Sunday, November 29, 2009

Profiles in Wanktankery: GWPF

This is why the wanktanks (thanks, Brett!) anger me, and why they should anger you. In today's Obscurer:
The intriguing fact that the global warming trend of the late 20th-century appears to have come to a halt for the time being has led to growing public scepticism about claims of impending climate catastrophe.

In view of what increasingly looks like an unbridgeable stalemate and after years of inflamed global warming alarm, we are beginning to see a period of sobering up, where national interests and economic priorities are overriding environmental concerns and utopian proposals. It seems reasonable to conclude that the diplomatic impasse cannot be overcome in Copenhagen or, indeed, anytime soon. Global CO2 emissions, as a result, will continue to rise inexorably.

What is needed in these circumstances is a calm deceleration strategy that will cool future climate negotiations...
It's Benny Peiser, "director" of the "Global Warming Policy Foundation", still hawking the intellectually dishonest, busted on its own terms talking point about "no warming for 10 years".

We mean it, maan!

The "Foundation" has existed for all of a week. It has no staff other than Peiser and no publications and no thoughts other than worn-out old US Republican talking points. And instantly it has apparently open and uncritical access to the pages of a national newspaper.

These people can't handle it, can they? They have no resistance to this tactic at all. Just show them some headed notepaper and they'll slurp, slurp, slurp up any old nonsense you choose to tell'em.

Who is Benny Peiser? Sourcewatch knows. He's a social anthropologist specialising in sport, and a fan of worrying about near-earth objects. He has published a total of three peer-reviewed papers, none of them on anything remotely relevant.

He also does things like this:
Originally published in the prestigious publication, Science, the Oreskes study looked at 928 research papers on climate change and found that 100% agreed with the scientific consensus.[1] Peiser originally stated in January 2005 that Oreskes was incorrect and that "in light of the data [Peiser] presented... Science should withdraw Oresekes's study and its results in order to prevent any further damage to the integrity of science. On October 12, 2006, Peiser admitted that only one of the research papers he used in his study refuted the scientific consensus on climate change, and that study was NOT peer-reviewed and was published by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.


Can anybody tell me why this isn't a bigger story? Essentially, the government is buying 20-odd new Chinook helicopters for the RAF support helicopter force, and transferring the existing "green" Merlins to the Navy's commando helicopter squadrons. This means a significant increase in helicopters, and relief for the Navy support helicopter squadrons, who have been getting on with the oldest aircraft in the inventory, divided into no fewer than four sub-fleets. They get a proper helicopter; all the Merlins will be concentrated in the Navy, thus getting rid of the need to duplicate bits of the support system. And the RAF support fleet gets a lot more Chinooks.

The key to this is that Boeing has at last been willing to let Chinooks be built under licence in Europe, which sounds like a detail until you realise that the production line in the States is tied up with an order for Canada. There has never been a pony, no matter what the Tories might say.

This should finally close the long-running saga of buying new helicopters; over the last 15 years or so, there have been three different projects, which agreed only that the requirement would be a helicopter of some sort. Geoff Hoon unwisely decided to spend quite a lot of money upgrading the RAF Puma force in 2004, but those can't carry a useful load in Afghanistan. Around about the same time, the government chose to save on the support helicopter budget as well as on the infantry, which killed off a plan to get the Navy marinised Chinooks. This would probably have been the last opportunity to get any new ones before the big commitment to Afghanistan.

So yes, blame Hoon and indeed Gordon Brown by all means. But it was never as simple as that.

Avient; still tolerated, but for how much longer?

Old friends Avient have got it wrong, losing their newly acquired MD-11F in an accident on take-off from Shanghai. We've blogged about this lot here, here, here, and here; I also happen to know they sometimes read the blog. There is much material on PPRuNe as well - try here.

The weird bit about Avient is that they seem to enjoy some degree of official toleration. While others were banned, they've been able to use first Chateauroux, then Chalons/Vatry airfields in France without trouble, despite all the allegations detailed above and the innately weird nature of an airline with its management in the UK, its place of registry in Robert Mugabe's capital, and its operational base in France. Weirdly, as I mentioned in this post, the French government was willing to start a row with its No.1 pal in Africa, Gabon, over their right or otherwise to operate freight flights there.

And the civil aviation authorities can't plead ignorance; very few Ilyushin-76 are compliant with Stage 3 noise regulations. Although it's possible to hushkit some of them to this standard, Z-WTV is possibly the oldest airframe in circulation, the last Il-76T flying. In fact, when its last major overhaul came up, they decided to put it in storage/leave it to rot as very little fatigue life remains. So every movement their Il-76 made through the EU required an individual exemption, which gave away a certain amount of information.

More recently, yet another scandal blew up around them when they executed a midnight flit from Chalons, moving their base overnight to Liege, and allegedly welshing on €1 million worth of fuel. The aircraft that crashed in Shanghai had apparently spent much time sitting in storage since Varig sold it.

(Also, does anyone know if Avient people were around in South Africa in 1998?)

Update: Here's a visualisation of Avient traffic through the UAE.

not such a giant database

This is hilarious. Computer Weekly reports on Sir Joseph Pilling, Identity Commissioner, and discovers that he didn't have to apply for the job. And he's very proud that the National Identity Register now contains 538 people. That's almost one-and-a-half records a day for a year.

(Where are we on that "300 day delivery timetable" again?)

more "cyberwar" nonsense

Also spinning off that post, I'd like to reiterate a couple of points from this post and this one. As far as I can see, not much has changed since Beijing was identified as the world's biggest concentration of compromised Windows machines; Spamhaus ROKSO looks pretty bad for the big provincial networks in ChinaNet and China Unicom, and the Abuseat Composite Block List also shows the Chinese Internet as a very large source of spam and nasties in general.

By network rather than by country, ChinaNet is still the eighth spammiest domain on the Internet. Arbor Networks has some interesting charts on fast-flux DNS abuse, which show .cn as being the biggest real TLD for this particular form of mischief. Tellingly, it takes on average 7.8 days to get rid of a domain taster in .cn, as against 1.6 for .eu; however, Verisign is not doing great either, as it takes 7.23 days on average to get rid of one from .com.

Arguably, the correct model here isn't some kind of cold war vision of satellites and missiles and invisible hackers, but either a wild frontier or a failed state - which are of course the same thing, looked at from optimistic or pessimistic points of view.

