Past EED rants


Live leaderboard

Poker leaderboard

Voice of EED

Monday, 30 March 2009

Router haxxage

I’ve just moved ISP to O2 on account of Nildram’s grandparent company, Tiscali being a bit fubar.

As part of the deal they ship you a free modem which is no surprise these days. What is kind of surprising is that they give you the option of not taking it, whilst also saying that they can’t provide support on your connection if you’re using a third party router. Hailing from the “not thick” section of the population, took the freebie as it would be interesting to see what turned up if nothing else.

The O2 supplied box is a white brick replete with the usual selection of modem blinky lights. The admin pages on the modem are nice, with a few consumer level friendly things like fault diagnosis & various wizards, dynamic DNS & so on. There’s also a very nice set of pages for setting up port forwarding games and other applications, which rather amusingly contains several flavours of bit torrent. Most common games up to a year ago are there, as is Xbox live. There’s no line stats available, so you can’t see your signal to noise ratio etc which is a bit of a shame. A more serious omission is the inability to change DNS servers. I can see why they’ve done this, but it does mean that you can’t start using the very wonderful OpenDNS service.

Not to be deterred a bit of googling turns up that it’s actually a rebadged Thompson TG585, which you helpfully get told when telneting into the box, having found the admin logon. Once you’re in, it’s a snap to change the DNS settings to use OpenDNS and life is good.

Of course, this, being an EED blog will tell you exactly how to reach domain name service nirvana. Naturally I, no one I know or even my (rather handsome) cat will take responsibility if you brick your router. So proceed at your own risk.

Step One – Login

Open a command prompt & type

telnet o2wirelessbox.lan

The user ID is SuperUser and the password is O2Br0ad64nd.

This should greet you with a nice ASCII art graphic, the router information and an all important admin prompt.

______ Thomson TG585 v7
/ /\
_____/__ / \
_/ /\_____/___ \ Copyright (c) 1999-2008, THOMSON
// / \ /\ \
_______//_______/ \ / _\/______
/ / \ \ / / / /\
__/ / \ \ / / / / _\__
/ / / \_______\/ / / / / /\
/_/______/___________________/ /________/ /___/ \
\ \ \ ___________ \ \ \ \ \ /
\_\ \ / /\ \ \ \ \___\/
\ \/ / \ \ \ \ /
\_____/ / \ \ \________\/
/__________/ \ \ /
\ _____ \ /_____\/
\ / /\ \ /___\/
/____/ \ \ /
\ \ /___\/

Step Two – Verify Existing DNS

To find out what the existing DNS settings are type

dns server route list

and hit enter. You’ll get a list something like this:

DNS Server Entries:
DNS Server Source Label Metric Intf State Domain
D 10 O2_ADSL UP *
D 10 O2_ADSL UP *

The IP addresses should match with those you see on the admin pages of the o2 box. The interface (“O2_ADSL”) will change between providers (or also probably between ADSL & ADSL2+). The point is, it may be different for you. Metric is the priority that the DNS entry has where lower number = higher priority. This is important, because if we don’t make our new settings have a higher priority than the ISP’s DNS servers, they’ll just get lost.

Step Three – Change to OpenDNS

At the time of writing, OpenDNS’s servers were and You may want to check this if you’re reading this blog a long time after publication :)

You’ll need to type the route add commands into the telnet session, specifying the IP addresses you want (OpenDNS), a higher priority than 10 (5) and the interface from above (for me, O2_ADSL).

Do this after a flush, that will ensure everything is up to date:

dns server route flush
dns server route add dns= metric=5 intf=O2_ADSL
dns server route add dns= metric=5 intf=O2_ADSL

Step Four – Get The Hell Outta Dodge

OK, before you celebrate, you’ll need to verify that everything’s stuck. List the entries out as you did above & you should see the new IP addresses along with the priority of 5.

Type the following to save & quit:


Optionally, check the router admin page to verify the DNS settings and go to – the page should will tell you “(You’re using OpenDNS!)”

Step Five – Sip Champagne & Nibble Nachos

Well, it is EED :)

[Update: found the CLI manual]

Friday, 27 March 2009

Mutating weasels, and admitting mistakes

Over twenty years ago now, back in 1986, Richard Dawkins released his book "The Blind Watchmaker". I've blogged about this before: an excellent book, second only to "The Ancestor's Tale" in terms of sheer readability and good old fashioned, enjoyable science.

