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Justin's Linklog Posts

Irish politicans and tech

just spotted this on Karlin Lillington‘s weblog.

I sent (a mail) to whatever email contact was listed on the party website, noting in the subject heading that the message was an urgent press query. I asked them to give me a synopsis of their party stance on technology issues, which would be featured in a spread in the Irish Times, and gave them about 10 days to respond.

The Progressive Democrats, supposedly the pro-business party and the party from which the very publicly pro-technology-industry deputy prime minister (or Tanaiste) comes, never responded. At all. Neither did Sinn Fein, which had been making a minor campaign issue out of the state of Ireland’s internet infrastructure. Of those who did reply, the major party in government, Fianna Fail, only just sneaked in under the deadline (because I suspect no one had read the email earlier). Labour got the award for responding first (the next day); with Fine Gael also on top of things, and the Greens a bit slower but in time for the deadline as well.

Somehow this does not surprise me at all; Irish politicians are all too willing to pay lip service to tech issues, but do absolutely nothing concrete, or useful, about them. The fact that true broadband for the home user has only been made available by one ISP, since about a year ago, and even then costs over 89 euros per month, bears this out only too graphically.


I’ve read this before, but it’s worth pointing to: Jon Udell on SSL Proxying.

the browser's secure traffic flows to Proxomitron. It decrypts that traffic, so you can see it in the log window, and then re-encrypts it to the destination server. Coming back the other way, it decrypts the server's responses, so you can see them in the log window, then re-encrypts them to complete the secure loop back to the browser. It's really quite amazing, and amazingly useful. Automation tasks that used to look like more trouble than they were worth -- for example, driving a HotMail or E*Trade account from a script -- suddenly look easy.

sysadmin nightmares

Aaron sez:

It’s 1:30AM. Hours ago, my server seemed to stop working. I could ping it, but I couldn’t do anything else. We drove over to see what was up. … I’ll just say that everything broke. Repeatedly. … I think I have a small idea what it’s like to be Evan now. This is not what I want to be when I grow up.

Never mind that — I think you now have an idea what it’s like to be an on-call sysadmin ;)


I’ve been talking about these a lot on the SpamAssassin-talk list and other places, so forgive me for not blogging much about it.

  • Paul Graham talks about his naive Bayesian spam filter. We already use a very basic form of this kind of matching in SpamAssassin, in the SPAM_PHRASES matches; but it’s not proper Bayesian filtering. However, it looks like Matt is taking the bull by the horns and making it Work Right once 2.40 is released (any day now). (BTW it’s worth noting that Bayesian filtering doesn’t always seem to get the success rate that Paul talks about; we think this is down to what kind of mail you get.)

  • While we’re doing that, we’ll have to make sure we don’t hit this MS patent. grr.

  • Habeas Sender-Warranted E-mail has launched. It’s a very nice solution, allowing non-spam senders of all kinds to “sign” their mails with a “mark” indicating that it’s non-spam — and filters, like SpamAssassin, can then use that mark as a good compensation signal (SpamAssassin now has the HABEAS_SWE test in CVS).

    The mark in question is a copyright- and trademark-protected haiku. Virtually every internet-connected country in the world honours copyrighted poetry with a high degree of legal protection, so unauthorised reproduction will be a big no-no, and result in a heavy battering in the courts.

    As a result, they’re going to have to have some serious lawyers on their side. But it looks like they do. And to really press the advantage, they’ve teamed up with Dun and Bradstreet — who can seriously impact a scumbag’s ability to do business in the western world, never mind just Florida, if it comes to that.

    However, there’s still money to worry about (as usual). It does cost a hell of a lot to pursue as many legal cases as they may have to. Let’s hope they can pull it off. Good luck folks!

  • Finally, cool — I’ve made Aaron’s see-also bar!

Category envy

Leonard has released a nifty upgrade to Newsbruiser, his weblog software. It now has the feature that means a weblog stops being an overgrown .plan file, and becomes a proper Web Log — a calendar. Now I’m jealous.

Budvar lives!

Phew! the Budejovicky Budvar brewery has “escaped significant damage” and it’s delicious Budvar beer is back online.

Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 15:39:55 +0100
From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
To: forteana (spam-protected)
Subject: Budvar saved

Famous Czech Brewery Working Again

Thursday August 15, 2002 3:00 PM

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) – Famed Czech brewery Budejovicky Budvar resumed production of the original Budweiser beer Thursday, two days after unprecedented flooding shut down operations, officials said.

Spokeswoman Denisa Mylbachrova said the brewery was forced to halt production Tuesday when large parts of the town of Ceske Budejovice, 90 miles south of Prague, were flooded.

“The brewery was without steam and electricity,” Mylbachrova said, adding that the brewery had never before had experienced such troubles.

Although part of the brewery was flooded, it escaped significant damage, she said.

“Damages caused by the flood are minimal,” the brewery’s director-general, Jiri Bocek, said in a statement. “The quality of the beer will not be affected.”

Budejovicky Budvar was founded in 1895 in Ceske Budejovice – called Budweis by the German-speaking people that populated the area at the time. Beer has been brewed there since 1265.

The founders of American brewer Anheuser-Busch used the name Budweiser for their product because it was well-known in their German homeland. They founded their brewery in 1876.

Disputes over the trademark date back to 1906, when the Czech brewery began exporting its product to the United States. The two competitors are embroiled in about 60 lawsuits across Europe.

no monkey brains for you

Another one bites the dust. Looks like the “live monkey brains for dinner” story is a big fib.

Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2002 21:29:28 +0100
From: Rachel Carthy (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Yet another legend bites the dust

Thursday, August 8, 2002

Debunking strange Asian myths: Part II

Do Chinese really pig out on live monkey brains? The writer couldn’t find one who has


This story began over a beer in a Kabukicho restaurant, when an adventuresome Canadian lassie named Christine, who had requested a tour of Shinjuku’s sleazier hangouts, leaned suggestively across the table and asked me in a husky voice if I had ever eaten monkey brains.

