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Justin Mason's Weblog Posts

more Nigerian scam piss-taking

a good reply to the Nigerian scams, on Slashdot:

…unfortunately I don’t have that much money. I do have seventeen dollars and fifty-six cents. I really want you to have all of that. I hope you can overlook the fact that I’m several million short of your goal, but the key is that I try hard and I’m an excellent wind surfer.
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Ads and morality

BB reports that “Russian entrepreneurs are spraypainting logoed advertisements for their products and services on stray dogs and releasing them as walking, starving billboards.” This sounds just a bit too Chris Morris to me, and considering it came via Ananova / Orange Today’s “quirkies” service — which is not exactly reknowned for doing the backup research first — I would say it’s pretty unlikely… let’s see what forteana make of it.

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EtText changes

hooray, I got rid of that horrible “add line breaks to preserve short lines in HTML” feature from EtText, it was driving me nuts. The irony is, I only added it because txt2html had it. Keeping up with the Joneses just causes trouble, it seems.

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Spam Subject Lines

a spam mail asks: jm, do we have your money? There’s a very simple answer: “no you don’t, and you never will, you scumbags”. Scutterin’ gobsheens, as Podge and Rodge would say.

Spent an enlightening day clambering around Dublin’s rooftops with a bunch of helium balloons on a 20-metre piece of string. Can you guess what I was doing? Yes, it’s the latest geek pastime: Hunt The Line Of Sight!

All was well — we found it, the weather was lovely, my Aussie-learnt balloon technique rocked, and we came up with some better ways to do it in future ;)

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Sex and death: mystery solved

This promo calendar for an Italian coffin manufacturer has been doing the blog-rounds recently — and the more eagled-eyed viewer might have wondered at the words MIKE LEAVE ME ALONE written on the back of the last model.

Well, wonder no more — an italian Forteana subscriber, Giuseppe de Nicolellis, has got to the bottom of it. Case closed!

Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2002 23:31:25 +0200
From: “Giuseppe de Nicolellis” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Sex and death: mystery solved

> – somewhat unlikely
> promo calendar from an Italian coffin manufacturer.
> So do you fancy giving them a call and finding out why the last model has “MIKE
> LEAVE ME ALONE” written on her back?

The webmaster of has just answered my enquiry. He published the image more than an year ago without the writing. A few months ago he received this e-mail from a website offering adult contents for webmasters:

Do you have a license to use this image? I do not have a license on file for:

Registrant: Matteucci Maurizio (COFANIFUNEBRI-DOM) Villa Bastilica, 30 Roma, 00148 IT

Please let me know if you have purchased the license under a different name, or please remove the image from your site.

Thanks, Mikey


Our webmaster decided to suggest him politely to off adding the writing on the back of the lady.

(Our webmaster didn’t explain whether he really stole the image from the website or not, and I didn’t dare to ask).

Another Fortean Mystery solved!


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IBM developerWorks on SpamAssassin

Good article about SpamAssassin at IBM developerWorks:

After having used JunkFilter for years, and thinking it was pretty good, I was blown away by how effective SpamAssassin is. I think that this is due in large part to several good design decisions on the part of SpamAssassin’s developers.

Why, thank you! ;)

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RSS by mail

Aaron shares his rss-by-mail script. My reaction (cut from mail): “Together with my Mailman-archives-to-RSS script, and my blog (which is updated by mail), soon the semantic web will run entirely on SMTP…” (cackles evilly).

Well, maybe not yet — but it’s getting there. a bit.

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lot of gorillas

C|Net reports:

Two weeks ago, six top financial institutions met privately with AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, IBM and other leading corporate instant messaging providers and urged them to build communications networks that interoperate. …. The meeting, which took place at Merrill Lynch’s New York offices, was among the first convened by the Instant Messaging Standards Board (IMSB), a newly created consortium led by financial services firms Lehman Brothers, J.P. Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, UBS and Deutsche Bank.

Holy shit, that’s a lot of gorillas! (via Doc).

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Koyaanisqatsi – Live

Danny O’Brien is off to the event of the year: Philip Glass and the Glass Ensemble performing a live accompaniment to a showing of Koyaanisqatsi. I am, needless to say, green with envy. Chance of that coming to Dublin? Hovering around the “zero” mark I should think. Bugger.

In other news, Cam is back, and in good form, from the sounds of it. Apparently SpamAssassin filtered 7MB of spam while he was away. So someone gets more spam than I do!

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Region coding is evil

goddammit. Just got a PS2 for my birthday (wahoo!), and immediately thought about getting hold of the Koyaanisqatsi/Powaqqatsi 2-pack DVD. But it’s region-coded to US/Canada only in the edition on, and not available at all at Region coding is evil.

Of course, I could buy it somewhere else — but I wasn’t planning to buy it, I was looking to set up an wishlist!

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comments on Star Wars Episode II

David Brin gets all anti-fannish about Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. I really don’t know why he bothers, it and Episode 1 were atrocious, George Lucas has lost it, full stop, IMO. But I did like the way Brin refers to Yoda as “one green preachy oven mitt”; I’d just append “with the voice of Fozzie Bear”.

And who are the critics who’ve never seen a Maori before? “bounty hunter Jango Fett even looks Latino” my arse.