That China has "Internet police" is beside the point. Afghanistan has a force called the Civil Order Police, Italy has Tax Police, and the US has something called the Central Intelligence Agency, but you wouldn't necessarily expect civil order to be maintained, taxes to be paid, or signs of intelligence. The UK even has a commission on standards in public life, and we know that's a joke.

a trick question

Cracking post of Londonstani's; perhaps he should retitle as Continuity Abu M?

However, it leaves me with one really big question. If I was a Taliban leader under Pakistani protection, I'd be really worried about moving to Karachi unless I knew whose side that city's various armed factions were on. They're various, as I say, but they're more or less linked to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement or MQM, a rightwing/nationalist entity that emerged after the Indian-Pakistani wars among the refugees who moved to the cities of (West) Pakistan. It's historically been very close to the Pakistani Army, quite violent, and an important factor in politics.

In as far as they are on the side of the Army, they're opposed to secessionist Pashtuns and crazy Islamists. In as far as the particular army unit they are dealing with is the ISI, get the picture.

Of course, it would be naive to ask "Whose side is the MQM on?" Like all such movements, it's always on the same side - its own side. Rather, at the moment the movement will have aligned itself on a temporary and tactical basis with one or more factions in Pakistani politics in order to pursue its interests, and I'm curious as to which ones.

It may be worth noting that, quietly, Asif Ali Zardari is still president of Pakistan and still not dead, which suggests he may be doing something right. The MQM and the Bhuttos and the PPP, although they're both based in Sindh rather than Punjab, have been at daggers drawn ever since the MQM changed sides on them at the end of the 1980s, but then this was very likely because the army wanted them to be. Now, though:
...but perhaps they're protesting too much.

Bizarrely, the world headquarters of the MQM is officially in a shop in Station Road, Edgware; I'm almost tempted to bus it round there and ring the doorbell.

making the pie higher

Well, ha ha. But I'd like to flag another case of Really Bad Data Visualisation from the Murdoch world. It's in this story from the Scum; mysteriously, the famous paywall still doesn't seem to be functioning, but the paper isn't in the habit of publishing any of its graphics online. This is possibly because they are so embarrassing; this is something the good folk at TSL could profitably have at.

Anyway, the story is that net migration has fallen drastically; it's the lowest it's been for years, and the biggest single group of immigrants turn out to be returning British expatriates. So naturally, the line to take is that TEH IMMIGRANTS ARE COMING. And the Scum backs this with a half page infographic - or rather, disinfographic - showing net migration since 1997 as a column chart.

The first thing is that the chart shows the numbers IN and OUT as elements of a stacked column chart, so the columns actually seem to show total migration, because it's moar that way. The second thing is that they are flat across the whole period; there are highs, there are lows, but a trendline would be essentially dead flat. Naturally, there is none.

But the whole thing is capped with a headline reading "THE FLOODGATES OPEN!" Just in case you needed prompting as to what to think about this data. In fact, the headline and the text use the chart to mean the exact opposite of its content. It's not, really, a chart in any meaningful sense - rather, looming columns and hurtling lines are a sort of aesthetic toolkit of the Menace.

The whole thing goes out over the byline "Tom Newton-Dunn: Political Editor", which reminds me irresistibly of the last week or so's Doonesbury strip.

Good luck, Phil. Again

Phil Carter quits; more here. I rather wonder if it had some connection to this.

Is it any consolation that the Obama administration has a better class of resignations? I think not.

Meanwhile, another voice of sense is silenced by trolls. I said a while ago somewhere that CNAS was likely to be to this generation of crazy rightwingers what the Council on Foreign Relations was to an older one. It is ironic, however, that a counterinsurgency expert's comments box turned into a virtual failed state. As Teresa Nielsen Hayden would say, expecting a community to form without moderation is like throwing seeds over a wall and expecting a garden, rather than weeds, empty beer cans, and well-fed rodents.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

links, the light alternative to writing

Ill-coordinated links. Great news in RepRapping - South Korean scientists have succeeded in getting bacteria to make polylactic acid. PLA is the RepRap project's favourite feedstock because it's a reasonably tractable, general purpose plastic that can be synthesised from starch. The synthesis is not exactly simple, which is why outsourcing the job to germs is interesting. As the kit of parts now costs about £395, I really ought to get started with one of these. Now there's a Christmas present for you. "Engineered bacteria not included." MUM! YOU FORGOT THE GERMS!

The uranium-enrichment deal with Iran is still on, but they are looking for stronger guarantees of getting the promised fuel for their research reactor. I reckon this is going to come down to the exact number of kilos that leave at a time, and therefore to a fine judgment about the efficiency of their centrifuges.

Spencer Ackerman mourns a great Mod shop. I remember that Klass Clothing in Leeds was about the first business of any kind in town to have a Web site, apart from these guys for obvious reasons. That's gone, as is Sam Walker in Covent Garden...and possibly even the SL1200!

content is free, feet cost extra

So how's that ContentFree Comment doing?

Rather well in the last week or so. Here's Melanie Phillips:

If this is from a legitimately constituted country...

And again:
Jewish leadership organizations have sold out to rubbish and Tom Gross...British Jews controlling the Labour government, and Israel's Climatic Research Unit at the material is a world Jewish conspiracy theory appears to Iraq, not merely from pro-Israel's foreign affairs spokesman Inayat Bunglawala, is the absurdity Islamist website Islam Online

It's astonishing - loads of hers come out as raving about Jewish conspiracies. It's as if...she was, in fact, writing reams of paranoid extreme-right wing conspiracist gibberish, just with a different race, religion, or nationality as the sinister target-group!

You doubt? More:
This verbal pogrom is because of the recycling bin or going on Facebook and Islamist stranglehold over public service

Martin Kettle:
Martin Kettle Kettle Kettle Kettle is above all so advanced, the completion by Deryck Cooke and mysterious, its elusive harmonies recalling Arthur Rubinstein's observation that Brahms should they
would, of musical and musicglobal. It looks like a modern composer.

It looks like a miserable shotgun political relationship, just waiting to happen.

Martin Jacques:
Goldman Sachs projections
about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs
projections about BRIC economies Goldman Sachs projections about BRIC economies

That one's almost eerily accurate.

