Friday, November 30, 2007

Professional Over-Reaction

The Religion of Peace and Tolerance is at it again:

The protesters gathered in Martyrs Square, outside the presidential palace in the capital, many of them carrying knives and sticks.

Marchers chanted "Shame, shame on the UK", "No tolerance - execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad".

Can we possibly stop supporting these barbaric medievalists with UK taxpayers' cash?

The UK record is strong: it disbursed some £110 million of humanitarian and development assistance to southern Sudan since the Oslo conference in April 2005, where the UK pledged £317 million in aid to Sudan over three years (2005-2007). To date we have spent £290 million in the whole country and stand to exceed this pledge. This includes £47 million, which is channelled through the Multi-Donor Trust Fund over three years (2005-2007) and split evenly between North and South Sudan.

UK Development Aid Programme in Sudan

  • In the past five years the UK has provided US$667m (£326m) in aid to Sudan, out of a total of US$2201m (£1075m) from the international community.
  • In 2007/08 the UK plans to give about US$228m (£114m).

Thursday, November 29, 2007


You tell me ...

From the Dilbert page.

Is Scott trying to tell us something about geeks?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Surprised or Shocked?

Mrs S-E dragged me away from the computer to read this in today's Scotsman. The mind truly boggles.

Now Scotland's 20,000 Orange Lodge members have been asked to name the superhero. He is appearing on the order's Christmas cards,dubbed "Santa's Little Helper", and features in children's pop-up books on the history of Orangeism. There are also plans to use him as a logo on pencils and erasers.

But I see a problem:

We face the same problems as any other youth organisations, such as the Boys' Brigade or the Scouts, in appealing to youngsters once they hit puberty.

I am sorry - I can't see how this:

is going to appeal to "post-pubescent" youth. Especially not when the standard of modern cartoons has been set by, for an example of interest to the post-pubescent, Angelina Jolie, in Beowulf, in 3D!

I also feel the need, despite it coming from the other side of the bigot divide, to point out that the battlecry "Paddy Power" may be seen as a breach of trademark.

Update - of course, that second pic was appropriate for male (or lesbian) youth. The young ladies (and any gay youth) can have a very-happy-it-was-a-cartoon Ray Winstone. I would also point out, to those of the non-heterosexual persuasion, that they may want to very carefully scout out the attitudes of their local Orange Order branch before thinking of joining. And then going elsewhere and doing something sensible.

More on the Iraqi Interpreters

Just in case either of you don't check Dan's site regularly, he has a new post up with some details of the emails he has been receiving.

Now, if there had just been proper records kept (and somebody didn't post them from Washington to London) and our political class had the slightest sense of honour ...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The evils of pervasive computing ...

Electronic pal spills beans on cheating wife. Read and enjoy.

Email is not the only way

To transfer data across a network. Honestly.

Blind Optimism?

This morning, when I got to this computer, my screen saver had crashed. As this particular device is a rather beaten-up (although originally well-specced) dot.compost laptop, running a Windows OS, this is hardly a surprise.

However, I am running BOINC and the application that had crashed was the UK Met Office climate prediction model. This needs nearly a month of dedicated processor time and is hideously sensitive to errors - both mathematical and operational. It is the latter that seems to be the problem to my contribution (the former may render the whole thing pointless). Both file-system glitches and other errors - this morning's was an illegal memory access - regularly ruin runs at these extensive file sets. For comparison, Seti-At-Home takes under 6 hours per work-package and, on my (albeit much newer and considerably faster) Mac, Einstein@Home packages take about 10 hours.

Here is the dilemma - splitting up the calculation sets / work packages into smaller will clearly result in some loss of efficiency. However, given the (linearly increasing with duration?) chance of failure and the associated loss of the already committed calculation time, there must be a maximally efficient package duration? Especially as you are having these things run on machines where you, the organisers, have minimal control over patching and other operating parameters, I would expect this to be much less than 633 hours ...