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Hitler writes dictionaries

Microsoft’s Spanish thesaurus, included in Word for Windows 6.0 in Mexico, contains some unfortunate synonyms:

  • Indian: man-eater or savage
  • Western: Aryan, white, civilized
  • Lesbian: pervert, depraved person

That would be the risk when you use a mid-1930s source document, it sounds like!

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2002 13:42:02 +0100
From: Barbara Barrett (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected) (spam-protected)
Subject: Micro$oft’s Spanish language problems

——– Original Message ——–

Microsoft Apology for Errors in Spanish

MEXICO CITY (Reuter) – Microsoft Corp, the world’s biggest software company, apologized Friday to Mexicans for “grave errors” in its computer thesaurus that equated Indians with cannibals. Several Mexicans telephoned the company to protest after a newspaper reported Wednesday that the Spanish thesaurus included in Microsoft’s popular word processor program Word for Windows 6.0 contained some unfortunate synonyms. Used by up to 200,000 people in Mexico, a country whose population is mainly descended from Aztec and Maya Indians, the Microsoft program sugggested as alternatives for the word “Indian:” “man-eater” or “savage.” Consulted for synonyms for “Western,” the Spanish language program gave “Aryan,” “white” and “civilized.” Lesbians were equated with “pervert” and “depraved person.”

“Microsoft Mexico offers an apology to its users and to the public in general for some grave errors in the synonyms of the Microsoft Word dictionary in Spanish, whose mistaken connotations are offensive,” the company said in a full-page newspaper advertisement published Friday. Microsoft Mexico marketing manager Alejandra Calatayud said the company was dispatching a language expert next week from its software development center in Ireland to discuss changes to the thesaurus with El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico’s most august cultural body.

“We accept our responsibility and hope to have a new version of the dictionary available in about five weeks,” she told Reuters. The revised version will be made available free of charge via the Internet. Ignacio Blum, Microsoft Mexico’s product manager for office products, told Reuters that the computer thesaurus was based on existing dictionaries. “If you check these words in most dictionaries, you will find the same definitions,” he said.

Mexican politicians and intellectuals condemned the pejorative computer thesaurus anyway. “I see this as profoundly dangerous because it is a lack of respect for our dignity as Mexicans and for our indigenous roots,” said Adriana Luna, an opposition party congresswoman on the lower house’s culture committee. “We must give battle to combat this specter of conservatism and fascism which is appearing all around us” Florentino Castro, a legislator from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was quoted as saying in the newspaper La Jornada. The English version of the Microsoft Word program does not give the same synonyms. Homosexual was equated with “gay” or “lesbian” and Indian was “cave dweller,” “ancient tribe” or “aborigine.”


HTML diffing

Sitescooper: Aaron notes that the Wayback Machine has added support for diffing HTML, using technology licensed from DocuComp (demo), and he notes “HTML Diff is extremely difficult and they do a half decent job, but it’s got plenty of room to improve.”

Maybe they should look at Sitescooper: it’s had HTML diffing for the last 3 years, using diff(1) or Algorithm::Diff and some basic knowledge of HTML presentation. Though mind you, DocuComp might have some trouble having a look, as it’s free software, licensed under the GPL. :)

Of course, Sitescooper is a big, chunky lump of application, very oriented towards scraping an entire news site, downloading the latest news, stripping down the HTML and delivering that in one file — ie. exactly what you want for viewing news sites offline on a PDA, but when you want to use just nifty feature in there, you’re stuck with the whole application. It’s just not UNIX.

So, one thing I’ve been thinking about doing recently, is taking some of the code in Sitescooper and refactoring it into a UNIX toolset; a wget-style getting tool, which has Sitescooper‘s knowledge of how to cache and rewrite URLs; a HTML-differ; and a few other tools. But this is still thinking, at the moment.

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A good article about Prague’s, via Cory. Hopefully it’ll provide some good ideas for the Irish-WAN folks:

The most promising way (of getting onto the internet) seems to be connecting to the backbone on a wholesale basis, which is what does through its backbone provider — TransgasNet, the telecoms arm of gas company Transgas. “The connection is already built, and it’s real broadband, guaranteed connection, so the issue of Internet connection is solved,” Janda said. also has a unique approach to providing Internet connectivity to its members. Janda said that the idea is to give each user at least 32 kbps Internet connectivity (around two-thirds of the dial-up access speed) free, while users who want additional bandwidth will pay a certain fee. The fee is still undecided because the initiative is still in the formative phase, but it should be Kc 200 to Kc 300. The connection to the wireless network is free by default, although every user has to invest in the hardware necessary for exchanging data over the Wi-Fi.

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Adding titles

hooray, those Next/Prev links are now implemented. I knew sitemap support in WebMake would come in handy, eventually. If you’re using Mozilla, switch on that View -> Show -> Site Navigation Bar and hyperventilate with excitement.

Some day I should start adding titles to all these blog items… some day when I have a lot of time on my hands, that is.

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Hello sidebar

some changes around these parts, in case you haven’t noticed. Firstly, I’ve caved, and adopted the de-facto std of having a sidebar. Everyone’s doing it, and I just want to fit in.

Secondly, there’s now an RSS feed, at the request of Bernie at topgold. All you folks with yer fancy news aggregators and what-not can now add to the blogrolling list.

Thirdly, I’ve deprecated my old home page content, replacing it with this blog. After all, an infrequently-updated website is a useless website, and this is my most frequently-updated site these days.