But the pick is this autogloss of a Simon Jenkins thumbsucker:
Global; retreat from humiliating defeat? Fence Defence policy it had beggared itself with the foot. Ed why the best book on this content is indeed allowed by the Syrians in the Times and concrete frames, overlooked by a determination better precedent as doves offer military spending. America had squandered the DIY sector, hair salons, hotels, restaurants anywhere that defeat to a lowering ceiling and double glazing. P as is a Tory smokescreen for the west Tories.

George Osborne has a fixation with the foot.

The unconscious speaks.

If the seagulls follow the Tory, it is because they expect thinktanks will be thrown in the water

Something else. This week saw the Tories deploy yet another inflatable thinktank - rightly mocked here, here, here, and essentially everywhere blog is sold.

Clearly "ResPublica" is hilariously vacuous, and where it's not vacuous, it's fucking frightening, as well as being weirdly reminiscent of Iranian revolutionary political thought according to Alistair Crooke. But it's far from the worst instant thinktank to separate from the rocket, deploy its antenna, and commence transmitting this week.

I see that Norman Lamont has launched a "Foundation for Global Warming Policy" in the same week as the HadCRU smear campaign. Interestingly, it's already being puffed by the "TaxPayers Alliance". Looks like enemy action to me, sir.

Now I used to think that Daniel Davies was a little too concerned with chasing micro-thinktanks' accounts up, rather as I used to think that Tim Ireland was perhaps too obsessed with fighting endless rows over netiquette with obscure Tories. But it's become increasingly clear that the other side care deeply about Tim's activities, especially when things like this happen.

Clearly, this has become a major form of political action - a new non-kinetic weapon. But how best to get rid of them, in the absence of funding for my TV show?

I think one of the first steps is to come up with a good word for it. "Astroturf" is good, but it's very specific - it's a fake grassroots campaign. The instant thinktanks are more of a fake elite campaign, a simulation or simulacrum of intellectual life. Snackthinktank, as in snackthinker? Too obscure. Doublethinktank is good, but worth saving for a headline. Don'tthinktank?

I'd also be interested to know if any of them have expired yet. What is their life expectancy?

Links And Ties

The affair of the stolen HadCRU e-mail should tell us a couple of things. The first is that this is why you should worry about privacy. If you do enough naive traffic analysis, not only will you find a pattern - people communicate in patterns - but you'll be able to find something that you can misrepresent. This is the inevitable outcome of pareidolia, the false positive problem, and the infinite possibilities that open up when you don't have to show your working out.

It's a methodology that is common to cranks who stare at the patterns in their heads, to stupid politicians who don't understand or don't want to understand the maths of false positives, and to spooks, red-baiters, and other political thugs who understand them all too well. Viz:
I don't quite understand the HP Sauce concept of 'links' either. Pretty much everyone in the world is damned as an extremist if you take the idea of 'links' as far as they do.

Give me a representative 62MB of your archived e-mail and I'll give you a reason to really hate me.

Secondly, it's about expectations. The scientists involved are condemned for, among other things, being angry about a crappy denier paper getting published in Climate Research and strategising together about how best to protest it. We are expected, in other words, to be shocked that they aren't like the liberal in the joke who is too even-handed to take his own side in a knife fight.

The purpose of the exercise, of course, is to get people sacked if they aren't like that - to impose this stereotype. This is why George Monbiot is wildly wrong. You can't appease the authoritarians; weakness provokes them still further. (Mark Lynas is right, by the way.)

Thirdly, it's based on epic stupidity. The famous "hiding the decline" actually consists of including the actual observed temperatures in a group of parallel data series, rather than, say, removing the anomalous ones. The series in question, Keith Briffa's Yamal tree-ring proxy for temperature, tracks with the observations from the beginning of observed data to the postwar era, and with other proxies before the observation era. Then, for reasons we don't understand, it diverges. Nobody makes any secret of this: they published it in Nature! But you'd have to be incredibly stupid to pick the diverging proxy series over the observed temperatures. (If you want detail, try here.)

Actually, one explanation is that Yamal is in northern Siberia, one of the fastest-warming parts of the planet, and the trees may not be able to respond quickly enough to more warmth. Hilariously, it's also one of the biggest gas fields on the planet.

Fourthly, it's pathetically trivial. If, in fact, the e-mails showed that literally every paper on climate published since whenever was drivel, it wouldn't matter a damn unless the fundamental laws of nature were vastly different. A mixture of gases containing more carbon dioxide absorbs more infra-red radiation than one with less - it's a trivial lab demonstration. And something that absorbs more heat than it radiates will get hotter. It's Newtonian thermodynamics.

And fifthly, Eric Raymond is not the son of God - he's a very naughty boy, who appears to have missed that the code he keeps ranting about is commented-out of the program and never used. (And the less said about this HOWNOTTO and the associated queeny snit, the better.)

Anyway, far from wanting anyone to resign, I'm going to write to the UEA vice-chancellor for research, Trevor Davies, and compliment him on standing up to the red-baiters so far. And I recommend you do too, before he goes floppy.

If anything at UEA wants investigating, it's their IT security practices.

Friday, November 27, 2009

do you want me to draw a bloody diagram?

After this post, I thought it might be useful to provide a visualisation of the data involved. I then realised I ought to do it rather better, so I collated the figures for all 47 names from the paper accounts into a spreadsheet and graphed them. This chart shows average monthly spending on mobile and fixed telephony and travelling expenses. (You can get the bigger versions here.)

Telecoms and travelling expenses

Not perhaps too revealing like that. But if you sort the data on the mobile column, the dark blue one and the one we're supposedly interested in...

the same, sorted

I think I see the pattern! There's clearly a core group up the top there around Viktor - they're doing a hell of a lot of phoning and they're also travelling a lot. After that it falls off into the spear carriers; near the bottom, there are people who were clearly close enough to get the odd air ticket but nothing else. The big spike in the fixed (orange) bill is the fixed base operation's Johannesburg office. "Ukraine Builders" probably refers to the fact Viktor and Alla Bout were building a house in South Africa when the mercenary laws chased them out.

There are also a couple of interesting anomalies; the biggest mobile user of all is "Paul Popov", who also has a token fixed-line bill, but who never travels. Strange, that - a heavy mobile user who never travels. My first thought was that he might be the information centre of the whole operation (he's the biggest single phoner of the lot), but then, it doesn't make sense that the fixed bill is tiny compared to the Joburg office.

Actually, I rather suspect he doesn't exist. You can well imagine the usefulness of an anonymous phone number or satellite phone terminal to such an organisation. Perhaps everyone was Paul Popov.