Techie note: neither the number of cores per processor nor the number of processors are particularly relevant here (except as they take the normal work load of the machine) - it is the actual elapsed time duration of the specific work that is important, not the package throughput

Data Loss - Part Ye Third

Yesterday, I opined:
the poor bod who actually did this is likely to be some form of IT or audit minion

Yes, indeed - an IT minion. And in preventative custody. That is, preventing him from telling the truth until the spin has been properly sorted out. Poor bugger.

Update: Oh, and the Information Commissioner's press release has been stealth updated again, and now mentions PWC. Again, without mentioning that they got it wrong. If that's how the openness and transparency watchdog behaves, admittedly for a completely trivial mistake, then God help us (as we are seeing) when things go badly wrong.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Data Loss - Reprise

Okay, so we seem to have (from the best figures I can glean), approximately 25 million sets of personal data. Within that, it appears to be (this will be updated as I can):
  • 11 million families Update: not sure now whether this is the number of adults or the number of household records (you can have child benefit paid split between carers if the child spends time living in more than one household, and you can also change who it is paid to ...)
  • 14 million children
  • 7¼ million bank accounts. Update: Sandra Quinn, APACS spokes-weasel, said on MoneyBox (Sat 24 Nov) that there were 7.3 million accounts notified to the banks through APACS. I'll take that as confirmation of this figure.
Now, of its self, those figures are interesting - it's free money, not means tested, paid to mum and not strongly audited (at least, Mrs S-E's never has) so there seems little incentive to fib - the average family with children under 16 (or slightly older) has 1.27 of them and 34% of mums really don't want the money paid into a bank account. But, security questions:
  • Why on God's green Earth did the NAO need, or think they wanted, the entire database? I appreciate that they have a duty to ensure that public funds are properly managed but surely that could have been done with summary data and some spot checks? Update: Apparently, they didn't want the personal data - but that still makes it even more dubious why they couldn't use summary data (i.e. I can think of reasons why they would want the personal data, just not ones legitimate to the NAO role.) Update 2: from Hansard - seems to be a proper explanation to me - Edward Leigh hairs the public accounts committee - h/t Roger Hird - (Ed notes - except, of course, that under the DPA, your NI number is, contrary to Mr Leigh's assertion, personal data, because somebody has the database to turn that back into a reference to you):
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I am grateful to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to the Chancellor for briefing me this morning. May I just make one or two things clear from the CAG’s briefing? He requested this information—the national insurance numbers—to create a sample to enable him to carry out the audit. It is clear that the CAG specifically asked that all personal details, bank account details and all that sort of information should be removed before this was sent. That is the most important thing. The National Audit Office simply asked for the national insurance numbers; this had nothing to do with personal details.
  • Ross, on Newsnight last night, said that the database should have been classified as "SECRET". Can't comment on that, because the definitions of UK protective markings are themselves protectively marked :). It would be interesting to find out what the Accreditation Documentation Set rated the system as (I can guess) and how this relates to the new Impact Levels ... (Will post an IL definition table if I can find it on the web).
  • Was backup software involved? If so, why was this not set to decrypt by default?
  • Why was this not transferred over the GSI or xGSI (Government Secure Intranet)?
  • What involvement, if any, did Aspire (the Cap Gemini SPV that runs HMRC's IT) have in this saga?
  • Why all the delays? (Ed: Actually, I know the answer to this one - the "shoot the messenger" culture endemic in modern Britain - private as well as public sectors.)
Security red herrings (IMNSHO):
  • "Junior official" - the poor bod who actually did this is likely to be some form of IT or audit minion, almost certainly not an Oxbridge classics grad (or even, horrible to have an almost job-relevant qualification, a PPE grad), acting on the commands of their superiors.
  • Lost in the post - yes, it went in the Government internal mail. Why? Have you ever tried to get first class posting, never mind recorded / registered post from a large bureaucracy? Generally, the only way to do it is to go to the Post Office yourself and try to claim the cost back on expenses.
  • Quibbles about refunds of any fraud or suing the taxman. The former will happen, the latter can't - see here.
  • Fines for HMRC - the large fines against banks were levied (IIRC) by the FSA, who have no authority over HMRC, as opposed to the Information Commissioner, who has a different penalty regime (largely, and reasonably effectively against large organisations, name and shame).
More news:
  • The Information Commissioner speaks:
Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, said:

“This is an extremely serious and disturbing security breach. This is not the first time that we have been made aware of breaches at the HM Revenue and Customs – we are already investigating two other breaches. Incidents like these illustrate that any system is only as good as its weakest link. The alarm bells must now ring in every organisation about the risks of not protecting people’s personal information properly. As I highlighted earlier this year, it is imperative that organisations earn public trust and confidence by addressing security and other data protection safeguards with the utmost vigour.
  • But why does he mention a KPMG review? Jane Kennedy said (on Newsnight which I caught online) PWC? Do we really need them both? Update: Seems to be a typo in the IC press release - Kieron Poynter, mentioned as leading the study for KPMG, is Chairman of PWC UK. Update 2: And the KPMG mention has been removed from the online press release (without acknowledging the change).

HMRC and their CDs

I would watch here and here.

Update: And I wouldn't listen to Mark Serwotka who said "this is proof that civil servants do very valuable jobs." No. I don't think so. Screwing up so publicly is hardly a "valuable job".

Update 2: Mrs S-E has just told me that PWC are going in to do the investigation. So we can all sleep easily. Where are the Met CCU or SOCA?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mark Ward talks (security) bollocks

RIPA Part III. You have been warned about it for some time. It is now in the mainstream news. However there are some small accuracy issues ... Well, we can't ask those loyal public servants at the BBC to get everything right:

If those receiving the letters do not comply with the request or a formal S49 notice they can be imprisoned for up to two years.

Err. No. Complete bollocks, in fact. The penalty for failing to comply with a formal S49 notice can be up to 5 years imprisonment if the case relates to nation security under s15 of the Terrorism Act 2006 (thanks, Richard), with 2 years and a fine, as the maximum for other cases.

However, that is just pedantry. Your egregious failing is not pointing out the maximum penalty for failing to comply with a request from the CPS (or anyone else, for that matter) for key disclosure (or just decrypting the data) is that you then get issued with a formal S49 notice. With the previously mentioned penalties. FFS it's not hard.

And, as the activists in question appear just to have had letters from the CPS as opposed to formal notices, the whole thrust of your article is wrong. And, as walking on a cycle path can be spun as terrorism, I'm sure that animal rights activism (some of whom have history with mail-bombs and other violence) can be readily pigeon-holed as national security, so your numbers are crap too. Well done, the main-stream media. Perhaps, Mark, you might want to get a job as a facts-researcher for Polly?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tagged and Bricked

Well, I have finally been caught with the 10-bricks meme. And I have been thinking about it. I could, relatively easily, jot down 10 left-of-centre politicians or political commentators and all of my reader would have been content - not exactly intellectually exercised, but content. So, here is a slightly more thoughtful list. Please feel free to assume that there are plenty of poli-scum that I would include given a little more venom and a larger supply of bricks.

