How to make pepper spray (and believe me, this one *works*)

DISCLAIMER: Everything here is just for informational and entertainment purposes. The author can take no responsibility for the consequences of your actions. In fact, taking any notice of anything he writes is just crazy. The guy’s a certifiable loon.
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UPDATE: A serious problem with this has been the use of non-aerosol cans.  The pump sprays are far inferior.  So, at last, here are some ideas I’ve found that may solve the problem:

  • Make your own pressurized spray cans out of soda bottles http://hackaday.com/2011/12/01/make-your-own-spray-paint-cans/ and http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-spray-paint-1/

soda-bottle-spraypaint-cans-

  • Buy refillable cans http://www.alibaba.com/showroom/refillable-aerosol-spray-can.html
  • A couple of DIY videos (from Youtube):

Please bear in mind that I have not tried out any of the above.  Do it at your own risk, safety is paramount, don’t do anything stupid.
Thanks
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Women out alone at night are still vulnerable to rape and other attacks. And they’re not the only potential victims of violence: society as a whole is getting grimmer and grimmer. When I was a teenager, growing up in a small city in 1980s England, very few of my contemporaries carried weapons. But now knives are almost de rigeuer amongst the youths in Britain; and guns are no longer just a big city problem.
So before anyone posts a comment saying “Why make pepper spray? Go buy some”, please bear in mind that in the UK (and some other countries such as Ireland, Belgium and Iceland) the possession of pepper spray by private citizens is illegal. There’s plenty of reason why someone might feel the need to carry some. (I recommend you read the passage on pepper spray legality in Wikipedia, as it is pretty interesting. For instance, in Germany it is legal for anyone, even children, to carry pepper spray so long as the container is labelled that it’s to be used for protection from animal attack. Yet in the UK and Ireland it’s considered in law as a firearm! What a strange world we live in…)
However: I am not suggesting that anyone makes this stuff to use as a weapon. I use it as a garden spray to keep bugs off my gardenias. But that’s just me…
Anyway, to the recipe. I found this on the interwebs somewhere. I can’t recall where, so I can’t credit the author. But I’m happy to do so if he/she gets in touch.
Required: hot red pepper powder (I use Schwartz’s Cayenne Chilli Pepper Powder); surgical spirit (aka rubbing alcohol); baby oil; 2 small glasses (one with a lid); coffee filter paper, or muslin, or something like that; a funnel; a spray bottle.
1. Put 2 tablespoons of pepper powder into a small glass.
2. Add enough surgical spirit to completely submerge the pepper powder to a depth of 1 cm or so.
3. Give it a good stir. You want to dissolve as much pepper powder as possible, though a certain amount will remain undissolved even after 15 minutes of stirring.
4. Add 10 drops or so of baby oil.
5. Put the lid on the glass and shake well.
6. put the muslin/filter paper in the funnel, then use this to filter the mixture as you pour it into the second small glass. This will filter out the undissolved pepper powder – you don’t want it clogging up the spray bottle in your hour of need! Pour it slowly. Once it’s all been filtered, discard the filter and the waste powder.
7. Transfer liquid to your spray bottle. Obviously you can’t use a pressurised can as these can’t be opened and re-used. But some products, like Body Shop lotions and antibacterial handwashes, come in spray bottles that use a pump system to spray out their contents and can be opened and refilled. These spray bottles do not contain a propellant under pressure, so you can’t deliver a long, continuous spray – but believe me, with this stuff you won’t need to.
Now, I was pretty leery about putting too much faith in a recipe I found online. I could see from the list of ingredients that the spray was unlikely to blind or cause permanent damage to a target. But I didn’t much like the idea of spraying this stuff into an attacker’s eyes just for him to laugh at me before pounding my face into the ground. So I knew I had to test the stuff. And the only ethical way of doing this was to test it on myself.
First of all I dabbed some on my lips and the skin on my face. That didn’t do much at all. So then I sprayed a little into one of my eyes.
I was prepared, and it really was only a little spray: but the shock and pain still doubled me up. If I had been blasted in both eyes with a few shots, I would have been blinded and probably knocked off my feet. Yet 15 minutes later I was okay again. (Note: if you get sprayed, it helps a little to wash your eye with milk.)
So there you have it. If you are attacked and happen to have a bottle of this stuff on you, a few sprays to the attacker’s eyes should distract him long enough for you to make good your escape or whatever. But remember: it has to be sprayed into his eyes. Stuff like Mace, CS spray and proper pepper spray will hurt an assailant’s skin. But a pair of sunglasses will probably protect him from the effects of this stuff. So this isn’t some magic potion or Touch Of Death. Keep its limitations in mind.
If anyone knows of better recipes, please share them in the Comments. But remember: we don’t want anything that causes real, long term damage. If we wanted to do that, we could just carry concentrated sulphuric acid or caustic soda (please, please, please don’t throw acid or caustic soda in anyone’s face. That kind of stuff can cause horrible disfigurement and even death. I’m talking about legitimate self-defense here, not malicious wounding of other human beings. Seriously).
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So UK police admit illegal stop and search in "Kingsnorth 3" case… so what about the hundreds of thousands of cases we'll never hear about?