Of course, the names give the whole thing its due dose of seedy glamour; especially the fact that so many only have one. There's Olga - the beautiful spy, I suppose. And "Dr Oleg" - apparently a nontrivial figure going by the data. But one of the surprises in here is how many of the core group never re-appear in the official literature. Naydo is on all the blacklists, but who is Ange Karamakalinijabo, and who is Yuri Stass (it's short for Stassioukatis)? Possibly Alan Smith is a pseudonym for Andrew Smulian?

This is also why you shouldn't worry about the government tapping your phone calls; you should worry about them analysing your phone bill.

Monday, November 16, 2009

we love dancing and...

We saw Rachid Taha and Vieux Farka Toure on Friday night, one of the few occasions when something held in the Royal Festival Hall actually felt like a proper gig. Taha's shtick is somewhere between a Clash-influenced dub/punk mix and North African things like rai (it sez here - I wouldn't really know to be honest). On the night, there was a hell of a lot of a sort of French 70s big-clattering-soundspace racket that even folk like Daft Punk are tempted by.

For a self-declared punk, he also does a good Mick Jagger act. There was a lot of showboating and wanking about with the audience and jokes in French that made less sense to me than anything Farka Toure said when he wasn't speaking English...or French. The punk tradition of contempt for stage business obviously didn't get across.

yes, he really means it

However, he does do a lot of fucking great dramatic funky noise, and eventually the whole hall was dancing, quite an achievement given the venue. Oddly enough, there was a sort of steel helmet faction in the front left hand stalls who took a long, long time to get on their feet; I theorise that the rest of us were the cheap seats.

Of course, we'd miss bombastic frontmen if they weren't there; someone noted they were in a spotlight and apparently set about recreating the cover of the Wild Beasts' Two Dancers. (Actually, there's a prediction I should be declaring victory on.)

hey, you know the Wild Beasts album cover?

Vieux Farka Toure had done a note perfect show earlier on; he got hauled back to take part in "Rock the Casbah", which got going after the longest daft intro ever and eventually rocked the concrete.

long distance information, give me Goma, DRC

Alex de Waal has an interesting post on the role of satellite phones, and specifically the Arabic and more importantly cheap Thurayas, in the wars of the Sahara today. He argues, in essence, that the capital requirements of being a warlord are coming down; if you don't have a Toyota, you're cannon fodder, if you do, you're a gang leader, and if you have a satellite phone and a Toyota, you're a significant political force. The consequences in tactics and operational art are also important.

In comments, it turns out that Jean-Pierre Bemba of the RCD was an early adopter of the satellite phone too; you may remember him as the Congolese warlord who married off his daughter to Sanjivan Ruprah and who shared a BAC-111 private jet with Richard Chichakli's company. Of course, a number of journalists had Osama bin Laden's phone number before he chose radio silence as a policy.

You can imagine the importance of mobile telephony to these folk; but as the Giuliano Andreotti character in Il Divo says, an archive is better than an imagination. During the period in 1997-98 when Viktor Bout's businesses briefly set up camp in the wilds of northern South Africa, before the South African anti-mercenary legislation caused them to head for the friendly skies of the UAE, they left behind an audit trail in the books of the company they used, having promised huge investments. They also left a gigantic unpaid credit card bill.

Here's the point. In a typical month in 1998, the phone bills ran to some ZAR62,000 for mobile, ZAR49,000 for landlines and fax, and a further ZAR32,000 for telecoms services at their fixed base in Pietersburg. That's a total of ZAR143,000 in phone bills; at the prevailing rate, that's £17,763 a month. More to the point, that's 48% the size of the wages bill and four times the size of the bill for lodging "VB's staff". Even split over the 16 phone numbers broken out in the books, it's a lot of phoning.

Of the names given, it may be worth noting that the biggest talker in "Commodities" is Kumar, with a phone bill over £300 a month, followed by Khalid and Bakri, and in Flight Operations it's "Paul Popov", who almost broke the grand. Smulian is doing about £125-150. Valery Naydo is doing £150 a month; "Dr Oleg" makes it to £350 in October 1997 as the circus wheels into town. "Ange Karam'jabo" spent £665 in January that year.

This last character, whose full name is probably Karamakalinijabo, was also charging a lot in travelling expenses; he'd spent £3,000 on airline tickets the month before, plus maybe another £2,500 if the second appearance of the surname is the same man. According to the AMEX bills, he travelled on South African Airways Flight 055 to Rome and on to Vancouver, SAA 014 again to Lusaka, and finally on Austrian Airlines Flight 066 for Chicago.

Unsurprisingly, Bout was a big chatterbox himself - he got through £845 of fixed-line calls from two numbers in January '98 alone. (The numbers are no doubt assigned to other innocent South Africans by now, or I'd quote them.)

It's old news, really; I've had the documents for some time and I've occasionally used bits, too. But oddly enough, I hadn't thought of looking at the phone costs. I hadn't marinated in telecoms culture then; as always, if you're worried that they're listening to your calls, you don't want to think about what they're doing with the traffic data. Told you billing was exciting.

If there's a nut here, apart from me, it's that I reckon the signature of being operationally important in the system is likely that you were a big source of phone traffic and a big air ticket bill. Who is Ange Karamakalinijabo? Who is Valery Naydo? Who is Paul Popov? One thing about them, they've had the sense to keep their names off the Internet. Naydo only appears in the UN asset blacklist. Popov is a cipher, probably not the long-dead Orthodox bishop in Alaska.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

what M-PESA is not

Over at James Nicoll's blog:
Cellphones don't require landlines to be strung before they can be used and apparently people have been rather cunning about coming up with ways to use them to replace services they otherwise would not have access to:

Some people carry just a card and borrow a phone when needed. Safaricom, in Kenya, has a service called M-Pesa that lets the cell work as an ATM; to send someone money, you text-message the appropriate code to them, and they get cash from a local M-Pesa agent. Cellphone minutes are traded by phone as a cash substitute. Credit card payments are made by cellphone. Remittances from relatives overseas come by cellphone. [...]

It's like the Street finds its own use for technology.

Well, sort of. People to tend to think of the success of mobile banking in the emerging markets as being a triumph of the Bruce Sterling/Kevin Kelley school of thought, at best, or an example of triumphant libertarianism - to hell with those stuffy old international-aid bureaucrats and state-owned telcos!