In this book, Dawkins attempts to dispell the "junkyard tornado" fallacy, the old creationist canard that usually goes something like this: "The chances of a tornado blowing through a junkyard and forming a complete Boening 747 from scrap parts is 1 in [very large number]. So the chances of natural selection being able to create fully formed creatures randomly is similarly unlikely!"

Dawkins tackles this by way of an analogy. Imagine we're looking to generate a phrase: "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL" (a random phrase from Shakespeare's Hamlet, in case you were wondering). One way we can do this is by sitting a monkey in front of a typewriter and having it type out random strings of 28 characters. This is an analogous mechanism to the spontaneous generation misunderstanding that creationsists have about evolution.

Obviously, this is going to take some considerable length of time. There are some 10^40 possible combinations that the monkey could stumble upon. In fact, if the monkey was working really hard and producing one 28 character string per second, it would take somewhere around the age of the universe to get to it. Obviously, this isn't a very efficient search mechanism.

Luckily, this isn't how natural selection works. Dawkins goes on to contrast this "random search" with the idea of "cumulative search". Cumulative search works by starting with a reproducing parent - in this case, a random string of characters - and producing offspring from it. The offspring are then subject to mutation - in this case, some of the letters in the phrase can change into other ones. Finally, the offspring are inspected and their fitness is measured - fitness here is closeness to the target phrase, "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL". The fittest of the brood is then used as the parent for the next generation. And so on, until the target is reached.

Dawkins illustrates this with a simple computer programme. It is a remarkably simple algorithm, so I spent ten minutes knocking together my own weasel code. Here's a sample run from it:

Generation 20: Best offspring: ZTJINKS ITPIXULFVD A WEASEW
Generation 40: Best offspring: YTJINKS IT IS LZZB A WEASEL
Generation 60: Best offspring: MYTJINKS IT IS LKKB A WEASEL
Generation 80: Best offspring: MTTHINKS IT IS LKKE A WEASEL
Generation 100: Best offspring: MSTHINKS IT IS LRKE A WEASEL
Generation 120: Best offspring: METHINKS IT IS LRKE A WEASEL
Generation 140: Best offspring: METHINKS IT IS LINE A WEASEL
Target reached in 153 generations: METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL

This shows the fittest offspring for every 20th generation (for completeness, the parameters of this run had each generation consist of 50 offspring, and each character in each offspring had a 5% chance of mutating). You can see that using cumulative search, we reach the target in just 153 generations. This is massively more efficient than generating phrases at random!

This is, very loosely, how natural selection works. By small modifications to offspring, then selection for the fittest offspring in their particular environment, complexity can be gradually accumulated - there is absolutely no need to invoke any junkyard tornadoes.

Ultimately though, weasel is just a clever toy - a simplistic view of natural selection used only to illustrate the power of non-random selection. It is not a very good model of how evolution really works, since each generation of offspring's fittness is measured with respect to a distant ideal. In fact, it is perhaps a little misleading when taken out of context since evolution doesn't work towards a perfect ideal. It is a blind process that has no target or goal. Most of the world therefore enjoyed a clever demonstration, learned the limited lessons that weasel has to offer, and moved on.

But not the creationists.

Over at Uncommon Descent, intelligent design creationist William Dembski (the self-styled Isaac Newton of Information Theory) perpetuates a long running mistake of his. Dembski has long attempted to dismiss weasel as a misleading and irrelevent model of cumulative selection. Back in 2000 he published an essay containing a description of the algorithm:
(1) Start with a randomly selected sequence of 28 capital Roman letters and spaces (thats the length of METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL); (2) randomly alter all the letters and spaces in the current sequence that do not agree with the target sequence; (3) whenever an alteration happens to match a corresponding letter in the target sequence, leave it and randomly alter only those remaining letters that still differ from the target sequence.
Now, Dembski's mistake isn't necessarily easy to spot, but it is there. Firstly, his (2) suggests all characters mutate, when in fact all characters are subject to a chance of mutating. More importantly, his (3) claims that a kind of "latching" occurs, that whenever a correct letter is found, it is somehow locked in place and not subject to further mutation.