I’ve been ogg-encoding my CD collection. Soundtrack for today:

  • Future Sound of London, Dead Cities

  • Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi

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not so ”herbal”

(Update, Feb 2007: This PSA may be relevant to this story, possibly.)

it seems a herbal remedy which “mystified and delighted doctors when it cured prostate cancer”, in fact contained hefty quantities of synthetic drugs (link):

We do have to admit that these are not natural substances … and that at least some, if not all, of the biological activity has to be attributed to these synthetic compounds.

Date: Sun, 08 Sep 2002 19:25:37 +0100
From: Rachel Carthy (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Um, is diethystilbestrol a herb?

‘Alternative’ Prostate Medicine Contains Drugs Tue Sep 3, 3:53 PM ET

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A so-called alternative herbal compound that mystified and delighted doctors when it cured prostate cancer in fact contained strong drugs that can only be made in the laboratory, researchers said on Tuesday.

Called PC-SPES, the compound was pulled off the market in February when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it contained prescription-only ingredients.

A team of Czech and U.S. researchers confirmed that the allegedly natural preparation contains the prescription bloodthinner warfarin, an analgesic called indomethacin and an artificial version of estrogen.

“These are synthetic compounds and under the circumstances we don’t have a good explanation for their finding their way into this preparation,” Dr. Robert Nagourney of Rational Therapeutics in Long Beach, California, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

Nagourney advocates the use of standard drugs and alternative therapies to treat cancer and was hoping to find out how PC-SPES worked.

PC-SPES — the name combines “PC” for prostate cancer and the Latin world “spes” which means hope — astonished doctors soon after it was introduced in 1996. Its maker, BotanicLabs of Brea, California, said it contained seven Chinese or Indian herbs plus saw palmetto.

No clinical studies showed how well it worked against prostate cancer, which affects 189,000 American men a year and kills 30,000. But anecdotal evidence showed it could help even advanced prostate cancer patients.

“That was what launched my interest in the mid-1990s,” said Nagourney, whose team published its findings in this week’s issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.


“We were already trying it in patients. I was seeing objective responses. I was very anxious to see if we could isolate the active ingredient.”

But Nagourney’s team could not make their own mixture of the eight plant products work.

So they sent PC-SPES to the labs of Milos Sovak of the University of California San Diego, who worked with colleagues in the Czech Republic to analyze it.

That was when they found the rogue ingredients, which should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.

The estrogen component, diethystilbestrol, could itself explain many of the effects of the product, Nagourney said. The hormone estrogen is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer.

Indomethacin also may have properties that work against tumor cells, as do other drugs in the same class, the researchers said.

Warfarin can cause dangerous bleeding and in October 2001 doctors in Seattle reported a case of severe bleeding in a man who was taking PC-SPES.

“We do have to admit that these are not natural substances … and that at least some, if not all, of the biological activity has to be attributed to these synthetic compounds,” Nagourney said.

He has not given up hope, however. “There are meritorious natural products that need to be explored,” Nagourney said. He said all “alternative” remedies should be scientifically tested, as drugs are.

BotanicLab, which closed in June, had warned customers to stop using its product and throw away any unused capsules. —

“The good Christian should be aware of mathematicians and all those who make empty promises. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.” St Augustine of Hippo, late 4th C AD.

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To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to: (spam-protected)

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Ireland:, which highlights very effectively, and quite humourously, the current situation with the internet fiasco in Ireland. This is sure to be sued into oblivion very shortly ;)

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Quorn, the yummy fungus

Via forteana: Quorn, the yummy meat-substitute, has been having a hard time of it recently. First, there’s a court case going on in the US at the moment, where some people are suing the company claiming that Quorn makes them puke — now the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority is requiring that they get rid of claims of its “mushroom” origins, and note more clearly that it’s a mycoprotein.

But hey, anyone who thinks eating “real” meat bought in a an average supermarket is a good idea, can stick with that, as the hormones turn them into hirsute, uddered bovines. I’m happy with my mostly-veggie diet.

Gordon Rutter, fungus expert at forteana, notes in passing:

A few years ago there was a court case about mushroom soup – the majority are actually made with boletes rather than what people would think of as mushrooms. The reason is that mushrooms don’t preserve very well whereas boletes do and people did not want lumpy bits of black putrescence floating in their soup.

He also notes that the Quorn fungus is a tiny bit more closely related to the fungus that causes athlete’s foot, than it is to a mushroom. urgh. Now I feel sick.

Date: Wed, 04 Sep 2002 09:51:00 +0100
From: “Gordon Rutter” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Re: Mmm, fungal

There are lots of historical precedents over this sort of argument – a few years ago there was a court case about mushroom soup – the majority are actually made with boletes rather than what people would think of as mushrooms. The reason is that mushrooms don’t preserve very well whereas boletes do and people did not want lumpy bits of black putrescence floating in their soup. Thsi was eventually got over when “experts” were brought in to testify that in common useage mushroom refered to something of a particular shape that was fungal in origin and edible.

The quorn people have a bit of problem with names and thigns – a couple of years ago they were informed they were using a totally different species to the one they were telling everyone – who says taxonomists don’t have a job to do.

BTW the species they use is a parasite of grasses which is carcinogenic in humans! Oh to be totally exact it’s a mutated form which is no longer carcinogenic. When BSE hit the headlines quorn production literally doubled over the space of however long it takes to build a fermenter – best thing that could have happened fro them business wise.