However, M-PESA was originally a project sponsored by Vodafone's CSR department, and even less fashionably, by the UK Department for International Development. Much of the engineering was carried out by BSS-OSS (Billing Support Subsystem-Operations Support Subsystem) consultants in Newbury, and you literally can't get less favela-chic than telco billing systems engineers*. And Safaricom is a Vodafone partner network, but the main shareholder is the Kenyan Government.

Once they rolled it out, as history relates, all sorts of exciting unauthorised innovation got going. But getting to that point involved a lot of boring, statey, European Union things happening first, including those awful Aid Industry Bureaucrats getting involved.

*Joke: how do you tell an OSS engineer? He used to work in billing but he couldn't stand the excitement. Since M-PESA, though, that's where all the excitement is...


Stupidity about pirates. (Yes, this again. When will it end?) No doubt the usual suspects will already be drivelling about this story.

Frankly, if you think the best opportunity to rescue the hostages was when they were between a tossing, fibreglass 40-odd foot boat and a 25,000 ton hijacked containership, using as your main equipment a 32,000 ton oil tanker (Wave Knight is a fleet tanker, not a warship), I suspect you may not have done enough research.

iWorm - a truly social virus

The iPhone worm is a thing of beauty. Not so much because of the technology involved, which is simple - although, since when has simplicity not been a good thing? - but because of the superb social engineering involved. Its designers demonstrated a perfect understanding of their target user population and came up with an elegant exploit of their psychology.

To recap: an iPhone, underneath the shiny stuff, is basically a little BSD Unix machine. Apple applies a lot of its own security and restrictions-management stuff to it, but this can be circumvented if you want to use software without getting Apple's approval for it - this is the process known as "jailbreaking". One of the most common things people do with the gadget after removing the Apple restrictionware is to install SSH, so they can log into a remote server and administer it from the phone.

Unfortunately, installing SSH also makes it possible to log into the phone from a remote machine, if you know the root password and the current IP address. So, before you do this, you absolutely must change the root password from the default ("alpine") to a strong passphrase. Otherwise, as soon as SSH is available, anyone on the Internet can get access to the phone with root-level privileges - i.e. they can do anything they like.

The worm generated random IP addresses and tried to log in through SSH using the default iPhone password, and if it succeeded, it replaced the home screen with a picture of Rick Astley. Haha. They could also have made hundreds of hours of international phone calls on your bill, scarfed your bank details, grabbed the log of who you called and who called you and carried out some sort of evil social-graph analysis...but they didn't. For now.

What gets me about this is that they obviously had an image in mind of the target user as someone who was clueful enough to install unofficial software on an iPhone, or who at least wanted badly enough to be seen as technically competent that they got someone else to do it, but who was sufficiently incompetent not to realise that they needed to set a real password or that they were connecting a full-blown unix box to the Internet without any security precautions whatsoever. (Given that having a server to ssh into implies you know that you can log into remote machines over the Internet if you know the password, I wonder how many of the victims had actually used the SSH client on the phone?)

As well as a practical implementation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, it's a genuinely social hack in that it identified and targeted a specific social group - annoying moneyed wannabe-geek hipster prats. It was a wanker-seeking missile. It is sheer brilliance, and I'm not at all surprised it was invented by Australians.

Update: As pointed out in comments, why would you need the daemon half of the ssh package? Apparently, some of the jailbreaking methods use it. The virus's creator specifically mentions the fact that so many iPhones had an active ssh service when he tested the scanning element of it in the comments to the source code of the virus.

we flippin' murdered them

Peter Beaumont goes for a Holt's battlefield tour of southern Lebanon:

Cruising through the serene green wadis that connect south Lebanon to the Litani river to the north, the commander explains what happened at the end of the last war. "We knocked out three of their tanks on the first day, as they tried to enter," he explained at a turn-off by the village of al-Qantara. "But after they entered the wadi, we knew they were going for the river and had to be stopped. So we called out to all the special forces anti-tank teams in the area. And they all swarmed the wadi. Boys would set up and wait for the tanks, fire off their rounds and then pull back. Then they would pull back a kilometre or so down the wadi and wait for them again."

According to Israeli military reports, after the first and last tanks were hit by rocket fire or mines, killing the company commander, the 24 tanks were essentially trapped inside a valley, surrounded on all sides and pinned down by mortars, rockets and mines. Eleven tanks were destroyed and the rest partially damaged and Israel lost at least 12 soldiers.

Go read the rest; there's a fair amount of speculation of the informed sort, and an appearance from Andrew Exum opining that the reinforced UNIFIL has succeeded in moving Hezbollah away from the border, rather as it was meant to. Actually, the reinforced UNIFIL should surely be counted as one of the unexpected successes of the last few years - especially if you remember all the yelling at the time.

However, this may be less important than it appears, especially if the Hezbollah guy's account of their tactics in 2006 is representative - there's no reason why they couldn't keep doing that every kilometre, and indeed that's what the original idea of a screen of small groups of men with guided anti-tank weapons was meant to do in front of the main NATO armies in Germany (remember this post and Stephen Biddle's analysis?)

Further, the whole concept of a buffer force assumes that both sides would rather not fight, but that neither is willing to make the first move - that a classic security dilemma is operating. If one or both parties are determined to initiate more violence, though, this breaks down. And it's worrying to see how a lot of Israeli commentary about 2006 has changed over time - in the first 18 months or so, there was a lot of frankness around. The war had clearly been a failure, and Hezbollah had surprised everyone by defending southern Lebanon effectively. Roughly since Gaza, there's been a denialist phase - a bit like David Lloyd's crack that "we flippin' murdered them" after the England cricket team ran out of time trying to beat Zimbabwe. A lot of stuff was blown up in Beirut, and if it wasn't for those pathetic politicians, we'd have won. You know the pattern.

permanently operating factors

Aaronovitch Watch reflects upon dinner with Denis MacShane. There's an important point here, and one that was well made as a by-product of Nick Davies' brilliant reporting on Operation PENTAMETER 2, a giant police sweep looking for prostitutes brought into the UK by force that failed to find even one. It turned out that the entire project was driven by policy-based evidence - a succession of politicos and thinktanks progressively taking what had once been the upper bound in an actual study, treating it as an actual forecast, and then adding a bit.

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity of discussing this with a source in the Met vice squad, and the take-home message is Davies was being conservative - it was actually worse than that.