I hadn’t. And for that matter, I certainly wouldn’t. Medical textbooks say eating simian gray matter can give you kuru, a disorder similar to mad cow disease.

For those unfamiliar with this famous tale — featured in the documentary films “Mondo Cane” and “Faces of Death” — consumption of monkey brains calls for a live monkey (species not specified) to be immobilized by a collar in the center of a table designed specially for such a purpose. A tool of some sort is used to whack open his skull, upon which the live, bloody gray matter is apportioned to eagerly awaiting diners.

Christine’s question was my cue to embellish on this story, so that I might take perverse pleasure in watching her squirm with disgust.

But I thought for a moment and realized that, after three and a half decades of wandering around Asia — and eating things that might indeed invoke repugnance on the part of squeamish Westerners — I had yet to partake in this delicacy. I have met exactly two individuals who “claim” to have done so, both Americans and otherwise upstanding citizens, who seemed a bit irritated by my skepticism.

“It’s an urban legend,” I told her. “Nobody really eats monkey brains.”

Her countenance reflected an expression of rapt disappointment.

Well, I thought, perhaps this is as good an opportunity as any to lay this story to rest. So I began sending out e-mails to an assortment of old Asia hands — ex-military men, businessmen, government employees, missionaries, guide book editors. I also fired off queries to about a dozen Chinese chefs. Everybody knew the story. Nobody had ever actually partaken of such a meal, or witnessed a monkey meet its maker in such a cruel manner.

A few got a good chuckle out of letting their imaginations run wild.

“Most Chinese places do a lousy job on monkey brains,” one Washington D.C. acquaintance replied, tongue in cheek. “I have a friend who is a high ranking patron of the Friends of the National Zoo and he gets me anything I need. It’s not too difficult to prepare at home — the most difficult part is holding the little bastards still without getting bitten.”

I also succeeded in getting columnist Cecil Adams to post my query on The Straight Dope web site, and drew quite a few responses. One message, from Gopinath Nagaraj, was of particular interest, and I include it here in its entirety.

“The story of the monkey being shackled under a table only to have its skull removed and its brain scooped out while it is still alive originates apparently in a newspaper report to that effect sometime in 1948, when a columnist (I’ve forgotten his name) wrote a tongue-in-cheek column on the feeding habits of ethnic Chinese. He was also apparently responsible for the saying that the Chinese eat everything in the water except submarines, everything in the air except airplanes and everything with legs except furniture.

“He confessed in a revelation some time back (shortly before his death) that he had no idea that the monkey brain story would take on the dimension of an urban legend, but there you are. I am inclined to believe him because in my numerous travels, I have visited many Chinese restaurants, and, while all have heard the story, none have witnessed the event.”

Oh yes; in my exhaustive search I did find a restaurant in Beijing with “monkey’s brain” on the menu. But get this: it’s a vegetarian establishment. The “brain” is likely to be tofu, which in Chinese is colorfully described as nao (brains) in certain types of cuisine. And when I asked a Chinese chef in my neighborhood what he knew about monkey brains, he brandished a transparent bag of brown, fuzzy mushrooms labeled hou-tou (monkey’s head), imported from China.

And that’s as close as I succeeded in getting to the bottom, or rather the “top” of this famous story.


Eddie Mair’s diary at the Guardian. Eddie Mair is the producer of the BBC Today radio programme.

A case in point (and I’m not making this up): 10 days ago, when another Israeli bus was blown up on a Sunday morning causing several deaths, we carried a report on Broadcasting House from our correpondent at the scene. The next day we got a very serious complaint insisting we had, on air, called the victims “bastards”. We scoured the tape of the show for the offending word. It wasn’t there. It turned out what the listener had heard was the reporter saying “…the victims’ bus had started…”

Aaron notes:

Tokelau, a small island in the Pacific is inhabited by less than 1500 people. They’ve always divided their share of fish among the people equally and so now that they’ve got their own top-level domain (.tk) they’re giving those away for free too.

Some quick grepping of /usr/share/dict/words reveals that the following are still available: (transatlantic), (antibiotic), (ah, you get the idea…),,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

They’re purely URL forwarding, of course, but good fun… I’ve just taken ;)

It would work, that’s the awful thing

a great interview with Bruce Schneier (via /.):

If the rise of the Internet has shown anything, it is that huge numbers of middle-class, middle-management types like to look at dirty pictures on computer screens. A good way to steal … secrets … would be to set up a pornographic Web site. The Web site would be free, but visitors would have to register to download the naughty bits. …

Many of his corporate porn surfers, Schneier predicted, would use for the dirty Web site the same password they used at work. Not only that, many users would surf to the porn site on the fast Internet connection at the office. …

“In six months you’d be able to break into Fortune 500 companies and government agencies all over the world,” Schneier said, chewing his nondescript meal. “It would work! It would work — that’s the awful thing.”


some very nerdy Lovecraft-meets-miffy humour: Tales of the Plush Cthulhu. “How odd it looks!” said Miss Kitty Fluffington. “Very non-Euclidian.” “Yes,” said Brown Snuggly Bear, “but thank goodness it isn’t squamous.” “Or gibbous,” said Mister Bright Eyes. “It seems to be covering something,” said Miss Kitty Fluffington. “Let’s see!”

bad judges in Seattle

anti-spam laws are not necessarily the answer: A Seattle man who has been actively pursuing spammers in King County District Court has been hit with a nearly $7,000 judgment to cover a spammer’s attorney fees:

According to Newman, who prepared the order, the chief basis of Kato’s decision was “personal jurisdiction.” In other words, the judge agreed with Newman’s position that his clients could not reasonably expect to be hauled into court in Washington state for “sending something blindly over the Internet,” Newman said.