As previously mentioned –,2763,785679,00.html

Quorn ‘meat’ must be sold as fungus

James Meikle, health correspondent

Wednesday September 4, 2002

The Guardian

The advertising standards authority has declared that the Quorn brand of meat substitutes has been misleading the public by referring to their key ingredient as a “mushroom protein”.

It has told manufacturers Marlow Foods to delete the claim from advertising unless it also gives equal prominence to either the ingredient’s fungal origin or explains its technical origin as a mycoprotein, found naturally in the soil but then put in a glucose medium and fermented.

The food industry is already under investigation by the food standards agency for being too ready to use label descriptions that imply natural, country goodness.

The authority’s decision was in response to complaints from the mushroom industry which alleged that Quorn’s makers were trying to transfer “agreeable associations consumers have with mushrooms” to their product, and from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a US not-for-profit organisation. These related to three magazine advertisements implying that Quorn mince and burgers were “made from a natural mushroom protein”.

But there was some good news for Quorn. The food agency has refused to have the range withdrawn from sale despite the CPSI’s consistent questioning of the products’ safety record.

Marlow Foods, based in north Yorkshire, agreed to suspend the term “mushroom protein” from its promotional material. The chairman of the food agency, Sir John Krebs, has already suggested the term “fungal” was rather more accurate than “mushroom” when it came to decribing the ingredient’s origin.

The company said last night: “We accept the ASA’s ruling. We have always strived to provide meaningful consumer information. We will take the ASA’s comments into account when planning any future advertising.”


Evolving circuits

man, this is so cool. “A self-organising electronic circuit has stunned engineers by turning itself into a radio receiver. This … followed an experiment to see if an automated design process … could be used to breed an oscillator. …. When they looked more closely they found that, despite producing an oscillating signal, the circuit itself was not actually an oscillator. Instead, it was behaving more like a radio receiver, picking up a signal from a nearby computer and delivering it as an output.” New Scientist, via BoingBoing.

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Mozilla supports site navigation

excellent, Mozilla 1.1 supports site navigation via LINK tags; check the menu under View -> Show/Hide -> Site Navigation Bar. About time too! (he said ungratefully.) Now to figure out some time in the nearish future to fix this blog to use the goddamn things. (via Danny)

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An Uruk of Morder writes

so, everyone knows that Nigerian Scam, “help us embezzle lots of developing-world money that got lost somehow during some coup”, that kind of thing. Well, Theo Van Dinter forwards a new take on it:

I am an Uruk of Mordor, charged with the discovery of a number of valuable treasures within Moria. It has come to my notice that the mithril hoard previously owned by Ori of the land of Moria has been found by one of our cave-trolls. Under our laws, the hoard will be shared between our lord Sauron and the local Balrog, but so far neither knows the extent of the treasure.

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 23:04:58 -0400
From: Theo Van Dinter (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Mordor Scam

I caught this on another mailing list and hadn’t seen it here yet. Thought you folks would enjoy it. :)

Dear Sir,

I am an Uruk of Mordor, charged with the discovery of a number of valuable treasures within Moria. It has come to my notice that the mithril hoard previously owned by Ori of the land of Moria has been found by one of our cave-trolls. Under our laws, the hoard will be shared between our lord Sauron and the local Balrog, but so far neither knows the extent of the treasure.

Sir, I come to you as a respectful businessperson in order that we may derive some profit ourselves from this venture, I would wish that I could arrange for the transfer of half of the find to yourself, costing roughly 20,000 silver pennies. From this amount, I will then arrange for a further such that 25% remains your own, 5% goes for sundry costs (including hire of strong Rohan horses for use in transportation), 5% is given in bribe to the cave troll to ensure the quantity reported to our respective Lords is adjusted, 65% belongs to myself and my fellow Orcs.

In order that this be accomplished, I ask only that you provide details of:

Your willingness to participate in this venture,

Confirmation that you will not speak of this venture to anyone else, or wear any magic rings,

Your race and land of residence,

The location of your local Palantir or identity of your preferred message-carrying bird or beast,

Your given name, and any name you are known by in the Western lands,

The number of ponies you possess.

I look forward to your returning correspondence, which can be whispered to any passing magpie. I trust that you will ensure that no other dark feathered birds come to hear of this transaction.

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kicked in the balls

latest bizarre Japanese sex fetish: “There weren’t any particular standards regarding who was hired. I suppose the only requirement was an ability to stand erect after being kicked in the balls”. (via forteana, of course) (Link)

Date: Mon, 02 Sep 2002 12:35:39 -0700
From: Brian Chapman (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected) (spam-protected)
Subject: The Japanese are a creative people

Tarzan Yagi, a former porno actor who turned to making adult movies when he went soft four years ago, has been one of the driving forces behind the production of ball kicking videos.

“You can’t use professional actors, because you’re making films about men being kicked in their most vital organ. If you did use them, they’d soon be put out of work. So we advertised in S&M magazines and over the Internet to find guys to appear in tamakeri videos. We had over 200 applicants. There weren’t any particular standards regarding who was hired. I suppose the only requirement was an ability to stand erect after being kicked in the balls,” Yagi tells Shukan Taishu, with a laugh.


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I must get around to changing the text at the top of the front page; nowadays, half of this blog is stuff I want me to read — a kind of public “must read when I get a chance” list.