This might not seem important at first, but consider this: if weasel is claiming to be a simulation of natural selection (it isn't really, but there you go...) then what is the process that locks the characters in place supposed to represent? An intelligent intervention? Dembski seems to be claiming in this paragraph that weasel's search algorithm is more supportive of an ID position than a naturalistic one.

Of course, the reality is that no "latching" of letters occurs in a real weasel algorithm. No such mechanism was described by Dawkins in 1986, and indeed no such mechanism occurs in my algorithm above. In fact, if you compare a real-weasel with a latching-weasel, the number of generations to reach the target is not much worse for real-weasel. Certainly still massively better than random search. It has become something of a badge of honour among scientists to write your own weasel algorithm, just simply to confirm to yourself how good this method is, even without latching.

So Dembski's insistence that latching occurs is confusing, since Dawkins himself has long since refutted the claim, and countless versions of real-weasel have shown that the result was consistent. Indeed, Dembski had this error pointed out to him back in 2000 and many times since. He's failed to act on it though, and has even gone on to reproduce the error in subsequent (non-peer reviewed) papers.

In his latest post, Dembski links to a youtube clip (start around 6:00) that explicitely shows each generation, and as such sometimes shows a supposedly "fixed" letter changing into something else. This is clear proof that Dawkins algorithm was not of the latching kind. But even now, Dembski cannot admit his error. He innocently wonders:
That leads one to wonder whether the WEASEL program, as Dawkins had programmed and described it in his book, is the same as in the BBC Horizons documentary.
Nice conspiracy theory: Dawkins wrote a programme that cheated in order to produce results that are practically the same as a non-cheating version, then subsequently re-wrote the programme for television to not cheat. Hilarious!

I don't understand the problem here. Weasel would have been forgotten by now if Dembski had admitted his mistake in 2000. It isn't a good simulation, it is simply a demonstration of a concept. His "science" doesn't depend on weasel being right or wrong. And he's been shown countless times, over and again, that he's wrong. So why not just admit this one tiny mistake? The truth is, Dembski seems so invested in finding flaws with anything Dawkins related that his mindset simply will not allow it. Not a very good example from the Isaac Newton of Information Theory eh?

Using altova schema agent 2009 with apache 2.2

Unashamedly geek post this. I my role as a data architect, I’ve been playing with Altova Schema Agent to manage XML schemas & WSDLs. Here’s the best way I’ve found to set things up for local development purposes:

The first problem you’ll notice is that you can’t just throw a bunch of files at it. It’ll load your schemas & WSDLs OK, but will also try & resolve and any imports etc, so you’re left with a bunch of un-resolvable imports, if your namespaces don’t resolve to a real world interwebs address, which most don’t.So, you’ll have to serve the schemas up locally using something good like Apache 2.2. Installing it is trivial, so I won’t go into that, but you’ll need to make some changes to the configuration file httpd.conf.

Turn on WebDAV

So schema agent can traverse all your schemas, you’ll need to turn on WebDAV in Apache.LoadModule dav_module modules/
LoadModule dav_lock_module modules/
and add LoadModule dav_fs_module

Point Apache At Your Schemas

Assuming your schemas are just served up off the root of your local apache, you’ll need to set the document root, say

DocumentRoot "D:\www\myschemas"

Configure Access

Then you’ll need a Directory tag to specify that WebDAV should be turned on

<Directory D:\www\myschemas">
Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
AllowOverride None
Dav On
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
Require valid-user

Dav On turns on WebDAV for that folder and the LimitExcept tag will disallow all HTTP operations except those listed, so you can turn on write access if you need it too. This can be useful as Schema Agent integrates with XMLSpy so you can browse & edit schemas directly from Schema Agent.


…and Bob’s yer uncle!


Friday, 20 March 2009

Google Street View

After a year or so of legal wrangling, and watchdog pacification, Google finally released the UK version of their excellent Street View application. Providing 360 degree panoramas at thousands of points around the UK's streets, Street View effectively lets you tour the country's cities, peer into the nation's gardens and experience the true majesty of the Great British Public vomiting and urinating. It's a wonderful thing.

Actually, it is a wonderful thing. A massive accomplishment almost unparalleled in the history of photography. Think about it: Street View represents a unique historical document - a slice of life through much of the world's cities in the early 21st century. It has no agenda, no goal, no prejudice, no purpose other than an almost blind recording of life. In many ways, it reminds me of those old black and white street scenes from the turn of the 19th century: fascinating glimpses of people going about their business, largely unaware that they are being cast in historical amber; neither posed, nor artificial, nor contrived.

