Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Aboriginal archive offers new DRM

Aboriginal archive offers new DRM (BBC News, Tuesday, 29 January 2008)

In the past I have observed that the BBC is reluctant to mention DRM and its consequences in news articles. I've conjectured that this is because they don't want to make people scared of the technology. In particular, they want viewers to adopt iPlayer, in which the BBC has invested (i.e. wasted) an outrageous amount of money, and iPlayer incorporates DRM.

I've sometimes wondered whether I wasn't overly paranoid. The above-mentioned article takes away my doubts. There is something fishy going on. What the article talks about is not DRM at all. It is a form of personalisation, but this is obscured by multiculti technobabble.

DRM was invented to make consumers suffer. The only way one can say something positive about it is by giving the name to something else, and then talking about that. We see this cheap trick demonstrated here.

NHS trusts 'reject homoeopathy'

NHS trusts 'reject homoeopathy' (BBC News, Wednesday, 30 January 2008)

A belated but significant victory for reason.

Afghan MPs back blasphemy death

Afghan MPs back blasphemy death (BBC News, Wednesday, 30 January 2008)

This is a good occasion to finally pull out our troops from Afghanistan. We are supposed to protect the good guys against the bad guys. Who the bad guys are is clear, but can anyone remind me, who are the good guys?

See also: Afghan villagers answer your questions (BBC News, Tuesday, 19 June 2007)

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

User privacy rights trump intellectual property

EU: User privacy rights trump intellectual property (ZDNet Government, Tuesday, 29 January 2008)

This story didn't make it to the BBC News site. It is easy to think of a conspiracy, and it probably is. The BBC are rather aggressive when it comes to their 'intellectual' property.


Amis rejects 'anti-Islam' claims (BBC News, Saturday, 26 January 2008)

Every time a sensitive issue comes up, there are battles about such questions as:

"Is this person's purpose to expose wrongs in some sections of society, or is he/she just out to offend? And if so, is this an insult of a deity, of a religion, of a culture, or of a race?"

Instead of asking such pedantic questions, people could save themselves a lot of discussions that lead nowhere and get to the point. The French found this out eventually after the episode with the lawsuit against Michel Houellebecq accusing the acclaimed author of inciting racial hatred. The Dutch found this out eventually after the murder of brilliant film maker Theo van Gogh by an easily offended Muslim. But so much energy was wasted to reach that point. I hope Britain can skip a few steps in the process, and get past the stage of political correctness sooner rather than later.

Then there is:

Satire cleared over McCann sketch (BBC News, Monday, 28 January 2008)

People who are offended by satire should look up the meaning of the word satire, or switch channels.

Why does no one in Britain care as much about children of Madeleine's age who are abducted and killed in Iraq every day? (See In their case, we know the names of some people who bear part of the moral responsibility. If those who write angry letters about satirical programmes want to turn their attention to more worthy causes, let them take to the streets and demand the incarceration of Gordon Brown and his ilk.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Data Protection Day

Did you know that today is Data Protection Day, an initiative of the Council of Europe? If BBC News is your only source of information, probably not. I have not been able to find any mention, whereas it is reported by several foreign media.

If the BBC could pull themselves away from kissing the arse of a certain crap-food producer ('Everything I needed to know I learned in McDonald's', BBC News, Monday, 28 January 2008), perhaps they could spare a brief moment for something some of us feel is important.

If they even know what privacy means that is. Anyone who dares so much as sneeze could find their name and photograph published on the BBC News site the following day, with a chemical analysis of their snot.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

What makes a good teacher?

What makes a good teacher? (BBC News, Saturday, 26 January 2008)

Professor Patricia Broadfoot is quoted: "the highest quality teaching and learning comes when we have the greatest autonomy for the teacher and the learner".

Finally someone who says what everyone in the field knows.

Britain is world champion make believe. To uphold alleged (imagined) high standards, education is stifled by review committees, and more committees reviewing the review committees. Getting a trivial change to a university module approved requires so much paperwork that professors are discouraged from making highly desirable improvements to courses.

