid dev had to get a plane, an African "taxi" full of chickens and finally a camel to fulfil his "on call", and then make a jump-lead out of sheep's intestine.

FCA mulls listing rules after Hauser blames 'Brexit idiocy' for Arm's New York IPO

Dr Paul Taylor


Maybe it would be a good idea to look up the distinction.

CERN celebrates 30 years since releasing the web to the public domain

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: The only reason that WWW ...

No. Gopher was barely more than a way of indexing documents served by FTP.

HTML turned the paradigm around: the document itself became primary, along with a way of indexing other documents.

Also, being able to "click" on things opened it up to The Great Unwashed.

At first I was skeptical of "hyper-text". Around the time of Noah (1970s, maybe), in the London Science Museum, I played with a demo of hyper-text intended for teaching. It was a history of the calendar. It was full of exercises - which you were forced to do in order to proceed. So I only had time to see the first chapter.

Nowadays, if some company wants you to do an "online survey", it's just like that. Typically it starts with the personal data, in case you get bored later. So I refuse to do them.

Dr Paul Taylor

Mirage of democracy

A colleague first told me about "xmosaic" on 24 May 1993.

When I first saw the WWW I thought it would be a democratic revolution. People could post their materials in a way that cut across Manglement.

What a dystopia we have now!

I hated HTML - it's so verbose! I thought that, since Berners-Lee was surrounded by people writing Physics in LaTeX, he should have based the language on that.

What a horrendous mess we have now!

Balloon-borne telescope returns first photos in search for dark matter

Dr Paul Taylor


How does it keep its position and orientation stable to take photos at the precision needed for astronomy?

It is still, of necessity, in the atmosphere, albeit a thin one, so are would still winds to knock it around.

NHS threatened with legal action over £480m patient data platform

Dr Paul Taylor


I put my name on their mailing list, so they tell me about other campaigns and ask for money.

But they have no campaign info website and I got no answer when I asked for a form letter to send to my GP.

I did write to my GP in November and a month later demanded an acknowledgement, but I have still had no substantive reply.

Does anyone know of a coordinated campaign website?

Here's how Microsoft hopes to inject ChatGPT into all your apps and bots via Azure

Dr Paul Taylor


"When I were a lad", say up to 1980, tools had an identifiable function. A reasonably intelligent and practical person could take them out of their case and see how they worked, how robust they were, how to use them and maybe how to repair them. Maybe they worked in some shoddy Heath-Robinson way, but at least that was visible, and maybe there was a more robust and expensive alternative.

Now everything is magic, Heath-Robinson, smoke-and-mirrors."Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", said Arthur C. Clarke. Well yes, but I'm not so sure that it really is more advanced than reading tea leaves.

I had to have a face-to-face row with my bank manager to get them to record that I was going on holiday to Argentina. They claim to have ways of detecting fraud. How, when I had never been to South America before? By no better method than reading tea leaves.

What the hell does this Artificial alleged Intelligence do? How does it work? Or is it glorified tea leaves?

I can imagine a useful tool using this technology. When one does a web search, often there are numerous pages with essentially the same text. It would be good to have a tool to merge them, identify the original version, corrections or errors that have been introduced, etc. Maybe there are conflicting versions, or opposite sides of a story: these could be distinguished. For centuries,historians have spent their lives in libraries doing this by hand. In the future, digital historians will have to sort out multiple versions of documents in a vastly larger dataset than classicists or medievalists ever had to play with.

But of course such a tool is not as sexy or profitable.

How to get the latest Linux kernel on your Ubuntu box

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom: Mao Tse Tung...................NOT!!!

"Hundred Flowers" was in fact a campaign to flush out dissidents, so that they could be eliminated.

See, for example, https://alphahistory.com/chineserevolution/hundred-flowers-campaign/

If you're struggling to secure email forwarding, it's not you, it's ... the protocols

Dr Paul Taylor

So send email from YOUR OWN domain

the spoofed domain state.gov includes the spoofed domain state.gov includes Outlook’s SPF record (spf.protection.outlook.com) into its own SPF record (spf.protection.outlook.com) into its own SPF record

If (large) organisations sent out their own email from their own IP address space, instead of from Outlook, Messagelabs, etc., then this hole would be fixed. Human recipients could also see for themselves, without doing a recursive SPF lookup, whether the email comes from who it says it does.