Here’s one for “must try when I get a chance”: The Free Hacking Zone. It’s a simulated-hacking game, with increasing levels of difficulty, simulating a system you have to crack at each level. Sounds like fun…

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IBEC make the right noises

IBEC’s Telecommunications User Group has again criticised the current broadband situation in this country:

“IStream (Eircom’s digital subscriber line service) does not provide an affordable broadband solution for business or households.” … “A basic monthly DSL price of EUR 30 to 40 is needed to stimulate adequate demand, while iStream costs the user a connection fee of EUR 199.65 and a monthly fee of EUR 107.69.”

In terms of cost, (they) referred to a benchmarking study carried out by Forfas in March, which found that Ireland is ranked as the most expensive country in the (small to medium-size business) category.

It’s good to see some backup for what is, broadly, IrelandOffline‘s positions, from other organisations. Let’s hope these datapoints will eventually trickle into the consciousness of Irish small businesses and the media; it’s truly shocking how little coverage this absurd state of affairs gets.

After 5 years of DSL trialling, cronyism, monopoly, and waffle from government, we’re still almost exactly where we started. This I already knew. What I’d never noticed before is that nobody in this country seems to care, or is bothered to understand the issues. Even Australia would be giving front-page coverage to this crap, yet over here you’re lucky to see any coverage at all in the news media.

It’s very tempting just to leave Ireland — again! — and go somewhere where these things have been sorted out already, and stay there, at least until Ireland cops on. As you can probably guess, it’s a pet peeve at the moment. ;)

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gay Afghan farmers

The Scotsman, with some hilarious reports of squaddie culture shock:

“British marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat – being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers. … “We were pretty shocked … we discovered from the Afghan soldiers we had with us that a lot of men in this country have the same philosophy as ancient Greeks: ‘a woman for babies, a man for pleasure’.”

… the locals began pestering Afghan troops attached to the marines with ever more outrageous compensation demands – topping off at a demand from one village elder for $500 (£300) for damage to a tree by the downdraft from helicopters. … “I managed to barter him down to two marine pens, a pencil and a rubber,” Major Joyce said. “He went away quite happy .”

Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 18:09:07 -0600
From: Rob Solarion (spam-protected)
Subject: “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places … “


Startled marines find Afghan men all made up to see them

Chris Stephen In Bagram

BRITISH marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat – being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers.

An Arbroath marine, James Fletcher, said: “They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village.”

While the marines failed to find any al-Qaeda during the seven-day Operation Condor, they were propositioned by dozens of men in villages the troops were ordered to search.

“We were pretty shocked,” Marine Fletcher said. “We discovered from the Afghan soldiers we had with us that a lot of men in this country have the same philosophy as ancient Greeks: ‘a woman for babies, a man for pleasure’.”

Originally, the marines had sent patrols into several villages in the mountains near the town of Khost, hoping to catch up with al-Qaeda suspects who last week fought a four-hour gun battle with soldiers of the Australian SAS. The hardened troops, their faces covered in camouflage cream and weight down with weapons, radios and ammunition, were confronted with Afghans wanting to stroke their hair.

“It was hell,” said Corporal Paul Richard, 20. “Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing make-up coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises.”

At one stage, troops were invited into a house and asked to dance. Citing the need to keep momentum in their search and destroy mission, the marines made their excuses and left. “They put some music on and ask us to dance. I told them where to go,” said Cpl Richard. “Some of the guys turned tail and fled. It was hideous.”

The Afghan hill tribes live in some of the most isolated communities in the country. “I think a lot of the problem is that they don’t have the women around a lot,” said another marine, Vaz Pickles. “We only saw about two women in the whole six days. It was all very disconcerting.”

A second problem the British found came minutes after the first helicopter touched down at one of the hilltop firebases, when local farmers appeared demanding compensation for goats they claimed had been blown off the mountains by the rotor blades. “Every time we landed a Chinook near a village, we got some irate bloke running up to us saying his goat has just got blown off the mountain ridge by the helicopter – and then he demanded a hundred dollars compensation,” said Major Phil Joyce, commander of Whisky Company, one of four companies deployed.

As patrols moved away from the landing zones, the locals began pestering Afghan troops attached to the marines with ever more outrageous compensation demands – topping off at a demand from one village elder for $500 (£300) for damage to a tree by the downdraft from helicopters.

But the marines were under orders to win the “hearts and minds” of local farmers in what is one of the few remaining Taleban bastions. “I managed to barter him down to two marine pens, a pencil and a rubber,” Major Joyce said. “He went away quite happy .”

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MP as slave

a conservative MP in Oz is to spend a day as a “slave”, working for the madam of Langtree’s brothel in the mining town of Kalgoorlie. (via forteana)

Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 13:31:25 +0100
From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
To: forteana (spam-protected)
Subject: Brothel duty for Australian MP

Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK Brothel duty for Australian MP

A conservative Member of Parliament in Australia is set to spend the day as a “slave” at one of Western Australia’s most notorious brothels. Liberal Party member Barry Haase was “won” in a charity auction after the madam of Langtree’s brothel in the mining town of Kalgoorlie made the highest offer for his services for a day.

Mary-Anne Kenworthy made a bid of A$1,000 ($540) in the local Rotary Club auction and said she intended “to have a lot of fun with him.” Ms Kenworthy told the BBC’s World Today programme that she had a packed timetable planned for Mr Haase to educate him in the ways of a brothel.