I'm not optimistic this will change anytime soon, as the UK is much too addicted to review committees, and too scared to leave responsibility with those who have to do the actual teaching. In the mean while, the gap between British and overseas students is widening.

But don't worry, we'll give prizes to students who perform slightly less badly than their classmates, so they needn't have the feeling their tuition fees are wasted.

Hospitality in a suspicious world

Hospitality in a suspicious world (BBC News, Saturday, 26 January 2008)

This is one of the rare honest articles about Iraq and Afghanistan to appear on the BBC News site. Reporting about personal experiences, it reveals things that tend to get lost in the more frequent kinds of articles that offer mostly meaningless statistics, not uncommonly with misleading suggestions that the situation is improving.

One particularly apt passage is:

"Who tells the stories of civilians in Iraq or southern Afghanistan? Indeed, who tells the stories of Taleban foot soldiers?

And if that is not done, who is to know whether the American military or the British government or the Afghan president sitting in Kabul or indeed the Taleban spokesmen are telling the truth or not?"

Actually, in many countries there is just such kind of reporting. For example, the Dutch NOS news site runs a weekly 'blog' by an ordinary Iraqi, who writes about daily life in the capital. Many of his articles are heart-breaking. A recurrent theme is his wife's desire to start a family, and his feeling that it would be cruel to let children grow up in present-day Iraq, which is illustrated by many horrific incidents.

Regrettably, as language education in this country is shite, the less propaganda-infested news sites from continental Europe are inaccessible to the majority of us.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Four Horsemen

More recommended viewing: "The Four Horsemen" on the site of Richard Dawkins.

Especially the beginning of hour 1 is food for thought in the context of the recent Three Little Pigs debacle.

Data lost again

Court case data CDs lost in post (BBC News, Wednesday, 23 January 2008)

People never learn.

Should I ask whether the data on the lost CDs was encrypted this time? I can guess the answer.

What's wrong with SSL and PGP anyway? Ah, of course, how stupid of me: the Internet is a security risk, and Royal Mail isn't.

Suggested further reading:
Royal Mail 'loses 14.4m letters' (BBC News, Tuesday, 4 May, 2004), Royal Mail fined for missing post (BBC News, Friday, 10 February 2006), Staff suspended over missing post (BBC News, Thursday, 30 March 2006), Mail deliveries 'still delayed' (BBC News, Friday, 9 November 2007).

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Abuse images 'hidden on sat-navs'

Abuse images 'hidden on sat-navs' (BBC News, Tuesday, 22 January 2008)

Det Insp Snell is quoted: "The bottom line is that people in possession of these images of abuse will be caught and we will find the evidence."

The guy is only doing his job, and that job includes discouraging crime, with strong language and threats, whether accurate or complete boloney. One should respect that.

In contrast, the job of serious journalists (whom the BBC hasn't hired for ages) is to question such propaganda, rather than to act as the mouthpiece of law enforcement agencies. The real bottom-line is that the facilities available to the police are no match for modern cryptographic tools available to any computer user, and the battle was decided a long time ago.

On a technical level, the state of the art of mathematics restricts the possibilities of cryptanalysis (or 'code breaking') in a very concrete way. In the article, the poor policeman can boast about a '£200,000 computer server' but this is rather transparent bluff. Not even all the computers of the NSA together could crack ciphertext in AES-128 if the key is well chosen.

I tend to put all my financial data and Internet passwords on an encrypted hard drive. In this way, were it ever to be stolen, I can rest assured the thieves cannot, for example, commit fraud with my credit card information. As the tool I use (viz. TrueCrypt) also allows steganography ('information hiding'), I could quite easily hide data that I don't want to be found.

Should I believe that technology that is just fine for an honest, law-abiding, tax-paying, technophobic dunce like me is too complicated for a hardened criminal? Do criminals think that it is easier to put whatever criminal data they have on satellite navigation systems and games consoles than to hide the data with off-the-shelf, industrial-strength steganographic software? If I believe this, I might as well believe all the far-fetched drivel that the BBC has on offer.