As such, you can find the whole range of human activities, from the mundane to the unique to the downright bizarre - fights, crime, love, every weave and stitch of humanity's peculiar tapestry. And because of this, Street View is a resource of incalculable worth for future generations.

Of course, the antagonistic British media fails to recognise and celebrate this. Instead, it prefers to amplify the almost vanishingly small minority voice of the Luddites who see only fear and threat in everything great and unique. People who are quick to assume that baser human failings will prevail and should be protected from at all costs. People for whom knowledge and enlightenment are lesser goals than the cocooned sanctity of their garden fence.

Do I believe that Google Maps will never be used for wrong-doing? Of course not - I'm sure that it will be employed by the world's ne'er-do-wells, whether it be to plot the theft of church roof lead, or to orchestrate an audacious terrorist event. But I also happen to think that this will happen anyway, regardless of whether Google Maps existed or not. Should we also ban atlases and compasses, back packs and cameras? Of course not.

Furthermore, I believe that the positives of such an undertaking greatly outweigh any perceived negatives. Imagine the educational potential of Google Earth and Street View. No longer are school children confined to books and second hand descriptions of the Colosseum or the Parthenon, or the streets of Gaza city or Mumbai. There now exists the potential to experience places in context, a richer learning experience than anything yet conceived.

Ultimately, I believe that surest way to combat the negatives that the Luddites foresee is to educate and enlighten, since there is no greater fuel for the fire of discontentment than ignorance. Isn't this a goal worth pursuing, even at the expense of our sex-shop privacy?

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I have to confess that I'm not a lifelong Watchmen fan. My comics tastes always veered more towards the big-titted, latex-clad hyperbole of mainstream Marvel or DC. Watchmen and its ilk always seemed a bit... intense. Nevertheless, when the hype machine cranked up in anticipation of the film adaptation a few months ago I dutifully picked up a copy of the graphic novel and dived in. I was, predictably, blown away. There's little wonder that Watchmen is often held up as an example of high art, a pinnacle of graphic storytelling and is even included in Time's Top 100 Books list.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the film.

Watchmen is a strange story, very much a product of its time. Set in the mid-80s, at the height of the cold war in the middle of a nuclear stand-off between the US and Russia, it tells the tale of a world where costumed superheroes are common-place. The genius of it is that the heroes (the Watchmen of the title) have no powers, they're simply masked vigilantes and villains. All except Dr. Manhattan, a physicist-turned-blue-demigod. Manhattan's limitless control over energy and matter acts as a deterrent, keeping the Soviet union in check.

The presence of Dr. Manhattan has changed the world in many respects - his involvement in Vietnam led to the Vietnamese surrender within days, and his knowledge of materials and energy have given the world new technologies. Meanwhile, world opinion has turned on the costumed heroes and, through an act of government, sent most of them into hiding. Only Rorschach, the iconic black and white masked vigilante, and Comedian, the morally questionable government operative, remain active. Like the book, the film opens with the death of the Comedian...

The first thing to applaud the film for is how it has resisted the temptation to update the setting. I expect a number of Hollywood whoremasters would have pressed very hard to replace Cold War with "War On Terror" and move it forward to the far more aesthetically pleasing 21st century. Kudos then to Zack Snyder for sticking to his guns and insisting on remaining faithful to the source. In fact, Snyder's direction rarely deviates from the storyboard of the original. Many scenes are word-for-word dialogue copies of the comics, with many scenes even shot from the same angle. It's clear that Snyder is a massive fan of the original (similar to his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300).

His slavish devotion to the source is also evident in his casting of the main characters. There isn't a single big name actor in the whole film, nobody you'd recognise, and this has left Snyder free to find perfect matches for each part. I defy anyone to question the casting of Rorschach, an actor seemingly born to play one role only - Walter Kovacs. Similarly, The Comedian, Night Owl and Silk Spectre are very well cast and the combination of actor and CGI make Dr. Manhattan just the right combination of the human and the miraculous.