“I am going to put a frilly apron on him and start him cleaning at 10 in the morning to show him our brothel is spotlessly clean and not all brothels are dirty,” Ms Kenworthy said.

“Secondly he is going on a tour at 12 o’clock – we do tours of our brothels

  • and at two clock he is going to take the tour out wearing my tour hat,”

she added.

Long history

Ms Kenworthy said she would tell Mr Haase about the long history of Kalgoorlie’s association with the oldest profession.

The gold-mining town has boasted the presence of an open brothel for 100 years, she said. But she stressed that there was a serious side to the day as she hoped to influence Mr Haase’s opinion on brothels.

“I hope he will leave with an informed decision on what Australian brothels are all about and it will help him in his political career to make informed decisions that he might not have been able to make before,” Ms Kenworthy said.

Mr Haase, a member of Prime Minister John Howard’s party seemed relaxed about the prospect of working in a brothel. “You can’t be half-hearted about fundraising for significant charities and I think I’m big enough to play the game,” he said.

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Census Jedi

more than 70,000 Aussies declared themselves as Jedi Knights when asked to define their religion in last year’s census, reports the Guardian (via forteana).

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LBW wrapup

just got back from a brief weekend visit to LinuxBierWanderung in Doolin, Co. Clare. much chat and Guinness was enjoyed aplenty. Didn’t get to meet a few of the people I hoped would be turning up, and didn’t get to sample the official LBW brews (they hadn’t arrived yet), but it was still good clean Linuxy fun — and hopefully Liam will remember to bring me back some of the aforementioned LBWbooze ;).

Due to some Eircom crapness, the ISDN line for the LBW’s internet link was non-functional (hence my lack of email, if you’ve been expecting one from me). But with the help of the IrishWAN boys, the LBW hall was linked to an ISDN connection 2 wireless hops, over a hill, and a mile or two, away — with some cool side-effects. A very nice hack.

I’m dog tired at this stage though, after a 7-hour journey back to Dublin. must sleep soon.

In other news, SpamAssassin was on TechTV. twice. cool.

Ask‘s blog is an interesting read, must remember to bookmark it someday… ;)

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Italian food to get even better

The Guardian: “Some Italians, it seems, are getting hot under the napkin about the standard of Italian food served in restaurants outside their country. Giovanni Alemanno, the agriculture minister, is chief among them. This week he announced a plan to introduce a policy of quality control on Italian food served abroad, lamenting the effect that the ubiquitous Italian restaurant is having on the reputation of his country’s food. Hundreds of Italian restaurants are created around the world every day, he said, but in most cases the only thing Italian about them is the name or a tricolour flag on display outside. ” (more…)

Date: Thu, 22 Aug 2002 14:20:16 +0100
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Nothing like mama used to make

Thursday August 22, 2002

The Guardian

Nothing like mama used to make

In Britain, we love Italian food – but is it the real thing? No, says the Italian government. Matthew Fort on whether our pasta is fit to be on the menu

Matthew Fort

Some Italians, it seems, are getting hot under the napkin about the standard of Italian food served in restaurants outside their country. Giovanni Alemanno, the agriculture minister, is chief among them. This week he announced a plan to introduce a policy of quality control on Italian food served abroad, lamenting the effect that the ubiquitous Italian restaurant is having on the reputation of his country’s food. “Hundreds of Italian restaurants are created around the world every day,” he said, “but in most cases the only thing Italian about them is the name or a tricolour flag on display outside.”

The fact is that most of the Italian food served abroad has always been appalling. Think Spaghetti House, think Pizza Hut, think of thousands of Da Ginos, Da Marios, Amalfis, Bella Venezias, Borgo this and Trattoria that. You wonder why it’s taken Italian politicians so long to wake up to the irreparable damage that these fifth columns of fifth-rate food have done to the reputation of one of the world’s most exported cooking cultures.

Of course, the most willing conspirators in this traducing of Italy’s great cooking traditions have been Italians themselves – the immigrants who sought to make a living out of restaurants in the countries where they settled, and quickly realised that they didn’t have to try very hard to do so.

The real irony is that the qualities of Italian food and cooking have never been more highly appreciated abroad. We glug down oceans of olive oil at a cost per litre that no Italian would begin to consider paying. Balsamic vinegar that you would never find in Modena, its city of origin, sloshes through the professional and amateur kitchen here. Would-be Valentinas and Giorgios make pasta at home, for heaven’s sake, something that few Italians can be bothered to do. Health-food shops and fashionable restaurants are saving such rarities as la cicerchia, a primitive pulse akin to a chickpea, when no one in Italy will give it table room. We worship pasta, mozzarella, focaccia and tiramisu. There are even some restaurants serving a passable approximation to authentic Italian food, albeit at a price.

There are limits. We probably can’t tell the difference between pancetta and prosciutto, between sugo (tomato sauce) and ragu (meat sauce), between mozzarella di bufala (made with buffalo’s milk) and mozzarella fior di latte (made with cow’s milk).

The supermarkets, on which we depend for much of our supplies and information, still persist in making fresh penne, when it should only be dry; in using durum wheat for certain pastas when in many cases it is totally unsuitable; in adding cream to spaghetti carbonara, which has the same effect on pasta as making a pizza a deep-pie; and so on and so on. There is, after all, a difference between blind lust and true love.