Kent Police have finally conceded that their stop and search procedures at the 2008 Kingsnorth power station demo were illegal, and have agreed to pay a (so far undisclosed) sum of money to the three.
In a way, this is a victory – it’s pretty unusual for the police to ever admit they’ve done something wrong. But thousands of protesters were dealt with in a similar fashion, and I doubt very much that any of them will see a single penny of compensation. Protester Sarah Horne told the Guardian:

‘Hundreds of people’s possessions were seized, from walking sticks to crayons to health and safety supplies. ‘Riot police burst onto the site on a number of occasions and started beating people with batons, without warning or provocation.
‘Kent police have offered compensation to three people – but thousands of members of the public were searched, attacked or otherwise harassed at the 2008 Camp. Are Kent Police going to compensate and apologise to them all?’

It was only the tenacity of the “Kingsnorth Three” that ensured the police didn’t get away with their gung-ho approach. And two of those three protesters were children – twins just 11 years old!
The law used by the police to justify the use of stop and search powers requires police officers to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that an individual is carrying prohibited weapons or articles that could be used to cause criminal damage.
However, during the case, brought against the police by the three protesters, it emerged that police had been conducting a blanket stop and search policy. Kent police now admit that search policy was ‘unlawful’ and ‘should not have happened’. Of course, what they mean is that this policy should never have come to light. The police, and many of their friends in government, would love to make it illegal to demonstrate.
So thousands of protestors were unlawfully detained, searched and physically abused; but only three are to receive compensation. Also, the police conduct at the demo has been characterised as “unlawful”; so police officers broke the law while on duty. It is very probable that these unlawful actions were authorised, even ordered, by senior officers. This needs to be investigated by an impartial commission, and any officers found to have broken the law should be sacked and possibly sent to prison.
There’s an oft-quoted question: “Who watches the watchers?” The answer, of course, is us. The police are entrusted with great power. When they are found to have abused that power, they need to be stamped on. Hard.

Israeli authorities have told lies? Well whoopy-sh*t, whoever would have thought such a thing possible?

So it would seem that Israeli commandos did not shoot activists on the Gaza aid flotilla ships only in self-defence. Autopsies on nine Turkish men killed on board the Mavi Marmara aid freighter show that victims had been shot from behind, and some had been shot repeatedly in the back of the head. The Guardian reports:

The results revealed that a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, said Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the council of forensic medicine.