If they include the SPF record of some mail handler that's also used by The Great Unwashed, their authentication goes down the drain.

Whatever the problems with SPF, I (can in principle) be more confident of where email has come from than a phone call, especially (purportedly) from a bank that starts by askingme "security questions". So far as I can gather, there is no way of tracing a phone call, even a "landline" one.

Gen Z lingo and search engines: A Millennial Odyssey

Dr Paul Taylor

So it can recite Wiktionary


original version 14 July 2022‎ by MichaelDMelvin23:


rizz (plural rizzes)

(slang) One’s ability to attract a potential love interest.

99 year old man says cryptocurrency is for idiots

Dr Paul Taylor

Gold vs electricity

It's a mystery to me why gold has always been "valuable", despite having no practical value (prior to electronics), but valuable it has been throughout history. Kings (starting with Κροισος, according to legend) stamped their faces on it, which I guess provided some sort of guarantee that it was the standard weight and purity. But even if you didn't believe it or the king was deposed, the coin was still gold and could bear some other king's face instead. So whatever was spent on making the coin could be recovered afterwards. Cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, depend on spending (computational work, which by the laws of thermodynamics requires) energy. Unless that expenditure is considerable, as a fraction of what is currently available to humanity, the cryptocurrency can be forged (manufactured too easily) and will fall in value. To restore equilibrium, more energy must be expended. But, unlike gold, the energy that was spent on "manufacturing" the currency can never be recovered. In other words, cryptocurrencies, besides being the currency of pirates, are necessarily the enemy of the reduction in energy consumption that is essential to staving off climate change.

UK prepares to go it alone on post-Brexit science plan

Dr Paul Taylor

Scientific collaborations like sausages

This brexiter "go it alone" or "we'll go and play with someone else's ball" treats scientific collaborations as if they were sausages, entirely interchangeable,

OK, there are people who work on topics that interest me in Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Sydney and several Canadian cities.

But it's hardly an accident that the ones with whom I have the closest academic relationships are in Slovenia, Italy, Germany.

Yes, part of that is that the EU has (indirectly) paid for me to go there a number of times in the past. But the underlying reason is that it's a good deal easier to get on EasyJet from Stansted to a familiar place an hour away than Qantas from Heathrow via somehere-or-other and death- warmed-up on the other side of the planet.

And because the places are familiar and easy to get to, I have productive longstanding collaborations with various people in Europe.

I can't just "slot in" a replacement from some other continent.

Truck-size asteroid makes one of the tightest fly-bys of Earth ever recorded

Dr Paul Taylor

Southern tip of South America

OK it's called Fin del Mundo, so most of the Mundo doesn't care, and usually nor would I.

But I just happen to be there at the moment.

But could I find anything anywhere in either English or Spanish telling me where over the "southern tip of South America" it would pass, so that I could look out for it or the crash?

America's nuclear fusion 'breakthrough' is super-hot ... yet far from practical

Dr Paul Taylor


MW or MJ?

Why do so many people so often get their units wrong by a factor of time?

We need a Library of Congress – but for the digital world

Dr Paul Taylor

What about outdated personal material?

In the late 1990s I helped to implement and run an "electronic library" called Hypatia that provided preprints and contact information for people in my subject area. It died in 2001 when QMUL wouldn't renew my contract and there are now more powerful versions of the same thing. Recently a colleague who was at one stage involved in a bigger search engine urged me to revive it for a computing museum website.

I could probably have got my Perl code running again, but what would I do about the contact information, which is personal and out of date?

There can be problems with putting "live" things in Museums. Jurassic Park?

ChatGPT has mastered the confidence trick, and that's a terrible look for AI

Dr Paul Taylor

References and acknowledgements

I would feel better if it provided references and acknowledgements to where it was getting its knowledge from

Agreed, but journalists don't do this either, even when reporting on scientific issues. The links in Guardian articles point to other Guardian articles saying the same thing with the same lack of detail. The one exception to this is George Monbiot.

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: How odd

That answer is better than you will get from a science journalist, a philosophy professor or even most computer science PhDs.

How do you solve the problem that is Twitter?

Dr Paul Taylor

Where did the $44b go?

Presumably some of it went into the pockets of the people who built Twitter in the first place, but no longer have to slave for it.

Those people know what worked and what didn't.

When the Titanic has sunk, those people can Build Back Better.