Aesthetically, the film is a masterpiece - every scene drips with details from the comic book - the newspaper vendor and Black Freighter comic book reader (an excised subplot) appear in one or two panning shots, Snyder reminding the audience that they are there, if not fully realised; the Rorschach interview scene (an entire issue in the original) remains intact and complete and magnificent and Snyder somehow manages to make unpowered, costumed vigilantes seem believable and not ridiculous (more a testament to the original, where the actual costumed parts are sparingly used).

Okay, so some parts of the story have been cut, necessary to retain at least a semblance of brevity: a large part of the Holis Mason subplot is left out (which has impacts on the development of the Night Owl character), the aforementioned Black Freighter doesn't even get a mention, save for brief glances of the comic reader, and the ending deviates massively (in detail if not in spirit) from the original. That said, I think I actually preferred the ending of the film to the ending of the book - it seemed somehow less random, more tightly plotted. I think the giant squid of the original would have simply confused and lengthened the film.

And at 2:45, the film is already long enough for the average movie-goer. But for someone with an interest in the original, 2:45 seemed almost too short. With every scene packing in as much visual detail as reasonably possible, I felt that it could have gone on for another hour and I still would have felt it too short.

Sure, there were flaws - some characters suffered from the removed or shortened storylines - the Silk Spectre/Comedian plot seemed rushed, almost forgotten. And what was happening with Nixon's nose? Overall though, I don't think you could reasonably expect to see a better adaptation of Watchmen. Hopefully a director's cut will see some elements restored, but even without them what is left is a faithful, loving and visually staggering rendition of a classic.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Convection Oven Awesomeness

You'll be glad to know I've now closed the Convection Oven, Which? chapter of my life and thought I'd share with you, as gastronomes all, the final outcome.

In short, we've now got this beauty running 'hot, smooth and normal' chez nous:

It's the sexily named Panasonic NNA574S.

I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone seeking convection goodness, without the usual bulkiness (the pic shows it on top of the fridge, but it'd sit happily on a standard depth work surface).
I simply don't use the main oven for day to day cooking any more.

Some key bits of awesome:

  • It heats up so quickly its scary. Stone cold to 200 degrees C in under 3 minutes. To 160 degrees C in just over 90 seconds.
  • Its quiet and has a safety feature that stops you leaving it running by accident. Once warmed up, if you don't subsequently give it a cooking time within 30 minutes it just shuts itself down.
  • Despite the number of buttons on the front, you don't need to RTFM - all very simple.
  • At 27L capacity, you can easily fit a full roast joint in there on the special plate it ships with.
  • The window doesn't steam up so you can always see where your grub is at.
  • Pastry (especially pies) and various other bits that usually go very wrong in a standard microwave come out simply brilliantly.
  • Its energy efficient, reducing heating (and therefore energy consumption) as you approach the end of the cooking cycle by using heat bursts, clever circulation and fan type stuff to maintain the required temperature.

Its also a good way under £200. Our chums John Lewis do it for £184.

Anyhow, HUGE thumbs up from me (someone who loves cooking but increasingly doesn't have the time and loathes microwave nonsense). If you're looking for a second oven or a microwave replacement that just does more useful stuff, have a look at the Panasonic.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Google G1

I finally made up my mind. Swayed by Apple's arbitrary and capricious limitations, I decided to skip the iPhone for a while and go for the G1. Okay, it wasn't entirely down to Apple that I threw my hat in with Google, the G1 definitely has a lot to recommend it on paper, but sacrificing the ubiquity and "polish" of Apple's phone is definitely not a decision to be taken lightly.

In case you don't know, the G1 is Google's first foray into the world of mobile phones. It is also the first phone to market that runs the (mostly) open-source, linux-based OS "Android". Underneath the branding, the G1 is an HTC Dream, with touch screen, slide out keyboard, wifi, gps, 3G, compass and accelerometers. Very similar (some would say more capable) to the iPhone in fact. However, unlike the perception of the iPhone as this year's must have gadget, the G1 has acquired a reputation for being "early adopters only". Maybe Google's love of the "beta" tag is coming back to haunt them?

Perhaps because of this, I decided to buy the G1 off-contract, ebayed for about £200, and left my options open to jump to the iPhone sooner rather than later. So, after about a day of pretty heavy use, was my caution justified?