The autopsy reports have heightened the pressure on Israel to allow a full, independent inquiry into what happened. Andrew Slaughter MP, a member of the British government’s all-party group on Britain and the Palestine said: “”Given the very disturbing evidence which contradicts the line from the Israeli media and suggests that Israelis have been very selective in the way they have addressed this, there is now an overwhelming need for an international inquiry.”
Israel is trying to downplay the significance of the autopsy results. An embassy spokesman in London claimed that the number of bullets found in the bodies did not alter the fact that the soldiers were acting in self defence. “The only situation when a soldier shot was when it was a clearly a life-threatening situation. Pulling the trigger quickly can result in a few bullets being in the same body, but does not change the fact they were in a life-threatening situation.” This explanation is nearly compelling… if you ignore the details of the autopsies. For instance a 19-year-old man, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. All but one of the bodies examined had been shot multiple times. And these were all direct shots, not ricochets. Dr Haluk Ince, the chairman of the council of forensic medicine in Istanbul, said: “All [the bullets] were intact. This is important in a forensic context. When a bullet strikes another place it comes into the body deformed. If it directly comes into the body, the bullet is all intact.”
Israeli sources are trying to portray the flotilla activists as terrorists. But that is a ridiculous notion. Check out this account from one of the activists – are these the words of a terrorist?
As the controversy rages on, another freighter carrying aid is approaching Gaza. Israeli authorities have said that if the Rachel Corrie changes its course and goes to the Israeli port of Ashdod, Israel will take the aid material and deliver it to Gaza for them. But the aid workers don’t trust Israel, and they are continuing direct to Gaza. So, another confrontation is going to happen. I wonder how many innocent men and women will be murdered by Israeli soldiers this time?

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Big Brother is watching you… watching him… watching you… watching him…

Seeing that I’m a bit of a shutterbug on the side as well as a tech freak/geek, this little birdy caught my eye:

It’s the DraganFlyer X6, a remote controlled helicopter with camera attached. Any gadget-madmen amongst us must surely salivate at the idea. As will voyeurs, photographers, and voyeuristic photographers. It has a range of 8000 ft, and built-in stabiliser sensors mean you can tell it to hover round while you concentrate on your photographer. The version that the What Digital Camera reporter hot his hands on carries a Panasonic Lumix LX3, though apparently there are 3 others to choose from.
All sounds great, huh? So what’s the catch? £21,585 plus VAT.
But those of us who lack pockets overflowing with gold sovereigns don’t have to sit to one side of the playground, weeping piteously while everyone else wants to hang with the kid with the DraganFlyer. Reading the What Digital Camera article stirred something deep in my memory, and a quick google sussed it out – check out this video from the DefCon 17 archives. And a video google for “quadrotor” turns up a whole bunch of projects where hackers are building remote controlled flying vehicles with live camera connections. A good few of them are autonomous too – meaning they are robotic birds!
Of course the authorities love kit like this… so long as it’s the forces of law and over at the controls. Many countries (the UK included) strictly restrict where and how remote controlled vehicles can be operated. All under the blanket excuse of “safety”. And “security” too, no doubt. Just think of all those terrorists spying on us through our bedroom windows, or delivering bombs to high-rise high-profile targets! OMG I’m terrified!
I certainly do dread the thought of big brother sending out flocks of quadrotors to do their evil bidding. But the mass of detail out there on the interwebs about hackers’ projects to develop the same kind of thing for a much smaller budget makes me feel a little better. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having one of these things for myself. For its photography potential, of course: just think of all those shots that would be otherwise unobtainable… like the flash of claw and fang of a murderous pussycat that mistakes your quadrotor for a quick snack…

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How to search the internet 5: advanced operators

This is part 5 of my guide to searching the internet. Here are links to:
Part 1: History of internet search;
Part 2: How a modern web search site works;
Part 3: How to actually use a modern search engine
Part 4: How to understand the results you get from using a modern web search

I covered basic use of operators in part 3. But the proper use of operators is very important if you want to get the most from a search engine, especially if the search is at all complicated. So I’m going to go into more detail on the subject here. I got much of the info from other sites, especially www.GoogleGuide.com. But I (rather modestly) think that i present the info in a much more readable and usable form.
Okay, here we go. Operators are special uses of certain words or combination of words that mean more to the search engine than the plain use of words as simple search terms. Here’s a quick example, which you may find familiar if you’ve ever learned how to use Google to find mp3 files: Let’s imagine we want to find mp3 files of tracks by the excellent early British punk band The Clash. What we actually find are listings of the contents of directories that contain the mp3 music files. So, we could use Google search terms like this:
intitle:index.of mp3 “the clash” -.html -.htm