I am surprised not to have seen this point of view expressed already.

You get the internet you deserve

Dr Paul Taylor


Your partner's experience is entirely standard with attempting to correct Wikipedia about something in which they're an expert. It happens eventually to every academic who tries to interact with them.

When it happened to me, I looked at the profiles of the people who were laying in to me and found that they basically have PhDs in watching television: they had no relevant general qualification and certainly none in the particular topic.

I do still look stuff up on Wikipedia. It's good for subject that consist of a list of unconnected factlets, such as a city (history, amenities, transport, sport, etc).

But for something like a concept in mathematics, where one wants to scrap, re-write and control a whole page, trying to correct it can only lead to conflict.

RIP: Kathleen Booth, the inventor of assembly language

Dr Paul Taylor

West Midlands

Halesowen was and exclave of Shropshire and Dudley, which is to the north, was in Worcestershire. Worcester is well to the south of them and Shrewsbury (the county town of Shropshire) well to the north west.

Apple exec confirms iPhones will switch to USB-C because 'we have no choice'

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: But what about Brexit ?

if British companies want to sell into the EU

then they have to move their HQ into the EU, because otherwise Brexit has made it effectively impossible.

Deluge of of entries to Spamhaus blocklists includes 'various household names'

Dr Paul Taylor

legitmate email from Linode

My website & email are on shared hosting that is itself hosted on Linode.

I have a collaborator whose personal website is also (directly) hosted on Linode.

We are both respected academics.

I don't know who you are and probably have never had cause to send you emails, but it is ridiculous to suggest that all email from Linode addresses is spam.

For me, having my own domain that is not under the control of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook etc is an important democratic right in Cyberspace.

Yet increasingly my emails (most of them typed by hand and addressed personally to colleagues and friends) are vanishing because those tyrants want to control my life.

At least Spamhaus has a list that the public can query and correct - some sort of Due Process. The Internet tyrants work entirely in secret.

Businesses should dump Windows for the Linux desktop

Dr Paul Taylor

Security: suits me if M$ dominates the market

The best protection against burglary is a neighbour with all the flashy stuff.

While M$ dominates the market, the crooks will put their effort into targeting Windoze machines.

What worries me more is that M$ may use their "secure" boot to force manufactures to prevent me from installing Linux on any computer that I have bought, as in this recent story.

Student crashes Cloudflare beta party, redirects email, bags a bug bounty

Dr Paul Taylor

third party mail handling

Sounds like yet another reason why you should never allow tech giants to mangle your email.

Europe passes sweeping antitrust laws targeting America's Big Tech

Dr Paul Taylor

A Brexit Opportunity, at last!

You can be sure that the "UK" "government" would have made sure that none of this would have happened.

Just in case anybody misinterprets that, I am in favour of this action by the EU Parliament and regret that I will not see the benefit of it.

Boris Johnson set to step down with tech legacy in tatters

Dr Paul Taylor

Yes Prime Minister

I didn't find it credible when Jim Hacker became Prime MInister, because (despite or because of supposedly having been a polytechnic lecturer) he didn't look like he had the intelligence.

I see now that I was wrong in believing that to be needed.

O tempora! O mores!

How to explain what an API is – and why they matter

Dr Paul Taylor

screen scrubbing

In the 1970s APIs were called modular programming. It was the essence of Unix.

Problem is, the teenagers who implement a lot of the gizmos on the Web care more about making their sites look pretty than providing information to others.

Besides this, there is a widespread attitude that "no robots must be allowed in", ie under no circumstances should other sites be allowed to build on "my" information.

For example, when Jamie Jones and I were implementing istopbrexit.info, I thought "we've got the user's postcode and that of this meeting, let's tell them how to get there". A site called traveline.info seemed to be providing passable public transport information, but I couldn't see how to feed postcodes to its interface.

When I enquired, they told me I had to pay £500 for a license. This is a pretty stupid attitude, because if they provided a simple API, more people would find out about their site (and see their ads).

As for Google maps, it's only for Californians who never get out of their cars. It lacks any detail for pedestrians. streetmap.co.uk is far superior in Britain and increasingly openstreetmap.org across the globe.

(We took istopbrexit.info down when the disaster happened, but also because the major anti-brexit organisations were determined to compete with me instead of cooperating, and for personal reasons. Unfortunately, the domain name was taken over by a porn site.)