Cosmo’s Big Toe

The British Museum in London is to display the contents of the Secretum:

Some items even have names, such as St Cosmo’s “big toe”, which dates from 18th-century southern Italy, where it was said to be a popular sex toy. Unmarried maidens prayed on St Cosmo’s day: “Blessed St Cosmo, let it be like this.” (Link)

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 10:41:04 +0100
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Sex secrets of the British Museum

The Sunday Times

August 11, 2002

Sex secrets of the British Museum

Jonathan Leake and Jane Mulkerrins

THE British Museum is to shed the last of its inhibitions. A secret collection of sex toys, chastity belts and antique erotica that has been locked away since Victorian times could finally be opened to the public. The collection contains more than 400 provocative items described by the museum’s Victorian curators as “abominable monuments to human licentiousness”.

They banned anyone except those of “mature years and sound morals” from seeing them — and may even have added to the collection by snapping off the “corrupting” parts of classical nude statues on display in the museum.

After more than a century of pressure from art historians it emerged this weekend that the museum is considering reversing the policy. It has already thought of turning the collection into a money-spinner by mounting a special exhibition.

Dr David Gainster, a senior curator who is writing a book on the collection, has sent a proposal to the management recommending that it should be exhibited. “Its importance is at last being realised. It is of great value both for the individual artefacts and as a time capsule of Victorian interest in sexual material,” he said.

The collection contains erotica from the Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Indian empires as well as from renaissance and medieval times. Artefacts range from a statue of Pan intimately involved with a she-goat to a medieval-style iron chastity belt and images from one of the first sex education books, printed in the 16th century.

Some items even have names, such as St Cosmo’s “big toe”, which dates from 18th-century southern Italy, where it was said to be a popular sex toy. Unmarried maidens prayed on St Cosmo’s day: “Blessed St Cosmo, let it be like this.”

The museum has made tentative plans to display about 400 of the items in an exhibition provisionally entitled Sex and Sensibility. It means the ancient erotica would take pride of place next to the Elgin marbles.

Such an exhibition could be just the money-spinner the museum needs after being forced to cut staff, close galleries and reduce its research and restoration work. The government is preparing to give it up to £15m to help bail it out.

The exhibits, locked in a cupboard in the Secretum (secret museum), have been open to those who submit a personal application. They are largely the collection of George Witt, a Victorian doctor-turned-banker and one-time mayor of Bedford.

Dr Witt, who donated his unusual collection, perhaps wisely just after the passing of the first Obscene Publications Act, is thought to have been at the centre of an international circle of wealthy gentlemen who collected erotica.

“In Victorian times, when to have had representations such as these was very much frowned upon, he probably collected them to show to his male friends after dinner parties,” said Judy Rodoe, another curator.

One item that would doubtless have amused his guests is a gentleman’s tobacco box, decorated on the outside with pleasant country scenes. Under the lid, however, is a graphic portrayal of a couple in flagrante delicto, leaning against a startled-looking horse.

Other items reveal much about ancestral beliefs in health, illness and fertility, and include phallic symbols that in the 17th century were used to lobby the gods to bring relief to a suffering believer. One such curio is an alabaster phallus on animal legs, engraved with birds and animals.

The Secretum also contains the only pornography to survive from the renaissance period. The 16th-century I modi set of engravings shows more than a dozen different sexual positions and was used as the benchmark for pornography for the next two centuries. “It forms the basis for a lot of erotic art from that time onwards — it really is the first good sex guide,” said Gainster.

More recent items include 18th-century condoms made from animal intestines knotted at one end with a silk ribbon.

The British Museum already displays several erotic items. A silver Roman cup featuring a homoerotic scene was controversially bought last year for £1.8m using £300,000 of lottery money.

“This collection tells us so much about the Victorian attitude to sex,” said Gainster. “It is a historical artefact in its own right, and it also serves as a warning to future historians against imposing their own prejudices on past cultures.”

Additional reporting: Roger Dobson

Le ”maxi-vague”

Le “maxi-vague” de la Côte d’Azur – a mini-tidal wave, every day at 4pm. Sounds like great fun!

Date: Sat, 10 Aug 2002 23:25:38 +0100
From: Roy Stilling (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: It’s 4pm on the Côte d’Azur. Must be time for the daily tidal wave

The Independent

It’s 4pm on the Côte d’Azur. Must be time for the daily tidal wave By John Lichfield in Paris 11 August 2002

All the elements are present for a French version of Jaws.

In the opening scene, swimmers, sunbathers and fishermen are relaxing on the crowded beaches of the Côte d’Azur (almost the only part of France to escape the rain this summer).

Abruptly, it strikes. A giant wave (“maxi-vague”), 4ft high and 15ft long, surges from nowhere and generates panic among the holiday-makers. Toddlers are almost swept away. Mobile phones, expensive sun-creams and towels stolen from hotels are engulfed by the Mediterranean, never to be seen again.

So far no one has been seriously hurt, although a number of small children have been sucked under and badly scared. The giant wave which strikes the coast near Nice each day at almost exactly 4pm is causing consternation, amusement and scientific bafflement. The local newspaper, Nice-Matin, describes it as “the event of the year”.

Since the Mediterranean is a tideless and often placid sea, the waves breaking on the beaches in the Baie des Anges around Nice usually plop ashore within a few inches of one another. The phenomenon of the maxi-vague – a single, giant, rogue wave, which breaks much further up the beach – began a few years ago but has taken on a puzzling regularity and ferocity this year.

Olivier, 34, a beach fishermen at Cros-de-Cagnes, west of Nice, said: “When the sea is very calm, you see first a few ripples, just like a trembling in the water. Then, the big wave comes. The first time, it catches you. After that, you’re on your guard.” Swimmers have been tossed against rocks. Parents have reported having to drag terrified children from the sea with lungs full of water.

The finger of blame was pointed at first at the high-speed ferries that have cut the journey time from Nice to Corsica to three hours in the past six years. The ships have been ordered to travel more slowly near the coast. The no-speeding zone may now be enlarged experimentally to see if the big wave disappears.