Let’s examine that bit by bit. It starts with intitle:index.of. The intitle part tells Google to look in the title of a page for a particular word or phrase. In this instance, the phrase to look for is index.of (which would, incidentally, look for titles that include the string “index.of” and “index of” (ie with a space rather than a period). That’s how Google and most (all?) other modern search engines work. The reason for looking for a page whose title includes the phrase “index of” is that a web page listing the contents of a directory will very likely have a title containing those words. It’s also looking for the word mp3 and the phrase “the clash”. You’ll notice we used quotation marks around “the clash”. This is my personal preference: the band was called The Clash, so I want results that contain that band name. Some people disagree, thinking that cuts out a lot of relevant results. And it’s true that some webmasters may have used the word “clash” in the page title. But I think using the word “clash” would pull up lots of irrelevant results like “Clash of the Titans” and “clash of two cultures”. So I stick with the phrase “the clash”. Whether you go with my suggestion or not is up to you.
The last 2 operators in this search are -html and -htm. You see, we’re looking for a page that lists the contents of a directory. This is not a page that is destined to be viewed by site users – it has more of a “housekeeping” function. And as it isn’t meant to be viewed by general users, it is very unlikely to contain mark-up. We’re not looking for marked-up pages; so we don’t want pages whose titles are suffixed .htm or .html. That operator means the same as the NOT operator.
So, that was just a quick example of how operators are used to help construct a search term. Now let’s have a look at what operators are available to a search engine user:
city1 city2: this will look for info on flights from city 1 to city 2. We don’t use the actual names of the city though, we use the 3-letter airport codes. For instance, the search sfo bos will pull up times and info on flights from San Fransisco; whereas the search san fransisco boston pulls up some flight info but also a lot of unrelated results. You can find the 3-letter codes for airports worldwide here.
Here’s some more stuff about advanced Google search operators (with thanks to GoogleGuide.com):
allinanchor:
If you begin your query with allinanchor: Google restricts results to pages containing all query terms you specify in the anchor text on links to the page. Example: the query allinanchor: best museums birmingham will return only pages in which the anchor text on links to the pages contain the words best, museums and birmingham.
Anchor text is the text on a page that is linked to another web page or a different place on the current page. When you click on anchor text, you will be taken to the page or place on the page to which it is linked. When using allinanchor: in your query, do not include any other search operators. The functionality of allinanchor: is also available through the Advanced Web Search page, under Occurrences.
allintext:
If you start your query with allintext:
Google restricts results to those containing all the query terms you specify in the text of the page. For example, allintext: travel packing list will return only pages in which the words “travel”, “packing” and “list” appear in the test of the page. This functionality can also be obtained through the Advanced Web Search Page, under Occurrences.