  • 10. John D Morris. President of the "Institute for Creation Research". For a lifetime of labo(u)r to convince America that stupid children are better than skeptical ones. Your brick, Dr Morris.
  • 9. Dalia Grybauskaitė. You probably won't have heard of this lady from Lithuania but she is the "European Commissioner responsible for Financial Programming and Budget". That would be the European Union that hasn't even managed to get its internal auditors to sign off its accounts for 13 years on the trot: "errors of legality and regularity still persist in the majority of EU expenditure." I will admit that it isn't all Dalia's fault - she has only been there since 2004 but, my dear, you are in the chair so the brick you get.
  • 8. Terry. Come on, you know who. The fattest moron in Paisley. A brick unto thy face, foul beast.
  • 7. Tom Cruise. Just stick to acting. I want to hear about your nut-job religion even less than I do Jamal's. A brick for you.
  • 6. George "Pussycat" Galloway. Splitter :) Just for showing that ridiculous though the British political class are, there is always some cretin who can drag them further into disrepute. Here's your brick (at para 8.)
  • 5. Nadine Dorries. Not for her opinions on abortion, or even for the errors in her minority report (see 7.) - I am happy for people to have beliefs different from mine and to make mistakes, honest or otherwise. No-one's perfect. This is for making a mistake, realising it and then running away to hide - you are an elected MP, you utter, utter scum. And all of those of you who get their knickers in a twist about blog comments policies can award yourself an honorary brick here too. Then grow up.
  • 4. Michela Morleo. You've not heard of her either, have you? Well, just in case you thought that because it was il-liberal statist bollocks, it was the work of nu-Labour (Dawn Primarolo, honorary brick just for existing) or Professor Mark Bellis, or even Karen Tocque, this young lady is the "Alcohol Research Manager and Press Lead Club Health" at the North West Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, who produced this crap. You are the worst sort of joyless statist, an evangelical commissar of the Brownite Soviet. Just learn to shut the fuck up and take your brick.
  • 3. Mohammed Al-Fayed. Look, I'm not going to say much here because you've got almost as expensive lawyers as this crook (no, not Tim). Shut up about Diana. It was a car crash. You're driver was drunk. It was an accident and, for those who actually knew her or your son, a tragedy. Have two half-bricks.
  • 2. The Great Clunking Fist. After painfully raping us in the wallet for 10 years, he is now trying to rape our minds and, if he could, our souls. To paraphrase Trixy: Fuck. Off. Right. Now. And. Die. You lying, evil, lapsed-Presbyterian cunt. Here's your brick.
  • 1. David Cameron. For concentrating on being trendy instead of making the Tories electable. For not realising that your policy of scaled dis-engagement from Europe cannot work. For letting Brown get away with it. For just being so smug. Get a back-bone and take your brick.

  • And as Trixy wanted to be tagged, wasn't, so went ahead anyway, consider yourself post-article anointed. And RFS, please.

    Not a Gentle Morning

    I do dislike people saying profound things, stupid or intelligent, on the radio as I am just waking up. It disturbs my equilibrium. Similar to waking up to a proper alarm, or to the unpleasant realisation that you have massively overslept on a day where you have significant commitments.

    So, this morning, when I thought I heard one of the usual islamo-facist apologies for terrorist scumbags from the MCB saying:

    There is such a thing as manners and civility.

    I was none too impressed. This being from an organisation that wants us to lock away our daughters, ban music in schools, mandate Salafist propaganda in school libraries, allow a religious interpretation of "child abuse", thinks we are fascists etc, etc. How mannerly and civil. Of course, my first thought was to dash here and rant but then that usually ends up unpublished, so I went to Radio 4's listen again function.

    • Oh god, sodding cartoons again.
    • A muscial about the cartoon controversy. Hmm, given that music is haram anyway, I can really see the "Religion of Peace" taking this well.
    • This Swedish bloke, he really doesn't understand our Muslim brethren, does he? It's "had its time"? The cartoon controversy? Let's be honest, they are still mad at the Jews for them rejecting Mohammed in the early 7th Century. It may be out of the media but you can be sure there is a wild-eyed fanatic somewhere desperate for a non-religious education so he can work out how to spell "Lars Vilks" for carving into a block of C4.
    • OMG, the triumph of a liberal (socialist, anti-dogmatic, Enlightenment) education over common sense. It's called the scientific method - observe the world; develop a theory; make some testable predictions; experiment and see if the predications come true or not.
    • Humour. They don't do humour. "Dogs" as a pun on "Cats"? You should be able to criticise religions? The same rules for Islam as for Christianity and Judaism? Absolutely. Sharia - it's the same rule :)
    • So there is S-E's theory of comparative religions: islamists have no sense of humour. Therefore they aren't going to like this. Let's see ...
    And the rebuttal:
    • Still can't make the MCB guy's name out.
    • Yes, Lars is doing it to demonstrate his and, by extension, our freedoms, you pillock.
    • Of course the "prophet is much loved by Muslims". As is Christ by the Christians, Buddha by the Buddists, the patriarchs by the Jews, oh and the American flag by the Yanks.
    • Ah, yes, the famous "War Against Islam". Shown so convincingly by our attacks on the core Islamic state - Saudi Arabia, our refusal to defend the Islamic state of Kuwait, the war we are waging against Indonesia. Yes, clearly.
    • His intent is "clearly to provoke"? "To create mischief"? No, you got it right before. It is to demonstrate that he is living in a free, post-Enlightenment, secular state. We have to tolerate all sorts of crap here (Hizb ut-Tahrir, of course, not his Grace's excellent blog.)
    • "In Europe, of course, we have the freedom to satirise. We have that right to offend." Good. Wonderful in fact. My theory is clearly bollocks and I can get on with breakfast. But, wait ...
    • "There is no obligation to offend." So what isn't mandatory is forbidden? I seem to recall that Jared Diamond used that as the basic distinction between tribal and civilised modes of behaviour.
    • "There is such a thing as good manners. There is such a thing as civility." My quote - nearly.
    Manners and civility.