However, the authorities and maritime scientists are not convinced that the fast ferries are the only, or even the principal, cause of the maxi-vague. The regularity of the phenomenon this summer has everyone baffled. The 4pm arrival time bears no obvious relation to the ferry timetable.

Marine scientists are convinced that the wave is not purely a natural event. They believe that it may be generated by a combination of wind, coastal geography and the passage of large, fast boats other than ferries.

Gabriel Nakhleh, an official in the French government’s maritime office in Nice, said: “It is a complex phenomenon. It seems to be something to do with the weather but there could be other, so far undiscovered, causes … We are not treating this lightly.”

In the meantime, the authorities would like you to know that it is perfectly safe to go back into the water. Except at around 4pm.

Crotch-sniffing Caymanian Wonder Dog

Tax havens and offshore islands are not quite as “free” — at least in terms of personal liberties — as people might think. R.

  1. Hettinga tells some stories about “Triumph, the Fabulous

Crotch-Sniffing Caymanian Customs Wonder Dog, … and (the Cayman-born expat’s kid) who was literally exiled from the island when the island constabulary discovered a marijuana seed or three in his summer-break rental car a few years back.”

I guess it’s back to the oil rigs then ;)

Date: Sun, 11 Aug 2002 12:31:56 -0400
From: “R. A. Hettinga” (spam-protected)


At 3:36 PM +1000 8/11/02, David Hillary wrote:
> I think that tax havens such as the Cayman Islands should be ranked
> among the freest in the world. No taxes on business or individuals
> for a start. Great environment for banking and commerce. Good
> protection of property rights. Small non-interventionist
> government.

Clearly you’ve never met “Triumph”, the Fabulous Crotch-Sniffing Caymanian Customs Wonder Dog at extreme close range, or heard the story about the expat’s college age kid, actually born on Cayman, who was literally exiled from the island when the island constabulary “discovered” a marijuana seed or three in his summer-break rental car a few years back.

I mean, his old man was some senior cheese at Global Crossing at the time, but this was back when they could do no wrong. If that’s what they did to *his* kid, imagine what some poor former junk-bond-hustler might have to deal with someday for, say, the odd unauthorized Cuban nightlife excursion. A discretely folded twenty keeps the stamp off your passport on the ground in Havana, and a bottle of Maker’s Mark goes a long way towards some interesting nocturnal diversion when you get there and all, but still, you can’t help thinking that Uncle’s going to come a-knockin’, and that Cayman van’s going to stop rockin’ some day, and when it does, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

Closer to home, conceptually at least, a couple of cryptogeeken were hustled off and strip-searched, on the spot, when they landed on Grand Cayman for the Financial Cryptography conference there a couple of years ago. Like lots of cypherpunks, these guys were active shooters in the Bay Area, and they had stopped in Jamaica, Mon, for a few days on the way to Grand Cayman. Because they, and their stuff, reeked on both counts, they were given complementary colorectal examinations and an entertaining game of 20 questions, or two, courtesy of the Caymanian Federales, after the obligatory fun and games with a then-snarling Crotch-Sniffing Caymanian Wonder Dog. Heck, I had to completely unpack *all* my stuff for a nice, well-fed Caymanian customs lady just to get *out* of the country when I left.

Besides, tax havens are being increasingly constrained as to their activities these days, because they cost the larger nation-states too much in the way of “escaped” “revenue”, or at least the perception of same in the local “free” press. Obviously, if your money “there” isn’t exchangeable into your money “here”, it kind of defeats the purpose of keeping your money “there” in the first place, giving folks like FinCEN lots of leverage when financial treaties come up for renegotiation due to changes in technology, like on-line credit-card and securities clearing, or the odd governmental or quango re-org, like they are wont to do increasingly in the EU, and the US.

As a result, the veil of secrecy went in Switzerland quite a while ago. The recent holocaust deposit thing was just the bride and groom on that particular wedding-cake, and, as goes Switzerland, so goes Luxembourg, and of course Lichtenstein, which itself is usually accessible only through Switzerland. Finally, of course, the Caymans themselves will cough up depositor lists whenever Uncle comes calling about one thing or another on an increasingly longer list of fishing pretexts.

At this point, the “legal”, state-backed pecuniary privacy pickings are kind of thin on the ground. I mean, I’m not sure I’d like to keep my money in, say, Vanuatu. Would you? Remember, this is a place where a bandana hanging on a string across an otherwise public road will close it down until the local erst-cannibal hunter-gatherer turned statutorily-permanent landowner figures out just what his new or imagined property rights are this afternoon.

The point is, any cypherpunk worth his salt will tell you that only solution to financial or any other, privacy, is to make private transactions on the net, cheaper, and more secure, than “transparent” transactions currently are in meatspace. Then things get *real* interesting, and financial privacy — and considerably more personal freedom — will just be the icing on the wedding cake. Bride and groom action figures sold separately, of course.

Cheers, RAH (Who went to FC2K at the Grand Cayman Marriott in February that year. Nice place, I liked Anguilla better though, at least at the time, and I haven’t been back to either since. The beaches are certainly better in Anguilla, and the “private” banking system there is probably just as porous as Cayman’s is, by this point. If I were to pick up and move Somewhere Free outside Your Friendly Neighborhood Unipolar Superpower, New Zealand is somewhere near the top of my list, and Chile would be next, though things change quickly out there in ballistic-missile flyover country. In that vein, who knows, maybe we’re in for some kind of latter-day Peloponnesian irony, and *Russia* will end up the freest place on earth someday. Stranger things have happened in the last couple of decades, yes?)


iQA/AwUBPVYS48PxH8jf3ohaEQKwtgCgw/XSwzauabEP/8jDvUVk/rgFdroAn0xf Owk90GoK+X5Pv+bGoKXCwzBK =1w9d —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