How to search the internet 4: Understanding search engine results

This is the fourth part of my guide on how to search the internet. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here. Part 5, about using “advanced operators” is here.
So you’ve used Google or some other web search engine, following the tips I’ve given you in this little series, and you’ve been confronted with “results” that don’t actually seem to be any help whatsoever. And it’s true, often Google comes across as an incomprehensible joke designed to make you feel bad. But don’t fret: Google (and its kind) really don’t want you to run screaming; they want you to use the results to find what it is you’re looking for. Unfortunately, this may involve having to learn a thing or two about how Google works. It may be scary-looking at first glance, but really Google want you to find their results pages easily to comprehend. They want you to return to Google.com every time you want help in finding what you want. It can be a rather intimidating interface the first time you look at a results page: but it is all pretty simple really. You just need to know how to understanding the reams of info Google throws at you. Hopefully, this 4th part of my guide will make it all seem far easier.
First thing first: very often Google will offer you a list of sponsored results that may give you what you’re looking for; but if you click on a sponsored link you will be putting money in Mr Google’s pocket and chances are that link will be useless. Forget the sponsored links: go for the meat and potatoes in the list of real links.
Look at the search results; very often you will find other kinds of info alongside those results. Stuff like:
Suggested spelling corrections: Google may think you typed in your query incorrectly. If you’re no good at spelling, this can be a life-saver. But if you know damn well you typed your query correctly, forget this option;
Dictionary definitions: Are you actually searching for the word/s you mean to search for? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Think about it. Spelling can be a right tricky operation;
Cached pages: Google carries a huge number of pages that are not currently up to date. Maybe one of those cached pages may contain the info you need. Worth checking if regular searches are turning up sweet F-all;
Similar pages: Often Google won’t find a page that contains the precise info you want, but it has algorithms to turn up similar results. Have a look at them, you’ve nothing to lose really…;
News headlines: A webpage dealing with your query might be hard to find, but it’s often easier for Google to find news stories on related material. And these news stories may well include links to more relevant info. This can save you a bunch of time searching for that little nugget of info that will give you what you want. Remember: news stories are updated frequently, whereas a static page may never be more relevant. Use those options;
Product search: You want to know something about a particular project name. So search for that project name, add a bit of info on what the product can/is meant to do, and see what turns up. This approach works a lot more than you might think;
Translation: So what you want isn’t available in your mother tongue. But it may well be out there for speakers of other languages. Just think: if you are looking for info on a product released by a Portugese company, what makes you think that info will be in English? Search Portugese sites, using Google’s Translation feature or the other translators offered by search services. These translators are often pretty crap; but at least it’ll give you a good idea of what’s what;
Do book searches: Useful info may not yet be available in articles, but books often contain useful stuff. So it can often be a good idea to do a book search;
Cached pages: When a web page is undergoing a lot of changes, clicking on a Google link to a page might take you to the latest version of that page, which may be missing information that was presented some time before. Sometimes, these changes can happen frequently, so a Google link will not take you to the info that the search results first suggested.
Fortunately, Google will often cache an earlier version of the page. So, let’s say a particular page yesterday contained the info you want; but you go to today’s version of the page no longer holds that info. A problem? Not necessarily. Next to the Google link to the updated page will be a link to a [i]cached[/i] version of the page; basically, a version of the page that Google downloaded and cached before the important info was removed. So you click to navigate to the cached page, and you will find the info as it was before it got removed. Google’s system of caching certain pages helps ensure that the history of the web is respected to a certain extent.
If you want to download a version of a page that existed longer ago (several weeks, or months, maybe even years) you can go to [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] at archive.org. This is a project to archive internet sites the way they were in the past, so the current generation’s “now now now” attitude doesn’t drive the history of internet sites into oblivion. [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] doesn’t promise to archive the internet of the past forever; but it is a very useful project that has a multitude of potential uses. Archive.org, like most such projects, is run by volunteers and is always in need of financial support, as well as more practical support such as providing servers. I’d advise anyone who finds such projects very useful to contribute even just a few dollars.
There’s a lot of info on how to understand Google results, and how to configure the way Google works to it gives you the info you want and hopefully protects your privacy, here: http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/. I really advise anyone who’s seriously into using Google as best they can to check out this info. Google really is one of the best resources available online… and it’s free! Let’s make the most of it while we can! Before the goddamn Man tries to take it away from us!

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How to search the internet 3: how to actually *use* a search engine