    It would be civil for you to recognise the ancient freedoms of this country instead of insisting on ramming some Wahabist interpretation of C7 desert culture down our throats. It would be mannerly to consider your demands for special treatment in the context of your contribution to British society - which, at the moment, seems to consider solely of complaining about it.

    I would, normally at this point, consider repeating the words of somebody even you infidels consider to be a prophet "let him who is without sin, cast the first stone". I mean, this is mannerly and civil, is it? And, I note, uncriticised by the MCB. Then, casting stones is something Islamic states have quite a bit to say about (as well as these interestingly undeserved judicial punishments). Please note, unlike a (probably crap) musical or the horror of having boys and girls in the same swimming pool, uncriticised by the MCB.

    You bunch of ignorant medievalist terrorist-succouring peasants.

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    A Woman Scorned

    Trying to get over her Wotan fixation, Polly is now offering her own brand of strange advice to those perennial wall-flowers of Westminster politics, the il-Liberal anti-Democrats:

    So while the big beasts shrink their apparent differences, here is not just an opportunity but a positive need for a Lib Dem resurgence. The vacancy is waiting, if they choose a leader to seize it.
    Now, telling a political party that they need a charismatic leader with ideas, convictions and the backing to drive those through to policy hardly takes the brains of a Milliband but

    But the party's usefulness is not to propose policies it has no power to implement.

    Isn't it? I thought that was the great use of minor parties in a democratic state. Come up with good ideas, represent those not targeted by the main parties, get your policies adopted by the government. Anyway:

    Its one useful mission is electoral reform, to break the centrifugal voting system that compels all parties to seek just 8,000 swing centrist voters in key marginals.

    Excuse me? Exactly how is this not a "policy it has no power to implement"? And, let's be honest, it isn't "all parties" seeking those voters, frankly. I am fairly sure that UKIP, the Scots Nats, Plaid, the Irish Parties, the SSP etc, etc, have pretty much no interest in those 8000 swing centrist voters, unless they are part of their core constituency? So, in Pollytics, "all parties" is clearly synonymous with the Gordo and Dave show. Ah, well.

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    You Might, I Don't

    Johann has a rather too inclusive view of "we":

    If the wife-beater/rapist/attempted murderer can write novels, kick a ball, create songs or pose as a liberal politician, we treat their misogyny as an irrelevance or, worse, as a laddish affectation imbuing them with the testosteroney tang of authenticity.

    Now, Johann and his metro-socialist media crowd might feel that way but let us consider his examples:

    Mailer. Nope. I don't idealise Mailer. I wasn't forced to read his novels at school and I have no interest in reading them now. I didn't know that he beat his pregnant wife and nearly killed her (I am assuming that as this has passed the Indy's lawyers this is an accurate reflection of the facts), nor did I know that he said women are "low, sloppy beasts; they should be kept in cages" but as I had no opinion of him before I just have a low opinion of him now.

    Best. Now, I did know Georgie-boy was a wife beater. I also know that he was a great footballer but I, unusually for a bloke, think professional soccer is a massive waste of time and money. I definitely don't think that his skill made up for his failings as a person. His alcoholism may have provided a reason, rather than an excuse, for some (although not all) of them - that just makes him sad, or even tragic, rather than evil.

    Tupac Shakur. If I have a low opinion of professional footballers, my opinion of (c)rappers is at a distinct nadir. I haven't followed this guy's career but, let's say, it doesn't surprise me. The endless misogynism of male (c)rap music singers is hardly news. His singing hardly excuses his rape.