Well, let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. First, and probably foremost with extended use, will be the battery life. The G1 is hungry for power, what with all those receivers and aerials, and if you're not careful to cull unnecessary services, you will be looking at about a day of average use between recharges. I understand the iPhone is not much better, so it isn't really too bad. Luckily, it recharges through mini-USB, so you can pretty much plug it in whenever you're near a computer.

Second, I'm not totally sold on the fold out keyboard. It's great for lengthy text input, but very annoying when you just want to type a few letters into a search box. At time of writing, there is no virtual keyboard, but the forthcoming "cupcake" update features such a thing, so this will eventually become a moot point. There's also no support for multi-touch in the software, despite the hardware being more than capable. Talk around the blogosphere is that Apple slapped Google with a friendly "don't even try it!" warning, and Google didn't. Hopefully they'll come to some kind of amicable agreement in the near future.

Finally, and on the subject of updates, it seems that the UK carrier T-mobile are choosing to arbitrarily excise features from UK firmware updates. For example, the recent RC9/33 update saw the rest of the world getting Google Latitude added to the inbuilt maps application. But, for some reason, the UK version alone had Latitude chopped out. No reason has been given, but one can't help but think that the brain dead tabloid media scaremongering has given T-mobile the fear. Come on T-mobile! I can download this functionality on your network on my Nokia, but I can't use the most high profile recent Google release on your fucking Google branded phone? This is the kind of thing that will send me to Apple.

Okay, that's the bad out of the way. Nothing too awful there, but enough to give anyone pause for thought when deciding whether or not to buy into the Android revolution. Luckily, there's more than enough to swing the balance the other way.

Your first impression on getting the G1 is how different it looks in your hand compared to pictures on the web. It is smaller, blacker, more matt and generally far better looking than the "only a mother could love" snaps would suggest. In fact, the hardware feels very nice generally, well made and sturdy. The location of the SIM card and mini-SD card slots are both well thought out and easily accessible, and the inclusion of a removable (and replaceable) battery already put a tick in the G1 column over the iPhone.

Upon turning on the phone for the first time, you're greeted by a Google login box. Enter your normal Google login, and by the time the phone has booted to the home screen, your contacts, mail and calendar have all synchronised to the phone. If you're hooked on Google services like me this is fantastic. No more fumbling around with copying contacts to the SIM card, no more syncing with Outlook or whatever proprietary software your last phone used.

The next thing you notice is how damned slick everything is. I have to admit, I expected a Google produced, Linux based OS to be somewhat... eccentric. But the way the whole thing hangs together has exceeded my wildest expectations. Everything makes sense in the context of a phone. Finding often used phone functions is easy - the dialler, contacts and messaging functions all live on the desktop or in easy to find icons. You scroll through long lists of contacts by flicking your finger in the same way you would on an iPhone. It is all very intuitive and user-friendly (though I did have a bit of a panic trying to find out how to answer the phone, but it was just me being lame I think!)

Your home screen is your desktop. It takes up three screens - the middle one has the dialler and most used functions, and a clock on it. To the right, found by flicking the screen right, is a Google search box for easy searching the web. To the left is an empty screen. You can customise your home screen very easily by creating shortcuts to applications, bookmarks, contacts, anything in fact. I've got mine set up with most used applications in the middle, internet shortcuts to the right, and commonly dialled contacts to the left. Very cool.

The inbuilt Google apps are typically solid - the Gmail client works extremely well, with new messages popping up in the notification area as they arrive (much like an SMS). Maps does everything you get on the web. No multitouch zooming like the iPhone though, but it does have a very cool intertia/compass integration with Streetview. Load up a view like on the web, and you can pan around the scene by literally pointing your phone in the direction you want to look at. I'm at a loss to think of a use for this, but it is a very cool thing to show off the potential of the thing. While there's no Google document or reader support currently, the web versions are very usable. Finally, the Calendar and GTalk apps are simple, easy to use, but nothing particularly exiting.

With such a solid foundation, it is perhaps unsurprising that the main attraction of the Android platform is this: potential. With everything so well integrated and well-featured, the opportunity to do something special with the hardware (compass, GPS, wifi, 3G, camera) is unparalleled.