Food, like language, is the repository of history. You can read the history of a region in Italy through its food, from the Moorish influences of the sorbetti and pastries such as canaroli in Calabria, to the use of paprika, cream and veal stews, relics of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the north.

The trouble is that our knowledge and experience of Italian food is strictly limited. Italy is a country with an unparalleled variety of dishes, ingredients, styles and techniques. Every region, every zone within a region, has its own very particular identity, based on produce and season, that goes unacknowledged on the predictable pizza/pasta menus of the British high street. The butchers in the market of Vibo Valentia make their zingirole, a kind of celestial brawn, only between October and April. Signora Cappello in Reggio di Calabria only stuffs cherry peppers with melanzane and pine kernels in July, when the peppers first come in. For reasons that remain obscure, the bridgehead between the British kitchen and la cucina Italiana has been the food of Tuscany, which is probably the most restricted and most boring in the country.

But then Italians are similarly restricted. They suffer, or benefit from, a condition known as campanilismo, a profound sense of locality, of being rooted in a specific place. Because food has such a central part in Italian culture – Italians talk about food as incessantly and naturally as we talk about the weather – it is rare to find an Italian of one region who has a kind word to say about the food of another. Such passion also helps to preserve local food culture.

That is why, on the whole, Italian cooking has changed far less in recent years than that of any other European country. Like Chinese cooks, Italian chefs are more intent on reproducing traditional dishes based on traditional ingredients than inventing new ones. Of course, it has developed over the centuries, absorbing new ingredients (there was a time when there were no tomatoes in Italy) and techniques, but it has resisted the wholesale globalisation and homogenisation of food cultures that has led to national food identities stamped beneath the mighty boot of global brands.

Even so, perhaps Signor Alemanno should be directing his concerns at his own country, because there are disturbing signs that even Italy is edging towards the kinds of changes in the structure of its agriculture and retailing that have been the death knell of national food culture in less resistant countries. Open market forces, EU regulation and social change are all playing their part in bringing Italian agriculture and retailing into line with those of its neighbours. Particular vegetables, pulses, fish, cheeses and breeds of pig, sheep and cattle are all under threat. The Italian-based international organisation Slow Food has recognised the dangers and has set up what it calls an ark to protect endangered species and delicacies. The neighbourhood grocers, butchers, bakers and alimentari who once supported local life in Rome and other cities are disappearing fast. Agricultural units are steadily getting bigger. Agricultural variety is disappearing in favour of monocultures.

It is one of the abiding ironies of Italy that the wonderful quality of the food, so sought after by buyers for the chrome-and-plate-glass food emporia in London, New York and Tokyo, is sustained by a resolutely peasant underclass. Much of the landscape, particularly in the south, guarantees to immure those who continue to live there in peasant poverty and perpetuate those values. The same profound rural conservatism is in part responsible for the fierce pride and astonishing high standard of local foods.

In decrying the globalisation and homogenisation of food cultures, we fail to recognise the true cost of traditional indigenous cultures to the people who have to maintain them. This way we celebrate labour and indignity that we would not tolerate in our own lives.

Whatever happens to Italian cooking outside the country is completely immaterial. We will do what we have always done – reinvent Italian food in our preferred image, just as we have with French, Chinese and Indian. The real future of Italian food lies not in the hands of such politicians as Signor Alemanno, but in those of Italian consumers, and, while there may be a bit of wavering in the ranks, on the whole they are standing remarkably firm.

A couple of years ago I witnessed a dispute between a husband and wife over the correct ingredients for the filling of a pastiera, a kind of super-tart made at Easter. The argument involved, among other things, the correct mixture of crystalised fruits, the origins of ricotta, the use of crema (custard) and the addition of orange water. It started off in fairly good-humoured banter, quickly brought out jeering dismissal of the other’s point of view, heated up into an intense exchange of views and finally erupted into all-out barrages that came to a head when the wife proclaimed with magisterial dismissal: “Ma questo e un piatto romano!” (“But that is a Roman dish!”)

I couldn’t help thinking that it was all rather heartening. It was difficult to imagine such a passionate exchange in an English kitchen, or indeed an Englishman capable of holding his own on the matter of Victoria sponge.

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BT lose patent case

British Telecom lose their “we invented hyperlinks, honest” case against Prodigy. Good to see some sanity in the courts.

Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2002 11:36:29 +0100
From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
To: forteana (spam-protected)
Subject: BT loses hypertext claim

A bit of a long-runner this one –

BT loses hypertext claim By Tim Richardson Posted: 23/08/2002 at 09:38 GMT

BT has lost its legal challenge to charge US ISPs a fee for using hyperlinks.

US judge Colleen McMahon ruled late yesterday that ISPs did not infringe a patent filed by BT more than 25 years ago.

The ruling was welcomed yesterday by those in the industry, although it was not unexpected.

In March Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that the patent for the “hidden page” – filed in 1976 and granted in 1989 – might not actually cover what we know today as “hyperlinks”.

Yesterday’s decision confirms that initial ruling.

Two years ago BT discovered an old patent which it claimed proved it owned the patent to hyperlinks, the devices that help link the Web together.

Six months later the UK telco filed a lawsuit against Prodigy Communications Corp in New York State in a bid to exploit its patent and claim royalties.

The legal challenge asserted BT’s patented claim to hypertext links or the “hidden page” as it was described in the original patent.

Had BT been successful it could have opened the doors to a massive claim from US ISPs for revenues.