Okay, this is the 3rd part of my series on how to search the internet. Part 1 briefly covered the history of internet search; part 2 looked (again, very briefly) at how modern search engines like Google work; and now we come to the nitty-gritty: how we actually use a search engine to find the stuff we want. Part 4 will look at how to understand the results brought by the search engine.
The first method we’ll look at is the method most people think of using – the keyword search. This involves thinking about what it is you want to find, then choosing words that concisely describe the object of your search.
Imagine we want to find out about giraffes. We could type the word giraffe into Google (or whatever search site we’re using – I’m going to use Google as an example, but this should be relevant for other search engines too). So, we tell Google to search for giraffe: and Google turns up 8,550,000 possible results.
Now, that is an awful lot of web pages to trawl through to find whatever it is we want to know about giraffes. And a lot of them won’t be relevant at all. If you look at the result page for the search on giraffe you’ll see that the very first result is for Giraffe Restaurants – probably not what we want.
So we need to think about what we’re looking for. Let’s imagine we want to know about what giraffes eat. We could search for giraffe food – but then we run into that problem of sites for restaurants and other human food companies with the word “giraffe” in their names.
Giraffe feeding habits would be better – it garners us some 274,000 results – but also excludes pages where the word “habits” isn’t used, for instance where the phrase “feeding behaviour” is used instead. So what about using giraffe feeding? Google gives us 618,000 results for that, but maybe will include useful pages that we might otherwise miss.
And what about giraffe feed? That gives us a massive 1,300,000 results; but this more comprehensive search will give us “feeds” and “feeding”, and sentences like “how a mother giraffe feeds its young” and “what kind of feed for a giraffe in captivity”; and Google will also pick up on the word “fed”, which might be important. It all depends on what exactly we want to find.
But anyway, both 274,000 and 1,300,000 are a lot of results to trawl through. So some further refining of search terms may be order. What precisely do we want to know? Are we after info relating to giraffe feeding habits in captivity rather than in the wild? If so, we can search for giraffe feed captivity which gets us just 21,500 results! Yes, 21,500 links is still a lot to check, but it’s an awful lot better than the 2,160,000 pages we started with!
Sometimes users might want to use search terms in the form of a question – for example what should you feed a giraffe in captivity. This is generally considered to be a bad idea, because a question might contain words that wouldn’t actually appear in a web page you want to find. Google has a feature called stop words: this tells Google to not search specifically for certain commonly used words (like you, what, in… I’m sure you get the idea. But sometimes we might want Google to include stop words in its search. For instance, we might be searching for references to the movie “How The West Was Won”. To do this, we use quotation marks in the search terms; ie we tell Google to look for “how the west was won”. Then Google will look for pages that include the complete phrase.
Another poor use of search terms would be to tell the search engine to look for articles on feeding giraffes or documents about the care of giraffes in captivity. While those would be reasonable instructions to give to a human, they are not appropriate terms for a search engine. Remember, a search engine is a computer program, and computer programs are stupid. They’re good at doing exactly what we tell them to do; but the pages we’re looking for probably wouldn’t contain the words “articles on…” or “documents about…” so using those phrases will exclude many pages that we would actually want.
Another way to craft useful search terms is through the use of operators. Operators are query words that have a special meaning to search engines. You can find some excellent examples of operators and how to use them at Googleguide.com; but I’ve provided a few examples here so you can quickly get an idea of what this operator thing is all about:
If we wanted to find info about recycling steel or recycling iron, we would use the operator OR, like this: recycle steel OR iron. If we used the search terms recycle steel iron without that OR, the search engine would look for pages that included the words “steel” and “iron”; it wouldn’t bother showing us pages that included just one of the words without the other and we might miss very useful pages. Using the capitalization with OR helps the search engine to understand that it’s meant as an operator.
If we wanted to find pages that contained information about Steve Davies but which explicitly did not mention snooker, we could use the operator NOT or the symbol, like this: “steve davies” NOT snooker or “steve davies” -snooker. (Notice too that we’ve put the name Steve Davies in quotes, so the search engine knows we are specifically looking for the name Steve Davies and not looking for pages that mention, for example, Steve Jones and David Davies.)
We can use the + symbol to help focus on a particular search term and possibly weed out others. For example, if we are looking for references to King Louis I of France in particular and not any other French kings, we can search for Louis +I France.
We can use the define: operator to learn the definition of a particular word. For example, to find out what the word “cantata” means, we can search for define:cantata. This will give us a selection of definitions of “cantata” from various online dictionaries.
If you aren’t too confident about the correct usage of operators, you can use the advanced search option with some/many/most search engines. For example, with Google you can click on Advanced search and you will be presented with a form that has a number of search term entry fields. This gives you a simple way of setting a number of parameters to your search. But if you’re confident with using operators, you can construct pretty complex search parameters using just the standard entry field.
When you are crafting terms for a particular search, it comes down to common sense at the end of the day. Just plugging in in one or two search terms might be enough for a simple search; but if things aren’t really simple, you need to give some thought to what exactly it is that you’re looking for. If you want to know about how to use the knight in chess, a search for knight +chess will be much more useful than just typing in the word knight or the question how does the knight move in chess. A little forethought can save you a lot of time, by giving you a much shorter list of results to trawl through.
Well, I think that’ll do for this part of my guide to using search engines. I realize I haven’t provided a comprehensive list of all the operators available, or all the search strategies you can use – but it would have been pretty futile for me to even attempt that. There are a number of search engines, and they’re not all the same. I advise you have a look at www.googleguide.com to pick up some tips on using Google (the most popular search engine on the web), and The Spider’s Apprentice for some more general advice. But believe me: while both of those sites are very interesting, they’re certainly not essential. This blog post, with a dollop of common sense on the side, should get you plenty of useful results to any search queries you might make.
This isn’t the end though – oh no, not by a long chalk. I’ve told you how to get results – now you need to know how to use them. Which is what I’ll cover in Part 4 of my guide to internet search.