It's quite hard to describe how much potential there is in this thing without looking at some of the apps that have appeared on the app store in the first few months of it's inception. Here's three that I've been messing with:

  • Shop Savvy - this app is the kind of thing that could only happen on modern phones. What it does is to use the camera to scan the barcode of an item (DVD, book, CD, whatever). It then looks up the details of the item, looks for prices online (and gives links to the product page that open in the browser) and even determines your location and finds shops near you. You can even click on the shop address to open the Maps application, or the telephone number to open the dialler. It also gives reviews of the item, and allows you to save items for future viewing. Very cool.
  • My Tracks - this is a simple idea that is done elsewhere. It's basically a route tracker - start a walk, run or bike ride and tell My Tracks to track you. It then uses the GPS to monitor your location. What's interesting about this is that when you finish recording a track, you are given the opportunity to upload to Google Maps (creating a My Map) or Google Docs. The Docs option is perhaps the most interesting, since it provides you with tonnes of interesting information about your track.
  • Twidroid - this last one is not really for the app itself, which is just a Twitter app (I'm still not sold on the worth of Twitter). I've included it more for the fact that it highlights the G1's main strength over the iPhone - multitasking. After installing Twidroid and logging in, you can configure the app to be "always on". It'll check your tweets at a preconigured interval no matter what else you're doing. When you recieve something, it pops up on the homescreen just like an SMS or mail. It seem weird that this is such a big thing, my old Nokia could do it, but the absence of it on the iPhone highlights just how useful backgrounding is on these always-on-internet devices.
I have to say, even one day in, I'm very impressed. How this will change as the reality of battery life sets in and the novelty of the clever applications wears off, I don't know. But even at this very early stage in Android's life, the future looks very interesting indeed.

Monday, 2 March 2009

When paths diverge

I knew this would happen at some point, in fact it happened years ago. But I still held onto it, hope that things would re-align themselves and the glory days would roll back.

It's never going to happen, so I've got to consign my favourite musical act to the memory banks and move on. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the music of my teens. Many happy hours spent listening to him weave tales of midnight car chases, pretty girls and what growing up was all about.

The disparity in our ages didn't seem a big thing, I got into his music when a classmate gave me the river on tape. A few months later Born in the USA hit and the world went Springsteen mental. But that was really his peak, Tunnel of Love was emo before emo hit mainstream. But old man emo, bitter and full of regrets, probably because he was recently divorced.

Human Touch and Lucky Town were OK ish, but without the band something was lacking. When I married my wife we had a song from one of those albums as our first dance. Then after that dear god it got bad, reallllllll bad. He went into folk, now there's nothing wrong with folk music in it's own right. But for a proper rock n roller to do brown jug ballads was like him taking a dump in my heart.

I saw the shows a couple of times, he didn't have the vocal range for it.

Then he went back to the well with two attempts at being more like his old self, again they felt hollow and contrived to me.

Now this new album "working on a dream", it's got some decent song ideas in it. But it's aimed firmly at the retiree age bracket, with songs about wrinkled folk still in love and the dreadful unrequited love of a guy and the "Queen of the supermarket". Which is frankly stalkeresque in nature.

Him and the band are headlining Glastonbury this year and *will* rock it out. Until he hits anything done since 93, then it'll be not as fulfilling. Even at the 02 he can pull off a cracking live set, but the folksy brown jug stuff leaves me cold.

It's the last record he's put out that I'll be buying and thats sad. The music from your teens is always special, but watching the guy who encapsulated so many ideas grow old and become out of touch (to be fair with my reality) is heartbreaking to watch.

The strange thing is, he released on a few cracking songs in the time I was a fan. All the stuff I loved was from donkeys years ago, even when I first got into his music. So I'm a bit baffled at myself having such an investment in his music, when the stuff I got excited about being released always ended up a bit of a letdown.

We used to moan of the four year gap between albums, he was too good, why so picky etc... I yearn for that level of quality control now.

At least a line has been drawn, I'll wave him off to the musician nursing home knowing that the good times on record have gone. If I can catch him live I will, but no more taking the day off work to listen to a new release.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Iphone/itouch bleat

I bought an ipod touch. I do a lot of walking and running, and for some unfathomable apple reason my ipod video doesn't work with the nike+ gadget, and I fancied playing with a new generation itouch to see what all the iphone fuss was about.

I'm not really loving the itouch as much as I'd thought though, finding this one hard work at times. Battery life is grim, probably because I'm using it for games and
stuff, but it really doesn't last long. On the blackberry I could opt for a longer life battery too, but of course this is an apple gadget, I can't change it, feh. Don't like the virtual keyboard,missing all the time, finding it nowhere near as good as the blackberry.