Anyway, one of the most egregious examples of PBE in the story was the fault of none other than MacShane, who promptly responded by writing to the Guardian and accusing Davies of "taking the side of the managers of the sex industry". As Davies pointed out in the original story, the whole thing followed the pattern of the campaign for war with Iraq with uncanny accuracy.

There was the exaggeration by stripping out caveats, the practice of using deliberately extreme limiting cases as central forecasts, the search for anyone who would provide the right kind of intelligence when the intelligence services' intelligence didn't fit around the policy...and the shameless red-baiting attacks on anyone who disagreed. Sniff, sniff. Are you a good anti-Fascist? Will you condemn, etc, etc?

The lesson, however, is that some people seem to gravitate to this set of tactics or political style (because that's what it is); if Denis MacShane worked for the Party of Kittens, he'd be secretly briefing the press that Mickey Mouse was part of a decadent Hollywood-liberal elite in league with feline leukaemia, based on his summary of a leaked report from the newly established Council for a Flea-Free Future, and if you called him out on it, he'd get all the members of the Accuracy in Cat-Related Media mailing list to write and accuse you of being objectively pro-dog.

Come to think of it, it's part of the package of modern thinking; you need a Boris Johnson-esque clown figure, a Tony Blair-esque tebbly tebbly concerned type, and a MacShane-esque underhand thug.

a reminder that things happen quickly

If you think the Superfreaks had demonstrated the truth of the Dunning-Kruger effect well enough, especially after this further hammering, and their attempt to gain everyone's esteem by having NewsCorp send out copyright nastygrams, think again.

Here's some science, via Lou Grinzo's blog. We've been taking very, very thin samples of the leafmould in the bottom of a rather special Irish lake (peat - not much oxygen, so things *last*), and it's possible to draw some interesting conclusions about the Younger Dryas event, which flipped the planet into an ice age 13,000 years ago after a huge ice barrier in North America collapsed and let vast amounts of fresh water pour into the Atlantic.

The killer detail, literally: the new ice age kicked off within months. We had thought it took decades, but instead it tore in within a year. A year. No time to adjust; not even that much time to flee.

This should surely kill off any daft ideas of fiddling with the atmosphere. Shouldn't it?

Monday, November 09, 2009

it is never too late to MEND

This won't be a substantive post, but more a notice to myself to build one. A seriously under-reported story on the global guerrilla beat is that the Nigerian government has succeeded, at least for the moment, in either defeating the Niger Delta rebels or making deals with them.

It's worth rolling back a little; time was when they were roaring about the rivers of Rivers State in RIBs with three or four huge Evinrude outboards, assaulting oil installations and demanding money, following a strategy that was based on the current situation of the oil market, including things like the latest hurricane sweeping towards the Gulf of Mexico, refinery stock drawdown - essentially, they followed the market for oil like IPE traders in London. Their faceless spokesman operated from a Hotmail account and a PAYG GSM phone somewhere in South Africa, usually.

Everyone, especially J-Ro, reckoned they were our insurgent future. The lumbering energy infrastructure, supposedly, could never be defended from persistent but random disruption aimed at its key network nodes. They certainly were a guerrilla navy that was tactically and operationally very effective, and whose leaders were pursuing an intelligent strategy; their technology was obviously of the moment.

But what happened, then? A key element, of course, was the price of oil. However, the relationship between the Brent index and the violence in the Delta wasn't linear; as the price of oil rose, MEND was more able to cause trouble, but the Nigerian government and the oil companies had more money. They could spend it on soldiers, or on bribes. In the other direction, as the price of oil fell, the power of the insurgents to send bursts of panic into the market fell - but the Nigerian state would itself be weaker, and the pool of recruits wider.

Crucially, the demand for oil fell; this is possibly more important than its price. Here's me in August 2008 on this subject. As an oil-bombing insurgent, it's not so much the price that you're interested in as your ability to cause trouble. Much of the industrialised world has passed its peak demand for oil; the US may have done, or it may be the recession. We will only know in hindsight. This means that the oil market is structurally less sensitive.

This is, of course, less to the point if MEND was indeed a new kind of rebellion. I rather doubted this; it always struck me as a fight for a share of export revenues. Oil, as resources go, is remarkably suited to landlordism. Its extraction is capital-intensive, not labour intensive; much of the work is done by expatriate specialists. And, crucially, it helps to run an artificially high exchange rate, which is an excellent way for an elite to loot a country. As a robber elite, most of what you want in the way of goods are imported, and most of what you want in the way of the capital account is an export. You want to get your money out. This also tends to destroy local industries and favour importers; especially importers who need to get a licence from you.

This, and the back story of the rebellion, suggested that the main aim was what they said it was - to extract oil revenues from the Governor's gut. Unlike tension in the oil market, the money you raise from high oil prices can be stored for later use; the government deployed it this summer, both for force and for persuasion.

I hope this post can expand to take in more information; I'd like to know more about how it happened. I do know that some of the rebel leaders' men paraded through Port Harcourt getting drunk and shooting in the air before piling their rifles. But that's about it.

the pundit internationale

Here's that that jihadi having a row with an Aussie blogger. Quick recap - she linked to a text of his as an example of Al-Qa'ida thinking, he noticed the referral and the traffic, he replied to deny association with the OBL team but to boast of everything else.

Some points on the text.

1) Black humour. Abu Walid certainly likes his snark. Example?
It is relatively easy to believe that the eagle has turned into a canary after a minor facelift. But it is difficult to imagine that academic work can turn a security officer into a natural person, like the rest of God’s creatures.

Something probably gets lost in translation, but you can't deny the punch of the joke about spooks. And this is hilarious:

If this was the case I would have opened an office for consulting and terrorism and become very rich.

As is this:

But if the reverse is proven, I will donate all money seized in order to build a Jewish settlement in Holy Jerusalem.

It's like Bernard Manning with much less booze.

2) Self-mockery. You usually expect to find that a fanatic is someone who is utterly blind to the possibility they might be funny. I've always thought that the knowledge of one's own absurdity is a force for civilisation; we're all bloody ridiculous at some level and we should all probably wind our necks in. Orwell thought this about trying to make people goose-step in Britain; H.L. Mencken's crack about a good horse-laugh is much the same point. So this is pretty good writing.

Mrs Farrall is looking at the subject of Islamic groups, in particular “Al Qaeda”. I am the only one with the chronic writing disease...

3) A certain amount of the truth. It's always better to deliver the truth in highly controlled doses than it is to lie.