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T-Mobile make me sick

I’ve got this deal with T-Mobile: I pay them £x and in return they give me “unlimited” mobile broadband on top of cellphone service.
Only it isn’t unlimited, is it? There’s a “fair use policy”, which isn’t very fair at all. If you look here, you’ll see what these unfair use policies entail: details vary a little from plan to plan, but the upshot is the user has a “maximum allowance” of data transfer – these allowances can be as small as 40MB per day! – and if you exceed this allowance (by using a mobile internet device for its proper purpose – ie accessing the internet) T-Mobile “restricts” your ability to use the web!
Here’s the message you receive if you attempt to access the internet once your allowance is used up:

Notice from T-Mobile
You’ve now exceeded your internet Fair Use Policy
At T-Mobile we want to give you our customers the best service possible.
Our Fair Use Policy (FUP) helps us do this and also means we don’t have to charge any run on rates. We will never ask you to pay more than you agreed, so you’ll always know how much you’re paying and never get an unexpected bill.
Each internet option comes with its own Fair Use Policy. We’ve already sent a text message letting you know you had reached 80% of your FUP, and now you’ve used over 100%.
You will continue to be able to use your internet for unlimited browsing. That means you’ll still be able to browse websites, login to Facebook, check your Hotmail or catch the news on the BBC.
For the time being, however, between 4pm and midnight you won’t be able to do other heavy usage activities such as watching videos or downloading applications. Before 4pm and after midnight your internet service will continue to run as normal.
Your Fair Use Policy duration depends on how you purchase your internet. When your Fair Use Policy begins again, either at the start of the next calendar month or your next purchase, it will be reset to 0 and your service will return to normal.

So “between 4pm and midnight you won’t be able to do other heavy usage activities such as watching videos or downloading applications”… or, indeed, downloading files from remote machines, or any email attachments that T-Mobile classify as “large”, nor can I upload “large” files… and this ridiculous state of affairs will continue until the end of the calendar month – unless, of course, I’d like to pay extra to get a larger “allowance” (though none have a particularly large allowance as far as I can see). And T-Mobile also bans the use of instant messaging over their network. No doubt because the availability of IM would eat away at their lucrative business of selling SMS to teenagers.
Because that’s what all this “fair use” crap is about, of course. The policies are full of bull like “We’ll monitor how much you send and receive each calendar month so that we can protect our network for all our customers”. But what it all means is that T-Mobile can try to guarantee all of their customers a little internet access at the expense of those who need to use the internet a lot.
I realize this is all standard operating policy now with internet service providers, so I shouldn’t complain about T-Mobile in particular. But I will complain about T-Mobile because they’re the bastards who are screwing with me right now! And I’ll also give Vodafone a special mention as I’ve suffered at their hands too. But they are all a bunch of wankers. Seems to me that there’s a cartel in operation, fixing prices amongst themselves so there’s nowhere for a cost-conscious customer to go. And of course, like the flock of stupid sheep we are, we hand over our hard-earned dosh to the robbers when we should be handing them their own heads.
But maybe they’re not all on the take – at least, perhaps some of the thieves are a little less dishonest. Next month I’m going to give 3 a try. They sell prearranged “data allowances” so I can pay, for instance, £15 and get a 3GB allowance. The prices are still outrageous, but maybe I’ll be able to use my mobile devices for their intended purpose – to use the internet while out and about!