  1. A. Hettinga

The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA “… however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity, [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to experience.” — Edward Gibbon, ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’

tool-using crows

tool-using crows. Brainy crow upsets pecking order: “Betty the New Caledonian crow made a tool from a piece of garden wire and used it to hook a tasty morsel of meat out of a tube too deep for her beak.” … “The question is: what kind of physics is it they understand? If you see a problem, pick up a straight wire and without instruction bend it into the right shape, and then extract the food, that means the animal is behaving as if it understands the required physical properties of an instrument”.

broken Windoze

the Win32 messaging API, the foundation of Windows, is inherently insecure:

  • textboxes can be instructed to remove attributes, such as length limits for incoming data (EM_SETLIMITTEXT)

  • a paste action can triggered (WM_PASTE)

  • an application can be instructed to jump to a given location in memory (WM_TIMER) – and the best thing is, the application can do nothing about it

Once again, it’s clear the Windows dev team chose totally a unnecessary degree of flexibility, over security. Great paper. (via /.)

Follow the Bouncing Breasts

I’ve just discovered Joystick 101, a great talking-about-games site. Highlights include Follow the Bouncing Breasts:

Just think — it was someone’s job to perfect the panty peek in Soul Caliber, or the (breast) jiggle motion in Ready 2 Rumble. It seems like a lot of effort for something so unrelated to gameplay. Particularly when the gameplay left so much to be desired. … We joked that these designers were reminiscent of Gary and Wyatt in Weird Science, wearing the bras on their heads and working hard on perfecting the breast size of their fantasy women. Is this analogy far from the mark?

(ha, that headline should generate some interesting referrals from Google ;)

too much water bad for you shocker

“Despite the seemingly ubiquitous admonition to “drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day”, rigorous proof for this counsel appears to be lacking. This review sought to find the origin of this advice (called “8 x 8” for short) and to examine the scientific evidence, if any, that might support it.

No scientific studies were found in support of 8 x 8. Rather, surveys of food and fluid intake on thousands of adults of both genders – analyses of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals – strongly suggest that such large amounts are not needed”. (/.)

Danny O’B on robo-Warwick

A great article on Kevin Warwick from Danny O’Brien via the BBC.

Date: Fri, 02 Aug 2002 12:16:09 +0100
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Why I’m not impressed with Professor Cyborg

From the BBC website -

Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK

Why I’m not impressed with Professor Cyborg

By Dave Green Co-editor,

Kevin Warwick is the professor who puts microchips in his arm and sees a great future for cyborgs. He’s good at getting in the news, but not everyone is impressed.

You’ve got to hand it to Professor Kevin Warwick.

Whether he’s proclaiming himself “the world’s first cyborg”, or touting his university department of photogenic robot animals, he shows an almost intuitive grasp of an even less well-understood discipline: what makes a good headline.

But, as well as provoking the envy of other academics, Warwick’s media profile has a more serious downside.

Because stories in newspapers aren’t usually structured like proper scientific write-ups – with a hypothesis, apparatus, method, results and conclusion – they make it difficult to objectively assess his work.

Most of the time, the interested reader or viewer is left wondering: What the hell is he doing?

Perhaps to address this shortfall, Kevin has written up his latest electronic-implant experiment in the book I, Cyborg, complete with a terrifying cover-picture of him looking like The Terminator.

He’ll be back

Once again, it does not entirely follow the traditional format (“Apparatus: Surreptitiously obtained neural electrodes intended for use with cats. A local hospital. Some Lego. The credulous world media. My wife.”)

But, to his credit, he does make a brave attempt to address much of the criticism he’s received. And then spoils it all at the end by ranting about the imminent enslavery of humanity again.

First up, the popular allegation that he hasn’t published many scientific papers. The book documents his academic output and lecture tours in almost excruciating detail – along with some more unusual sources of acclaim, including Gillian Anderson (who plays Agent Scully in The X-Files), and noted peer-review journals The Guinness Book Of Records and The Mail On Sunday.

Second, this whole business about being the “world’s first cyborg”. I’ve wondered about this for a while: “cyborg”, short for “cybernetic organism”, is generally used to mean a human who has certain physiological processes aided or controlled by mechanical or electronic devices. Which presumably includes artificial limbs, pacemakers, or those cochlear implants which actually stimulate the auditory nerves of the hearing impaired.

But Kevin says they’re not real cyborgs, because they’re all trying to fix a defect – whereas he is upgrading the human body with new abilities.


Specifically, the new abilities he’s hoping for include: ultrasonic extra-sensory input (so that, bat-like, he can tell how far away things are with his eyes shut), controlling a robot from his nervous system, sending impulses from his nerves to those of his wife (and vice versa) – and, pioneeringly, the power to influence “interactive jewellery”.

And finally, there are some promising indications that, before attempting to wire his nervous system up to his wife’s, he did read up on the field to see if anyone had done anything similar – but it turned out to be full of well-meaning researchers sticking electrodes into monkeys.

To be fair, the build-up to the actual implanting makes for interesting reading, in a do-we-know-what-we’re-doing? and will-we-run-out-of-money? kind of way.

But once the nerve-monitoring electrodes are safely embedded in his arm, Warwick’s instinct for public relations – inevitably – kicks in.

He isn’t content to demonstrate his neural impulses travelling across the internet to control a robot arm on the other side of the office. No, he has to fly to New York – a more impressive photo opportunity.

And, yes, he does manage a form of primitive Morse-code-style nervous-system-to-nervous-system communication with his wife – but it’s a far cry from the transmission of emotions, mental states and sexual arousal which he previously prophesied.


In the classic Conclusion section cop-out sentence, Kevin notes that “Further studies would be necessary” to investigate this area. I suggest he starts with further studies into why he believes that moods are mediated by your arms’ motor neurons in the first place.

Responding to criticisms that he uses “highly emotive language”, Warwick portrays himself as a populist, a communicator, who cares so passionately about science that he has to let the public know about his work by any means he can.