    Clinton. Well. I am not entirely convinced of his guilt but neither am I convinced of his innocence. He is clearly an enthusiastic womaniser but, if he is a rapist, let's have him tried and, if found guilty, punished.

    Johann may well go to parties where people believe:

    "Let the bitch die," Mailer growled, his hands covered in blood – and still we applaud him to the grave.

    As far as I go and, as far as I am aware, my friends would agree, we would certainly applaud him to the grave, as the best place for him. Johann, I think I might have better taste in mates than you. Maybe you should hang around with a few more right-wing libertarians :).

    I can play too.

    Having read this, I thought I would check, so some advice for those who got here via search engines:

    • for "camels arseblog", try here.
    • "can sms messages be used as evidence of court" - I will assume you meant "in court", as judges tend to exist independently of you, or I, having texts about them. So, "Yes", at least in the UK and other jurisdictions I have dealt with anyway, ymmv. Regardless, there are the usual restrictions on chain of evidence and there are, because SMS is not a synchronous comms mechanism, issues with using them to prove timelines.
    • "germanification of h" - were you looking for "ß"?
    • "jockstraps for protection" - yes. They finished as a fashion item at the back end of the 16th Century.
    • " phone" - no, not here. Here or you could email them.
    • "tesco jewish-in malaysia" - Well, I buy bacon at mine, so certainly not radical orthodox.
    • "828ee8abd01183fa0b43e5dab7796fd3" - I think you have quite specific needs that may be better catered for on Usenet.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Cool Stuff

    Via DK - websites as pictures:

    I'm sure I'll find a use for it sometime :)

    Edited to add two from work (but still not sure this is of much use?)

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Reading Age

    Via Mediocracy, the "Blog Reading Level". I used to work for a company that insisted that anything you wrote scored below xx (I forget exactly what) on one of Word's readability metrics (probably the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level). So I loath this sort of trivialisation, especially as I agree that if you can say something in a concise and simple manner, you should.

    Anyway, I got:


    So I better stop reading this as I am clearly too ill-educated to be capable.

    Friday, November 09, 2007

    More polymath

    I'm more than a bit behind, so this is from Tuesday's broadcast from the Minister for Correct Thought (my emphasis):

    In non-religious primaries 20% of children have free school meals, but only 11% in Church of England schools, 15% in Roman Catholic schools and 3% in Jewish schools. But look at the damaging reverse in Muslim secondary schools: 34% are on free school meals, compared with 15% nationally, dangerously segregating Muslim children by class as well as by race and religion. Geography anyway segregates them, but faith schools make it 10 times worse.

    Okay. Statistics time. Put your hand up if you are having difficulty following me. I will, for the purposes of this demonstration, accept her statistics.

    Now, first we have an incorrect comparator (pace endless comparisons of male full time and female part time wages) - %age of children in some denominational primary schools versus different secondary schools. Hmm. We may already be on dangerous assumptions territory here.

    Then, okay, we have children in Muslim secondary schools 2.3 times more likely to be on free school meals. Cause, or effect? Are poor Muslim parents more likely to think that a madrassa-style education in 7th Century Arab lifestyle choices good for their childrens' futures than their more successful co-religionists? I don't know. Neither does she.

    10 times worse? Now how did she calculate this? I have tried to get the stats but was not willing to stump up $15 for access to possibly relevant papers. Is she suggesting that Muslim geographical segregation is of the order of 3.4% (or 1.9% - using the difference between her Muslim figure and her national figure)? I don't know. Neither, I strongly suspect, does she.

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    Praise the Lord

    I see that the Phelps family's personal church, Westboro Baptist (Ed notes: I would strongly recommend staying away from that link and, if you have one of those accelerator programs that pre-download links, I apologise for the fouling of your hard-drive), has finally got both barrels. Being America, of course, through the legal system.

    They are truly sad people and, like the SCOundrels, deserve what, barring appeal, they appear about to receive.

    Now, all we need is for some of their victims to complete the quote ...
    HTTP Error 403: You are not authorised to access the file "\real_name_and_address.html" on this server.

    (c) 'Surreptitious Evil' 2006 - 2017.