US, Europe formally blame Russia for data wiper attacks against Ukraine, Viasat

Dr Paul Taylor

finishing line?

So where is the "finishing line" to which you want the Ukrainians to fight? Moscow? Vladivostok?

Napoleon and Hitler tried to invade Russia. Their best generals fought back - Generals Janvier and Février - who didn't even have nukes.

Besides, Putin is a street thug, who relates that he learned his most important lesson from a rat that he cornered when he was a kid. Inexplicably, I got downvoted for pointing that out before.

Слава України! nevertheless.

Putin reaches for nuclear option: Zuckerberg banned

Dr Paul Taylor

Mathias Rust managed to fly into Russia (in 1987).

As for Putin and Zuck - they were looking so well matched!

Finnish govt websites knocked down as Ukraine President addresses MPs

Dr Paul Taylor

Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg

It was demolished in 1977, the operation being supervised by one Boris Yeltsin,

at least according to our old friend Wikipedia.

Russia (still) trying to weaponize Facebook for spying, Ukraine-war disinfo

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: Pull the plug , Scotty.

In previous wars it was necessary to dig tunnels into the enemy territory or fly over dropping (bombs and) leaflets. Both of these were highly dangerous operations.

For the first time in history we have a dense pre-installed network of cables (etc), through which the message could be delivered to the Russian people, about what is being done in their name to their Slav brothers and sisters and why the outside world its wrecking their economy.

All we need to do is to hijack some of the HTTP/port 80 outgoing connections from Russia. Maybe some clever Ukrainian geeks are already doing this.

Why do you want to do something so stupid as to destroy this system?

Biden says Russia exploring revenge cyberattacks

Dr Paul Taylor

"I am going down, I'll take everyone else with me."

Putin is fundamentally a street thug. Look up the story that he tells about chasing a rat when he was a boy.

Epson payments snafu leaves subscribers unable to print

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: So the moral of the story is...

No, the moral is, don't buy anything that is called "smart".

Boys outnumber girls 6 to 1 in UK compsci classes

Dr Paul Taylor

citation required

In Scandinavia they encourage women and girls to do anything they want. The result is less women taking up traditionally male-dominated subjects, not more.

Dr Paul Taylor

what careers do women want

I have found myself in this discussion many times before and it often descends into a shouting match.

To be objective about what the gender issues are in computer science we need to have some idea of what happens in the occupations that women choose instead of IT.

What about mid-wives? How many of them are men? Do they have soul-searching debates or shouting matches about how to encourage more boys to consider midwifery as a profession?

According the one conversation that I have ever had with a mid-wife, the ratio is 100:1.

(As a gay man, I have not had occasion to use their services.)

Nominet suspends 'single digit' number of Russian dot-UK domain registrars

Dr Paul Taylor

blowing raspberries

We have random companies imposing random sanctions (IT and otherwise) on random other companies with supposed links to Russia.

Nobody seems to be giving any thought to whether these sanctions have any effect, or whether there might be some other course of action that would be more effective.

This really just amounts to blowing raspberries (not even Pis) at Putin.

Supposedly we are fighting an economic war, because it's far too risky to fight a shooting war.

But we have no economic generals capable of planning that war.

Chip world's major suppliers of neon gas shut down by Ukraine invasion – report

Dr Paul Taylor

Re: Theres a bit of Neon in

the atmosphere.

Yes, it's produced by distillation of air. There's no other way.

So this could be done anywhere with a power supply. No excuse for there only being one source.

Enterprise IT finds itself in a war zone – with no script

Dr Paul Taylor

Cutting Russia off from the InterWebs is stupid

In past wars, getting your message to the population of the enemy country required flying over them and dropping leaflets.

The Internet and Web make this far easier. Just hijack (some) port 80 connections out of Russia and make people watch videos of the effects of bombing Ukraine and what captured conscripts think, before redirecting to the intended site.

But also bear in mind that all this will force dictators to be more IT-self-sufficient, so the effectiveness of such measures will be reduced next time round.

Taiwan, for example. China is taking notes.

Good: People can spot a deepfake video. Bad: They're not so hot with text

Dr Paul Taylor

why the politics?

I'd be more convinced if the "soundbites" were on topics about which the experimental subjects didn't already have opinions.

Cf BBC Radio 4's Unbelievable Truth panel game.