Unfortunately, this is somewhat undermined by the book’s melodramatic warnings that this very experiment could leave him dead, “a mental vegetable”, or with a mild pain in his arm.

Ultimately, it’s up to history to judge whether his experiments are a worthwhile investigation of neural control systems or a succession of neat publicity stunts.

But I can’t imagine that his increasingly baroque justifications – his predicted future where non-cyborg-enhanced humans become second-class citizens

  • are genuinely helping his cause.

If his work is as good as he says it is, he really needs to start letting it speak for itself. And for someone who’s constantly critical of the “enormous errors” in contemporary human communication, maybe Kevin should, every now and again, consider keeping his mouth shut.

spammers report ”unbelievable hardships”

A great quote from a CBS article on spammers.

Bernard Balan, 51, who operates a bulk mail site … says he’s gone through “unbelievable hardships” to keep the spam flowing. … “My operating costs have gone up 1,000 percent this year, just so I can figure out how to get around all these filters”.

Best news I’ve read all day ;) Full story at CBS.


The SliMP3. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my MP3s playing downstairs, without a noisy PC with fan to do it. This looks like a good way to do it; stream them from your PC upstairs!

  • Supports all MP3 bit rates and VBR, plus MPEG2
  • Communicates using IP over Ethernet, open streaming/control protocol
  • Infrared remote control
  • Small enough that you can put it anywhere – on a shelf, bedside table, etc.
  • Open-source server, written in Perl (GPL)
  • Optional HTTP interface – control the player and manage your playlists from a web browser!

Only $249. (Shipping may be a different matter, though…)


The “bloke dies on Stag Night and nobody notices” urban legend comes true:

An inquest has heard how a man in a pub died while friends partied around him and played practical jokes on him. (Link)

Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2002 11:37:38 +0100
From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Re: Stag night UL

A similar but true tale from a former regular of mine –

Thursday, February 25, 1999 Published at 19:08 GMT

Drinkers shaved dead man’s head

An inquest has heard how a man in a pub died while friends partied around him and played practical jokes on him.

They shaved one side of Ian Clifton’s head and took photographs of him with an inflatable doll.

Mr Clifton, 35, had been dead for up to an hour at the Jervis Lumb pub close to his home in Norfolk Park, Sheffield.

Last October he called at the pub and joined a birthday party for a member of the pub’s fishing team.

By 10pm, Mr Clifton had become unconscious after drinking about 11 pints of lager and a quantity of home-made punch through the course of the day, the inquest heard.

Duty of care

As he lay out cold in the pub, his friends shaved one side of his head and placed an inflatable doll on him which they photographed. This was described as common practice at the pub.

Some time later an ambulance was called, and paramedics found Mr Clifton was dead.

A forensic pathologist told the inquest that he had died of acute alcoholic poisoning.

Returning a verdict of accidental death contributed to by neglect, Coroner Chris Dorries expressed concern that such an incident could occur in a busy public house.

He plans to write to Sheffield’s licensing magistrates, so that they can remind other publicans of their duty of care to customers.


Some nerd humour courtesy of Verity Stob at DDJ. This will be familiar to anyone who’s used Windows, I should think.

Cruft Force 2. Comfortable. Description: User has now got around to resetting Explorer so that “web content in folders” is suppressed. Something has made a C:\TEMP directory in the proper place unasked, for which mercy the user guiltily feels grateful.

A strange entry is found in the System event log: MRxSmb: The redirector was unable to initialise security context or query context attributes. Assiduous googling of the key phrases, up web site and down newsgroup, establishes that, although many have wondered, nobody knows what this means. (jm: …time passes…)

Cruft Force 5. Worn out. Description: Some time after bootup, always get a dialog “A service has failed to start – BLT300.” What is BLT300? Nobody knows. Although one can manually remove/disable this service, it always reappears two or three reboots later.

If one double-clicks a document icon, Word takes 4 minutes 30 seconds to start up. But it still works fine if started as a program. Somebody opines that this is due to misconfigured DDE. Or the Mars-Jupiter cusp.”


P.J. O’Rourke on corporate corruption:

However, if corporate corruption does exist, it has benefits as well as liabilities. Auditing scandals will no doubt improve the sex lives of accountants. Bean counters were previously thought to be drab and unattractive creatures. Now accountants are considered cute–by their fellow prison inmates.


Sunday Times: Tourists to invade Kabul on ‘axis of evil’ holidays:

“Seven weeks after the Royal Marines pulled out, the tourists are going in. Despite Foreign Office warnings and the threat of kidnap, landmines and US airstrikes, two British tour companies are offering holidays to Afghanistan. … The trips are the ultimate in a new trend dubbed hardship holidays. Booming numbers of western travellers are searching ever harder to find authentic off the beaten track experiences, and enterprising tour operators are answering the demand with trips to the slums of Rio, sweatshops in El Salvador and South African townships. ”

I doubt it’s the same. I’d love to visit Afghanistan, although I’m happy to wait a few years until everything’s settled down a little. Also, from the sounds of it, most of the visitors want to go for the same reasons, or because they visited in the 70s — like these folks did.

The Sunday Times

July 28, 2002

Tourists to invade Kabul on ‘axis of evil’ holidays

Tom Robbins

SEVEN weeks after the Royal Marines pulled out, the tourists are going in. Despite Foreign Office warnings and the threat of kidnap, landmines and US airstrikes, two British tour companies are offering holidays to Afghanistan. The first tourists leave Britain for the war-ravaged country on August 23. They will stay for a 10-day tour, taking in the sights of Kabul, Herat, Bamian and Mazar-i-Sharif. A second company is taking bookings for a bus tour in the spring.

Both companies are also planning tours to Iraq for September and October, in spite of concerns over possible American bombing raids. For those who still find their wanderlust unsated, the brochures offer Iran and North Korea, allowing adventurous travellers to complete their tour of the “axis of evil”.