Hate the fact you can't multi task, and I am finding it's a pain in the arse. It's something I don't even think about on the blackberry, just switch out, check something, switch back. You don that on the apple, and you have to start again. It's fucked.

The wifi seems shit. Very unreliable connecting to networks, which really does limit the usefulness of the device. Thought it was just me home router, but even out and about, it's very random on getting a dhcp lease, and of course you've got no way of knowing what it's doing. Even a 'renew dhcp lease' doesn't give you any errors or
feedback, it just works or doesn't.

The games, while nice, are very limited to control. Touch screen games are fun, but anything else is crap.

The whole thing about having to go through itunes was ok for music at a push, but it sucks for apps. I don't have to do this with my nokia or blackberry, why should we put up with this shit from apple?

The interface, in the main, is lovely. Some of the apps are superb, love the little stock quote thing, love googles stuff, the safari browser is superb, facebook and ebay apps both brill. Watching videos works just fine too, but it's daft that apple doesn't offer some kind of transcode feature in itunes to make this easier.

Typical Apple really, so close to being perfect, so let down by stupid restrictions.

Pulled Pullman

I have a great deal of respect for Philip Pullman, he writes a decent novel & talks a lot of sense.CCTV_01

The following article was posted by Philip Pullman on the Times website. But later nuked, and most creepily removed from the Google cache too.

Now, I’m not usually given to displaying tinfoilhattery leanings but this has wound me up a great deal. While the piece below is a bit of a rant, it does enumerate a lot of the feelings that people have in the current political climate. As such I think it deserves to be read, only if to stimulate discussion & to counter frankly incredulous pieces from Jack Straw like this one in the Guardian.

It’s one thing falling asleep (see below) but another to be blindfolded.

Of course, the post will be removed if Philip Pullman desires.



Here's Charlie Brooker getting angry & a very sincere piece of video from Rachel North, a 7/7 bombings survivor.

I think people really have had enough.


Malevolent Voices that Despise Our Freedoms, by Philip Pullman

Are such things done on Albion’s shore?

The image of this nation that haunts me most powerfully is that of the sleeping giant Albion in William Blake’s prophetic books. Sleep, profound and inveterate slumber: that is the condition of Britain today.

We do not know what is happening to us. In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness - the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys.

We are so fast asleep that we don’t know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation - after all we have an Established Church - or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?


The new laws whisper:

You don’t know who you are

You’re mistaken about yourself

We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless

We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you

And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised

The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street. This is what the new laws say about that:

Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity

Whatever your opinions are, we don’t want to hear them

So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are

And we do not want to hear you arguing about it

So hold your tongue and forget about protesting

What we want from you is acquiescence

The nation dreams it is a democratic state where the laws were made by freely elected representatives who were answerable to the people. It used to be such a nation once, it dreams, so it must be that nation still. It is a sweet dream.

You are not to be trusted with laws

So we shall put ourselves out of your reach

We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition

You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them

You do not need to hold us to account

You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?

Who do you think you are?

What sort of fools do you think we are?

The nation’s dreams are troubled, sometimes; dim rumours reach our sleeping ears, rumours that all is not well in the administration of justice; but an ancient spell murmurs through our somnolence, and we remember that the courts are bound to seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we turn over and sleep soundly again.

And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth

Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours

We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on

We do not want to hear you talking about innocence

Innocent means guilty of things not yet done

We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence

You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt

We do not want to hear you talking about justice

Justice is whatever we want to do to you

And nothing else

Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don’t mind if we are. They don’t think we care about it.

We want to watch you day and night

We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you

We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people

We can see you have abandoned modesty

Some of our friends have seen to that

They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible

In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide

We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural

We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things

One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:

We know who our friends are

And when our friends want to have words with one of you

We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need

It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law

It is for us to know what your offence is

Angering our friends is an offence

It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.


And those laws say:

Sleep, you stinking cowards

Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms

Freedom is too hard for you

We shall decide what freedom is

Sleep, you vermin

Sleep, you scum.

Philip Pullman will deliver a keynote speech at the Convention on Modern Liberty at the Institute of Education in London tomorrow (Feb. 28, 2009).