Currys stops selling analogue TVs

Currys stops selling analogue TVs (BBC News, Tuesday, 22 January 2008)

Digital TV is a stepping stone to the scourge of Content Protection & Copy Managements, which turns the viewers into prisoners of their own TV sets. Neither the article, nor the more than a dozen links from the article mention DRM. I wonder why? Perhaps because the BBC has a stake in DRM, in the form of the deplorable iPlayer project?

Monday, 21 January 2008

Have your say

Today's "Have your say" is "Should you drink coffee when you're pregnant?" (BBC News forum, Monday, 21 January, 2008)

It is obscene how many people are willing to provide their views on things they know almost nothing about, as if questions of science are answered by majority vote.

I have a suggestion for the following "Have your say": "Do you think the Riemann hypothesis is true?"

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Treaty of Lisbon

EU treaty 'same as constitution' (BBC News, Sunday, 20 January 2008)

The difference between the Treaty of Lisbon and the rejected European Constitution is that the latter referred to the EU Flag.

So the French and the Dutch rejected the European Constitution because they didn't like that shade of blue?

If there wasn't any reason to try to stop the train in 2005, there is now. The powers that be have resorted to the most transparent kind of deceit: rename stuff to make it sound less scary.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Crypto laws

MoD to be quizzed over lost data (BBC News, Saturday, 19 January 2008)

The RIP Act Part III came into effect in October 2007. One of the implications is that one can be convicted to a two-year jail sentence for failure to hand over the key to encrypted data in ones possession. If there is a suspicion of involvement in terrorism (whether corroborated by evidence or not), the sentence is up to five years.

As to a judge unwillingness to hand over a key is indistinguishable from inability to hand over a key (passwords are forgotten all the time), this basically means anyone can be jailed for having a bad memory. It is hard to think of a stronger discouragement from using encryption.

Is it a coincidence then that shortly after October 2007, there was a substantial increase in the number of leaks of unencrypted confidential data?

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Czech anger at caged beds report

Czech anger at caged beds report (BBC News, Thursday, 17 January 2008)

How to create news BBC-style? Travel a few months in a foreign country,
preferably one of the few remaining to which Britons tend to feel superior. As soon as anything is observed that is remotely substandard, film it and put it on the air, accompanied by outraged comments from real or alleged experts, because otherwise viewers won't be able to tell just how bad it is.

Children with a mental age below 3 have side rails around their beds. That is the biggest problem in the Czech healthcare system? I bet the Czech don't have any trouble finding dentists.

Smith targets internet extremism

Smith targets internet extremism (BBC News, Thursday, 17 January 2008)

Jacqui Smith wants to shut down extremist websites. I support that. For starters, I want to nominate Christian Voice, and not too far down the line is the website of the Labour Party.

Another blow to free speech? In all fairness to Jacqui Smith, in the quoted passages she talks about "violent extremism", whereas the BBC article overall tries very hard to blur the distinction between "extremism" and "terrorism", starting with the title.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Papal visit scuppered by scholars

Papal visit scuppered by scholars (BBC News, Tuesday, 15 January 2008)

No matter how bad the Beeb is, there is always worse.

The article reports understandable protests from academics at La Sapienza against a visits by the Pope, who has done so much to uphold the Roman Catholic doctrine of working against scientific progress by censorship, occasionally to the extent of murder of those who have been particularly outspoken.

The article ends with: Vatican Radio said the protest at La Sapienza had "a censorious tone".