In general, the security services always deliberately inflate the risks and invent things from scratch. So we can see them exaggerate the ability of people who are against the law so the efforts of their departments will be admired and valued so they will get the awards and admiration. More importantly, they will get more authority and power so they can fully put society and the country under their control, if that is possible. This has actually happened in many countries, whether big or small.

4) Women. On the other hand, there's something seriously wrong here. The text is laced with a sock-pong of misogyny. He constantly goes on about "beauties", and he's obsessed with the figure of Lynndie England - of all the other US war criminals and torturers he could mention, it's only the woman who gets a jersey. Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Cambone, Feith, Cheney, and Miller are nowhere to be seen. Rumsfeld just scrapes in at the finish.

horrible images of the beautiful female soldiers...the beautiful American...the same beauty with a sweet smile...Today another beauty is researching on a living person and they are a candidate to become the next victim...So we become ready for an intellectual dialogue with the security beauty and the terrorist fighter, Mrs Farrall...The beauty “Leah Farrall” ( the fitna is worse than murder)...our brothers in the Arab media relied on comments in the article written by a woman “Farrall”...the Arab media who only relied on what the Australian beauty said...It is okay because whatever comes from the beauty is beautiful even if it is interrogation techniques approved by the ugly Rumsfeld

The fitna is worse than murder. And then I opened my eyes and saw a cup of tea....

5) Paying the cost to be the boss. It seems that denying the Holocaust is something you have to do in these circles, like saying "trust the people" and promising to do, well, something with the European Communities Act 1972 if you're a Tory. Abu Walid makes a couple of sick jokes in this line, but I have the impression he doesn't really believe it; his heart isn't in it. Which only makes it sicker.

And now they cry over the remains of false tragedies that they invented or made themselves like the holocaust lie or the demolished buildings of New York...........I am fully aware that my picture won’t improve even if they prove I am one of the disciples of Jesus Christ. Also, my picture won’t become worse than it is now, even if they discover I was a consultant to “Adolf Hitler” for the Holocaust.

This doesn't strike me as a real troofer. Although, that's the first time I've ever seen Hitler in scarequotes. The really sad thing here is that, if you were to swap out some nouns (you can probably guess which ones) and pass the whole thing through a proper spike-helmeted chief sub, you'd end up with something indistinguishable from the average output of, say, Fraser Nelson.

eternal September

An American PR man in Afghanistan speaks some Pashto. Actually, the fact he speaks some Pashto is the news he's currently engaged in pushing on the press. As David Petraeus says, they managed to teach noddy German to hordes of US servicemen going there in peacetime. More to the point, the British army managed to slurp chunks of German into its own culture.

Looking back at this post from June, 2005 - and wasn't the summer of 2005 a fucking joy? - it looks a lot like nobody really wants to do this. Which mirrors the strategy with uncanny precision. Bureaucracy knows; if you want information, measure what you're actually doing.

red bloggers of Leadenhall Street

Why are there so many good bloggers on the Left who work in the financial sector?

Just off the top of my head, I can think of Chris Dillow, from Investors' Chronicle, actual fund manager Duncan Weldon, stockbroker Daniel Davies, Lloyds' List journo David Osler. The team at Calculated Risk. You have to decide whether I should be counted under financial or techie, and whether I count as a worthwhile blogger.

(The List is a T&F Informa paper, so on that basis my time at Mobile Comms International might count me in. But then, I remember the CEO sending an all hands e-mail that described us as a Japanese keiretsu and "an archipelago of trading islands rising out of the sea of mediocrity that is the Internet". Or as we put it, a huge disorganised ragbag of entirely random acquisitions that didn't so much as share editorial pubs or lifts, let alone content. I'm pretty sure we published Fishmonger 2.0, and I know we put on a conference on Fire Safety at Sea.)

That's five bloggers; not many. In terms of impact, though, they can all claim a pretty high opinion multiplier effect. Me, I reckon it's a job.

Friday, November 06, 2009

the problem with NPfIT is the "NP" bit

Something interesting about the NHS NPfIT project. During my recently completed two-week conference binge, I spoke to people from a British telecommunications company who were fresh, if that's the word, from tangling with the NHS IT Zombie, and had apparently escaped before it ate their brains with a spoon. I also heard people from a French telecommunications company who had been working in the same field speak.

They agree on this; national healthcare institutions are too complicated for any one organisation to build the kind of comprehensive, end-to-end workflow system that NPfIT envisaged. This is partly because of the incredible complexity of their business processes; an episode of care can span anything from a GP appointment that ends by the patient being told there is nothing the matter with them, or an immunisation being administered in a single visit by a nurse, to 20 years of treatment for a cancer and subsequent surveillance. There are a hell of a lot of other organisations that interact with the NHS, and who aren't part of the project.

In fact, if they were, the scale and scope of NPfIT would increase to the point at which it encompassed most of the public sector; it would have to integrate with the social security system, and because of all those benefits that are delivered as tax credits, with the Revenue as well, and (because the NHS provides the armed forces' medical care) with the MOD's personnel system and even with tactical communications systems in the RAF, because Selly Oak receives casualties direct from the war. Of course, it no doubt already needs to talk to the Treasury's systems. You might as well just ask the ghost of Stafford Beer to build us a Cybersyn for the whole economy.

But that wasn't the worst of it. The real problem, according to my source, was that the designers of NPfIT believed that there was an organisation called the NHS. In fact, this was a bit like modelling a blue whale as a homeogenous sphere to make the maths easier. The killer wasn't that medicine is complicated; it was that the NHS isn't a monolithic organisation. It is, of course, an institution - a set of social, political, and economic expectations and relationships, a recognisable culture, a way of understanding the world. But it's far from being a single organisation.

Instead, it's an ecosystem, made up of many organisations that sometimes play similar roles (it's a hospital; it's a GP practice) but differ dramatically in their internal structure, rather as a dolphin and a Humboldt squid are both social, pelagic, fast-swimming predators in the subtropical ocean. However, only one of them is even a tetrapod, and only a real idiot would assume they were both sufficiently described by the concept of "shark". And the interactions between the creatures in this ecosystem are deeply complicated.

In that sense, it's quite a lot like the Internet. That, too, consists of a grab-bag of diverse organisations that cooperate with varying success on the basis of a few rules and a rough common culture, which is often honoured more in the breach than the observance. That also has a lot of odd emergent features that arise from its complexity, and would almost certainly be impossible to design as a single organisation. Indeed, an old staple of Internet-related mailing lists is the question of what the word "Internet" actually means.