The trips are the ultimate in a new trend dubbed “hardship holidays”. Booming numbers of western travellers are searching ever harder to find authentic “off the beaten track” experiences, and enterprising tour operators are answering the demand with trips to the slums of Rio, sweatshops in El Salvador and South African townships.

A Russian company is running what it calls “extreme tourism” trips to see the sarcophagus at Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster; while an American firm is offering “reality tours” to Palestine and Belfast.

The Afghan government is keen to encourage tourism and in January the aviation and tourism minister, Dr Abdul Rahman, gave a television interview inviting “tourists of the world” to visit. The following month he was stabbed to death at Kabul airport.

Organisers of the Afghan trips insist they are not running “Tora Bora tours” for thrill-seeking young men who want to visit a war zone. Instead, many of those who have booked are enthusiasts of architecture and archeology and are in their sixties.

The first tour of Afghanistan is being organised by LIVE Travel, a Twickenham-based company. The seven people on the trip range from 33 to 65 and include a barrister, a retired banker, a former policewoman and a postman.

They will fly to Tehran, then take a connecting flight to Kabul. From there they will travel to Bamiyan, site of the giant stone buddhas destroyed by the Taliban.

Despite losing six of its eight planes to shelling, Ariana Afghan Airlines is now operating again, and the group will use internal flights to visit Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, site of the bloodbath in which hundreds of Taliban prisoners of war were killed after an uprising.

“It’s not about the ego trip of being the first on the scene; it’s about seizing the opportunity while you can because the situation may well get worse,” said Gary Day, 42, a freight administrator at Heathrow who will be on the trip. “To experience things that are different, that’s the start and finish for me.”

Hinterland Travel, of Godstone in Surrey, is promising greater creature comforts by taking its own bus to the country and travelling overland through Herat, Kandahar and Kabul. The trip for up to 20 people starts on April 17 and costs £1,680, but places are filling up fast. Both companies say their detailed local knowledge minimises any risks.

Some who have signed up visited the country in the 1970s and are keen to return. Others want to visit after seeing the stunning scenery in the background of televised war reports.

“Obviously we are going against Foreign Office advice but we do brief our clients very thoroughly and it’s up to them if they travel,” said Geoff Hann, the company’s founder, who will go to Afghanistan next month to plan the trip in more detail. “Getting travel insurance can be a bit of problem, though.”

The Foreign Office strongly advises against travel to Afghanistan, saying: “The threat to foreigners (including British nationals) from terrorist/criminal violence remains high. Activity by armed groups continues in many areas.”

For Iraq, the official advice is a single stark statement: “British nationals should not attempt to visit Iraq.”


The city of Rome has admitted defeat in a long battle with a disabled man who is believed to make £100,000 a year collecting coins from the Trevi fountain.

Date: Sun, 28 Jul 2002 23:00:00 -0500
From: bruce lanier wright (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: =?iso-8859-1?Q?=A3100?= ,000 a year from the Trevi fountain

Invalid wins over free coins in fountain By Bruce Johnston in Rome (Filed: 29/07/2002)

The city of Rome has admitted defeat in a long battle with a disabled man who is believed to make £100,000 a year collecting coins from the Trevi fountain.

Although Roberto Cercelletta is fined 516 euros (£325) every day for wading into the 270-year-old fountain at dawn, he never pays the fines.

A police spokesman said: “Officially, he is unemployed. His case has been assigned to a social worker and he has a disability certificate. He is untouchable.”

The nature of Cercelletta’s disability is not clear but invalido certificates are sometimes awarded on flimsy grounds.

Cercelletta has been collecting the coins for 20 years. The Supreme Court has ruled that money thrown into fountains is no one’s property and so is anyone’s to take.

Described as a huge man with a bellowing voice, Cercelletta works with two assistants and always carries a knife. Whenever his lucrative trade is threatened, he cuts himself with it, creating an embarrassing scene. The ploy always works.

The only good news for Caritas, the charity which is supposed to receive the Trevi money, is that on Sundays Cercelletta takes the day off, allowing it to collect the coins one day in seven.

Legend has it that if a visitor to Rome throws a coin into the Trevi fountain over his shoulder, his return will be guaranteed.

The monument’s fame was cemented by the film Three Coins in the Fountain, and Cercelletta has now become a legend in his own right, often posing for photographs in front of the fountain.

Police say the only way to stop him would be to catch him damaging the fountain, something he never does.


Kangaroo scrotum pouches are unusual sentimental little gifts that last and remembered for a long time because of its uniqueness.” Well, I can’t argue with that… (fwd: Bob Rickard’s forteana post)


Irishman could face 10 years in jail for helping asylum-seekers to escape from Australian camp:

His solicitor told the court that he was pleading guilty to the offence. However she asked the court not to jail her client, who has no previous convictions, and who is due to leave Australia when his visa runs out in a few months time.

However the crown prosecutor said that the offence was such that it required a stiff penalty, both to punish the offender and as a deterrent to other would-be criminals considering similar action.

Insp Des Bray confirmed that Mr O’Shea had been arrested and charged at a campsite in Port Augusta on July 2nd. In a court appearance on July 3rd, Mr O’Shea was refused bail, and has been in jail since.

“Criminals”? In my opinion, Jonathan O’Shea’s a hero. Personally, I don’t miss the anti-refugee feeling in Australia.


A classic byline:

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (July 24, 2002 9:37 p.m. EDT) – Losing your job, quitting school, going broke and moving back home with your mother after living abroad for years would be tough on anyone.

It’s even tougher when you’re a former military dictator who once had the power to execute opponents at will.

Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 15:54:43 +0100
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Onetime dictator now broke, living with mom

World: Onetime dictator now broke, living with mom

Copyright © 2002 AP Online

By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (July 24, 2002 9:37 p.m. EDT) – Losing your job, quitting school, going broke and moving back home with your mother after living abroad for years would be tough on anyone.

It’s even tougher when you’re a former military dictator who once had the power to execute opponents at will.