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

No news

Today's headline is:

Diana 'said Queen would abdicate' (BBC News Tuesday, 15 January 2008)

Another really pressing issue is addressed in:

Why do US pickets walk in circles? (BBC News Tuesday, 15 January 2008)

As if that is not exciting enough, even the news itself is considered newsworthy:

Clash of Ten O'Clock News Titans (BBC News Tuesday, 15 January 2008)

Apparently nothing more important happened today. Now have a look at:

Under 'Recent events' there is a listing of daily casualties, mostly civilians. For 14 January 2008 it says 'The number of Iraqi civilians killed by US forces in January has now gone up to 23.' But surely that is not as important as Princess Diana's paranoia more than 10 years ago.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Richard Dawkins and AAI 07

I spent much of the day on the lectures at AAI 07, a conference organised by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. All of the lectures are brilliantly presented and highly thought-provoking. Not to be missed.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Sex-on-duty inspector dismissed

Sex-on-duty inspector dismissed (BBC News, Tuesday, 8 January 2008)

Only in Saudi Arabia and in Britain would there be a court case as a result of consensual sex between adults, whether it is off-duty or on-duty. The difference is that in Saudi Arabia the media would have the common decency not to publish names and photographs of the people involved. The BBC has the despicable habit of producing cheap news items at the expense of just about anyone, guilty or not guilty.

Now wasting your own time and that of your boss by reading the rubbish on the BBC News site during office hours, that ought to be a crime!

PS I did not include a link to the original article, for obvious reasons.

Plan to dig up Padre Pio attacked

Plan to dig up Padre Pio attacked (BBC News, Monday, 7 January 2008)

The second last paragraph reads 'The hands of the saint, who lived to the age of 81, often bled copiously. His followers said he bore the wounds of the crucified Christ.' There is no mention of the well-known and well-founded accusations he was a fraud. See e.g. Padre Pio 'faked his stigmata with acid'.

As usual, the BBC is more interested in not offending anyone than in the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Work pensions 'down under Labour'

Work pensions 'down under Labour' (BBC News, Friday, 4 January 2008)

The introductory paragraph reads 'More than one million extra people face retirement without a pension from their employer than when Labour came to power, the Conservatives claim.' My 4 year old cousin can formulate more intelligible sentences.

There has been a discussion lately about language lessons for immigrants. How about language lessons for BBC journalists? 'What did you say? "I have eaten more than two extra apples than yesterday"? No sorry, Laura Kuenssberg, BBC News political correspondent, that's not correct. You failed the exam again.'

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Royal Marsden is a 'world-leader'

Royal Marsden is a 'world-leader' (BBC News, Wednesday, 2 January 2008)

It starts as an article praising the work at Royal Marsden Hospital, but about a page down, this is unexpectedly interrupted by mention of a certain tragedy, which is followed by more praise. It requires following a link at the right side of the page to find out this tragedy was a fire at the hospital. Reads like a sloppy cut-and-paste job on the basis of an earlier article.

Police slam women drink drivers

Police slam women drink drivers (BBC News, Monday, 31 December 2007)

Another pathetic attempt to turn meaningless data into something newsworthy. We are told that '100 of the 657 drivers who have been charged with drink or drug driving offences were women' and that 'for many years there was a perception that middle aged male drivers were the worst offenders'. One has the distinct impression the author wants to tell us something, probably that women have started drinking more. But more than what? More than women did a few years ago? More relative to men? The offered factoids allow for the possibility that men have started drinking less and alcohol consumption by women has remained the same. Perhaps the author realises this but was too lazy to do anything more than stitch together a few readily available statistics to form an incoherent article.

Albarn condemns celebrity culture

Albarn condemns celebrity culture (BBC News, Thursday, 27 December 2007)

A lengthy article about some individual called Damon Albarn. The justification for publishing this lengthy article with Albarn's pseudo-philosophical ramblings is apparently that he was a celebrity as a pop star, a decade or so ago. Now read again the title of the article.

Atheistic fundamentalism fears

'Atheistic fundamentalism' fears (BBC News, Saturday, 22 December 2007)

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, claims 'atheistic fundamentalism' is a great problem facing the world. On the same date there is an article Tony Blair joins Catholic Church, which mentions that Blair prayed to God when deciding whether or not to send UK troops into Iraq. Does no one see the irony?

See also The enemies of reason.