Cue facile libertarian woofing. Yadda yadda Hayek privatise the BBC. Spare me. Neither does this mean the NHS is disorganised; it may well mean that it's better for its geographically and functionally diverse components to work differently. It would be surprising if they all shared a single optimal strategy. Of course, there is a perfectly good paradigm for building effective information systems in circumstances like these (and another one). What's really deeply depressing about this is that after all the blundering about and the money, there's still not the key element that makes a Web-like approach possible - standard data formats and interconnection procedures.

How much would it have cost to sponsor an effort to fix that, coming up with an XML standard or a Semantic Web ontology and some NHS standards, setting down for example where the canonical data would live and who could get at it in what circumstances?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

a bit of Bout

A bit of Viktor Bout news. It looks like, according to AFP, that the Americans are planning to deploy B. Hussein Stalinhitler himself, when the President is in that part of the world next month. I can remember when "someone high up in the contracting world" actively wanted to encourage him, in support of a "network of friendly militias".

Relatedly, the Federation of American Scientists' Security blog has published documents of the US case against him. I have to say that I'm underwhelmed; most of it looks like vague scrawl, and the maps and aircraft documents involved are generic to say the least.

This chap's loadmaster trip strongly suggests that quite a lot of the scene has moved down the road to Fujairah, and that the UAE ban on Antonov 12s is far from leakproof. (Why do I always end up parsing more Web pages?)

But, on the other hand....ROARING TRIUMPH! And again! I never imagined they'd catch up with Pierre Falcone, still less that Charles Pasqua would be convicted of anything, but the first got six years and the second one. I'd bet good money Pasqua won't do any time, but still.

blobby blobby blobby

Here's a case study in unpopular populism: 'The ravers should have more respect for Mr Blobby. He was a hero to a lot of kids and the thought of them taking drugs and having all-night raves in his house is completely disrespectful.'.

The photographs are truly eerie. Like this one:
don't make me go to the polka dot place

Of course, it was never popular in the first place, as evidenced by the fact the whole enterprise crashed within two years, with one of the projects only lasting three months. Strangely, the Mail doesn't mention that Noel Edmunds and the local council together managed to burn a sizeable amount of Morecambe taxpayers' money, in what should in hindsight have been a kind of cautionary preview of the whole strength-through-casinos project. (They later moved onto leaping into bed with Urban Splash, just in time for the property crash.)

I'm also, however, surprised that it was so late into the 90s; I'd associated it with the rainy era of early John Major. Now, of course, the medium density fibreboard, gypsum, glue, and pink paint has gone the way of the hype, after 13 years of exposure to successive North-West European winters without maintenance; once the roof leaks, any light structure has had it, "ravers" or no "ravers".

This deserves to be iconic

That one could be titled "Spiritual Britain", I think. There's also one of two pink spheres described as "mushroom-type objects". Unfortunately they've removed one that showed the old health & safety at work violation on opening day, grinning over the heads of three visibly unenthusiastic kids.

A special point; behold the benefits of openness. Since the Daily Hell got a proper Web site, I've actually linked to two articles on it; one on ACPO, and this one. In the absence of their Web presence, I wouldn't have even imagined that anything of any interest might come from that quarter; but the ACPO one demonstrated that they do, sometimes, carry out solid reporting, and this is at least funny. And the photo caption "Ghostly: a destroyed miniature Blobby lies abandoned, while filth lines the inside of the house" is a minor classic all to itself.

(Hat tip to History is made at night; you don't think I spend my time actually reading that fucking rag, do you?)

optimise your social isolation more efficiently

OK, back from eComm in Amsterdam; here's something interesting. Besides all the stuff I was meant to be following for work, we had a presentation from a group of the sort of media-arts types who get a lot of coverage on Bruce Sterling's blog; in fact the whole gig was faintly Beyond the Beyond-esque when it wasn't Charlie Stross-esque. Notably, two projects struck me as emblematic of a certain kind of thinking.

The first one was the Isophone, which is a mashup of a flotation tank and a telephone. The idea is that you sink into yummy sensory deprivation while talking to someone else in the same condition; it looks like this.

the isophone, with user

Maybe it's just me, but having to take phone calls under a state of total sensory deprivation is not my idea of fun. I couldn't help imagining some sort of nightmarish prison call centre, a whole pool full of them.

Then there was Mutsugoto. Let the official description speak for itself.
Mutsugoto is meant to be installed in the bedrooms of two distant partners. You lay on your bed and wear a special touch-activated ring visible to a camera mounted above. A computer vision system tracks the movement of the ring and projects virtual pen strokes on your body. At the same time these pen strokes are transmitted to and projected on the body of your remote partner. If you follow your partner's movements and your strokes cross, the lines will react with each other and reflect your synchrony. Special bed linens, silk curtains and other aspects of the physical context have been designed to enhance the mood of this romantic communication environment.
But what are the civilian applications? As they say.

Go on, this is basically a sex toy, isn't it?

Well, I think we can probably guess. Anyway, I found both of them depressing; it also struck me that too many of these projects are all about sucking information out of the virtual space and representing it on a piece of hardware in private space. Basically, a gadget that reads out Twitter feeds, that you're meant to think is your friend. Further, once you get rid of the microphone, pointing device, keyboard, webcam, etc, you're basically watching TV on your own. It's read-only communication into the private realm.

The suit faction in this field, oddly, works the other way round - the M2M (Machine to Machine) community in telecoms, the big IT types, they're all more interested in getting data from the real world and representing it in virtual space. Basically, it's all SCADA applications - monitoring the current status of CO2 pipeline valve number 58634. Flowrate, direction, valve setting and temperature, please, and when did you last have your grease changed?

What seems to be missing from this as an artistic project is sending stuff into the public space. A lot of data gets captured from the public space into the private space; CCTV is one version, promoting your demo on Flickr and taking photos of the cops is another. Nothing much seems to be sent back, though; can't we have truth-screamer robots that run about yelling out under-reported news? Of course, if you or I were to encounter one we'd probably dropkick it into a handy canal. Splosh; "Hey there! CitizenMediaBot is sinking!"

But it would at least be fun, and more fun than gazing at a waldo that turns puce when #drivel is trending again. I suspect there's scope for this with things like Layar, who were also presenting. Then, we're deep into the Strossosphere; "what do we want? Brains!" indeed.

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