Valentine Strasser became the world’s youngest head of state when he seized power in 1992 at the age of 25. But the limelight didn’t last – four years later, he was ousted in another coup.

“I’m basically living off my mother now. She’s been very supportive,” the 35-year-old said at a neighborhood bar on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital.

“It’s been tough. I’m unemployed, but I’m coping.”

It was well before noon and the former president was doing what he often does on weekdays: Joking around with friends, playing checkers and sipping diligently on a plastic cup of palm wine – a cheap and highly potent alcoholic brew.

In contrast to the days when he commanded an army and courted the favor of foreign presidents, Strasser today seems to have reverted simply to being just another neighborhood kid.

Gone are the crisp military fatigues, new suits and wraparound sunglasses. In their place: A baseball hat worn backward, a Bob Marley T-shirt, dark green shorts and a pair of ‘Air’ Nike sneakers.

Asked how he spends his time now that he doesn’t have to rule the nation, Strasser took a drag of his cigarette and thought for a moment.

“I’ve been drinking palm wine,” he said. “You shouldn’t say that. But this is a democracy now. So go ahead.”

Things were very different a decade ago when Strasser, then a captain known for winning disco contests, headed up a group of twentysomething officers demanding unpaid salaries.

The protests snowballed into a popular coup that ousted dictator Maj. Gen. Joseph Momoh in April 1992.

Strasser was hailed as a savior by many. Even today, Freetown residents say he changed things for the better, drastically cutting inflation, cleaning up the capital and putting the long defunct national TV station back on air.

He and his junta – known as “the boys” because most were only in their 20s – scored points by waging war, if unsuccessfully, on the nation’s hated rebels.

But Strasser was no angel. The young ruler was widely criticized when his government executed two dozen alleged coup plotters without trial on a Freetown beach.

Strasser promised to hand over power in democratic elections in 1996. But he was beaten to the punch by his No. 2 man, Brig. Julius Maada Bio, who overthrew him in a bloodless coup in January that year.

Strasser was forced into exile and soon ended up in Britain, where the United Nations arranged a special scholarship for him to study law at Warwick University in Coventry.

University spokesman Peter Dunn said the former dictator spent 18 months at the school before dropping out, saying in a letter that he’d run out of money.

Media reports at the time said Strasser slipped away to London and changed his name to Reginald to avoid the press and potential enemies. In 2000, his student visa expired and he was deported.

Soon after, he made his way back to Sierra Leone, which is only now emerging peacefully from a decade of civil war in which rebels abducted children into their ranks and killed, raped and maimed tens of thousands of civilians.

Unlike many of the world’s former heads of state, however, Strasser was not treated to a generous government stipend or given a plush mansion or bodyguards.

A house he built for himself on the edge of town was burned down by aggrieved soldiers in 1999, so he moved into his mother’s two-story house across the street.

The government says Strasser is not entitled to benefits because he took power by force. Strasser concedes the point but says he should be treated better.

Last year, the government called on citizens not to throw stones at the former head of state, who without a car, was wandering around Freetown on foot.

But Strasser is still immensely popular among some, and may be able to capitalize on it. In five years, he’ll be eligible to run for president – something he says he’s considering.

Charismatic, muscle-bound and six-foot-two, he’s the dominant figure at the bar he often frequents, which stands tenuously together with bamboo poles and plastic sheeting somehow obtained from the U.N. World Food Program.

Whatever the future holds, Strasser will always have his high-profile past to relish.

“Oh it was good. I was the youngest … head of state in the whole wide world,” he said with a guffaw, looking around the bar for support.

Then he leaned forward with a wide smile and slapped a high-five on the hand of someone sitting across from him.


“An obsessive anti-abortionist who murdered a security guard has quoted Bible passages to a Supreme Court judge to try to prove he is not psychotic.” Fwded from forteana…

Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 07:15:31 +1000
From: Peter Darben (spam-protected)
To: “Forteana List”: ;
Subject: Chock full of sig potential

my favourites are the first and second-last paragraphs

—– (from The Herald Sun (Melbourne) 26.7.02)

Abortion clinic killer: I’m not psychotic By WAYNE HOWELL, Supreme Court reporter July 26, 2002

AN obsessive anti_abortionist who murdered a security guard has quoted Bible passages to a Supreme Court judge to try to prove he is not psychotic.

Peter James Knight, who killed Steven Rogers at a family planning clinic on July 16 last year, said he objected to taking oaths on religious grounds.

In April, a jury found Knight guilty of the killing. Knight was armed with a Winchester rifle and 14 rounds of ammunition.

For months after his arrest, Knight was known as Mr X because he refused to talk to police or reveal his name.

At a brief pre-sentence hearing yesterday, Knight agreed to the publicising of two psychiatrists’ opinions and of a letter he wrote to Justice Bernard Teague.

In his letter, Knight rejected psychiatrist Dr Ron Senadipathy’s opinion that he was psychotic. He said his opposition to taking oaths was not delusional but was based on biblical scripture.

“Firstly, James, chapter 5 verse 12 says: ‘My friends, above all else, don’t take an oath. You must not swear by heaven or earth or by anything else. Yes or no is all you need to say. If you … anything more you will

be condemned,” he told the judge in his letter.

Dr Senadipathy told the court Knight’s delusion about taking oaths had led to his living in a humpy in a forest so he did not have to take oaths or sign declarations by earning income or claiming social security.

The psychiatrist said Knight was a highly dangerous man who suffered chronic paranoid schizophrenia. “He committed the crime driven by his delusional interpretation of the Bible and moral values he developed accordingly,” Dr Senadipathy said in his report.

But another psychiatrist, Dr Justin Barry Walsh, said Knight was not mentally ill, just “odd”.

Knight believed taking oaths was childish nonsense and violated the Bible’s teachings.

Knight also said he had designed a perpetual motion machine and a better mousetrap, but was reluctant to give any detail for fear of being thought a nutcase.

The case was adjourned.

Herald Sun