According to reports Prodigy is delighted with the decision. It has maintained throughout that BT’s challenge was “shameless” and “groundless”.

BT has yet to make a formal response to the ruling. However, a spokesman for BT told The Register that they were “disappointed by the judgement”.

“It’s [the judgement] highly detailed. We will be considering our options,” he said. ®

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Billy in the Bowl

something from the archives. Daev Walsh forwards an article from The Irish Digest about “Billy in the Bowl“. This story is also immortalised in an old Dublin song, which in turn was mentioned in a Pogues track. Billy was a legless beggar in the alleys of Stoneybatter and Grangegorman (where I now live) during the 18th century, who discovered a new, but not entirely legal, way to make money.


daev (spam-protected)
Subject: The Case of the Stoneybatter Strangler

A story of my new neighbourhood…

The Irish Digest July 1964

The Case of the Stoneybatter Strangler

The handsome, deformed Billy in the Bowl evolved a plan to rob his donors. Then, one night, he made the biggest mistake of his life

DUBLIN in the eighteenth century was noted for two things – the architectural beauty of its public buildings and the large number of beggars who sought alms in its maze of streets and lanes. Many of these beggars relied on visitors and the gentry for their coin, but there was one who campaigned among the working class. This was “Billy In The Bowl”

The strange appellation was derived from the fact that Billy’s sole means of transport was a large bowl-shaped car with wheels. Seated in this ” bowl “, the beggar would propel himself along by pushing against the ground with wooden plugs, one in each hand.

Billy’s unusual means of conveyance was vitally necessary, as he had been born without legs. Nature, however, had compensated for this by endowing him with powerful arms and shoulders and, what was most important, an unusually handsome face.

This was Billy’s greatest asset in his daily routine of separating sympathetic passers-by from their small change.

The cunning young beggar would wait at a convenient spot on one of the many lonely roads or lanes which were a feature of eighteenth century Grangegorman and Stoneybatter, until a servant girl or an old lady would come along.

He would then put on is most attractive smile which, together with his black curly hair, never failed to halt the females. The fact that such a handsome young man was so terribly handicapped physically always evoked pity.

“Billy in the Bowl”, however, wasn’t satisfied with becoming the daily owner of a generous number of small coins; what his greed demanded were substantial sums of money. The more he managed to get the more he could indulge in his pet vices – gambling and drinking.

As a result the beggar evolved a plan to rob unsuspecting sympathisers. The first time lie put his plan into operation was on a cold March evening as dusk, was falling. The victim was a middle aged woman who was passing through Grangegorman Lane on her way to visit friends in Queen Street – on Dublin’s North Quays.

When Billy heard the woman’s footsteps, he hid behind some bushes in a ditch which skirted the lane. As his unsuspecting victim drew close, the beggar moaned and shouted, and cried out for help.

Trembling with excitement, the woman dashed to the spot where Billy lay concealed. She bent down to help the beggar out of the ditch, when two powerful arms closed around her throat and pulled her into the bushes.

In a few minutes it was all over. The woman lay in a dead faint, and Billy was travelling at a fast rate down the lane in his ” bowl “, his victirn’s purse snug in his coat pocket. An hour after the robbery the woman was found in a distracted condition, but failed to give a description of her assailant. And, as “Billy in the Bowl” had figured, nobody would suspect a deformed beggar.

Again and again the beggar carried out his robbery plan, always shifting the place of attack to a different part of Grangegorman or Stoneybatter.

On one occasion ” Billy in “the Bowl ” tried his tactics on a sturdy servant girl who put up such a vigorous resistance that he was forced to strangle her. The incident became known as the 11 Grangegorman Lane Murder and caused a great stir.

Hundred.s flocked to the scene of the crime and for a couple of months “Billy in the Bowl” was forced to desert his usual haunts. Around this period, Dublin’s first-ever police force was been mobilised, and the first case they were confronted with was the Grangegorman lane murder.

Months passed and “Billy in the Bowl” reverted once again to his old pasttime. A number of young servant girls were lured into ditches and robbed, and the police were inundated with so many complaints that a nightly patrol was placed on the district. But the beggar still rolled along in his “bowl” pitied and unsuspected. Then came the night that finished Billy’s career of crime.

Two stoudy built female cooks, trudging back to their places of employment after a night out in the city, were surprised and not a little shocked to hear shouts for help. Rushing over, they came upon a huddled figure in the ditch.

Billy, thinking there was only one woman, grabbed one of the cooks and tried to pull her into the ditch. She proved much too strong for him, however) and while resisting tore ‘at his face with her sharp finger-nails.

Meanwhile, her companion acted with speed and daring. Pulling out her large hatpin she made .for the beggar, and plunged the pin into his right eye.

The screams and howls of the wounded beggar reverberated throughout the district and brought people dashing to the scene. Among them was a member of the nightly police patrol who promptly arrested the groaning Billy.

“Billy in the Bowl” was tried and sentenced for robbery with violence, but they could never prove it was he who had strangled the servant girl. The Grangegorman-Stoneybatter district became once again a quiet, attractive Dublin suburb where old ladies strolled, and carefree servant girls laughed and giggled as they wended their way home at night.


Rev. Dave ‘daev’ Walsh, (spam-protected) Home:
Weekly Rant: ‘Is it about a bicycle?’-Sgt.Pluck, ‘The Third Policeman’, by Flann O’Brien

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