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Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Funnily enough: no.

My recent post on the documentary film “Children of Gaza” has provoked a couple of comments from someone calling him/herself “Facts First” (both to the post referred to above and an earlier one also about the Israel-Palestine conflict). While “Facts First” is most eloquent in his/her support for Israel and dismissal of Hamas, he/she has basically restated the US and Israeli position that Hamas is a terrorist organization and has no legitimacy as a government. This has persuaded me that I need to state the truth about Hamas’ legitimacy both in the Palestinian territories and the wider world.
In 2006, Hamas beat its opposition party Fatah in a free and fair election. This resulted in Hamas forming a government with Fatah. Unfortunately, supporters of both parties continued to fight each other.
As well as this factional conflict, Hamas’ position as a legitimate government partner was undermined by the USA and EU’s refusal to recognize a government that contained Hamas – their view is that Hamas is a terrorist organization and therefore unqualified to govern.
Matters came to a head when Fatah seized control of the West Bank territory and Hamas did the same in the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt, with US and EU support, then imposed a political, economic and humanitarian blockade on the Gaza Strip, again because Hamas is a terrorist organization.
Many critics of Hamas, including the US, the EU and “Facts First” make much of Hamas’ terrorist status. They tend to claim that Hamas’ status as a terrorist organization is a fact.
They are wrong. It is simply their opinion that Hamas are terrorists. There is an equal argument that Hamas is a legitimate political party qualified to govern the Palestinian territories.
For instance the Council on Foreign Relations says of Hamas:

Is Hamas only a terrorist group?
No. In addition to its military wing, the so-called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas devotes much of its estimated $70-million annual budget to an extensive social services network. Indeed, the extensive social and political work done by Hamas – and its reputation among Palestinians as averse to corruption – partly explain its defeat of the Fatah old guard in the 2006 legislative vote. Hamas funds schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. “Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. The Palestinian Authority often fails to provide such services, and Hamas’s efforts in this area—as well as a reputation for honesty, in contrast to the many Fatah officials accused of corruption—help to explain the broad popularity it summoned to defeat Fatah in the PA’s recent elections.

Although the USA, the EU, Israel, Canada, Japan and others call Hamas a terrorist organization, there is not an international consensus on this matter. The United Kingdom and Australia consider Hamas’ independent military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to be terroristic, but accept that Hamas does have legitimacy. Norway is resolute in its position of recognizing Hamas as a legitimate party, and Russia also refuse to regard Hamas as terroristic because Hamas was elected democratically.
Considering the above facts, one has to wonder what exactly Israel was trying to achieve when it attacked Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, and with its ongoing blockade on the region. Israel claims its goal is to remove Hamas’ ability to operate as a terrorist organization. But this has involved the destruction of civil infrastructure in Gaza, including police stations, prisons, power and water supplies, roads, communications, commerce – and hospitals, schools and residential buildings have also been attacked. This all looks like an attempt to destroy Hamas’ ability to provide the services mentioned by the Council on Foreign Relations in the passage quoted earlier – and as no one else can provide those services, this means Israel is trying to destroy Gaza as a functional territory. Exactly who are the terrorists in this scenario?
“Facts First” has criticized my use of Wikipedia as a source of information on this subject. And I’m well aware of Wikipedia’s problems. But I think the article on Hamas is well researched, with a large and diverse number of references, and is very balanced in its presentation of the facts. In fact, I believe it is the article’s thoroughness and neutrality that makes “Facts First” dislike it so much – he/she would prefer to use US or even Israeli sources of information instead as they are more likely to present the “facts” the way he/she likes to see them. But don’t take my word on the Wikipedia’s Hamas article’s balance and thoroughness – read it and decide for yourself. And please, feel free to comment here on what has been said (and also what has not been said). All I ask is that you take “Facts First’s” pseudonym as advice: let’s stick to the facts rather than deal in opinion. And I contend that one simple fact is: Hamas is not a terrorist organization just because some governments think that’s so.

How to search the internet 2: how a modern web search works

In the first instalment of this guide on how to search the internet, I gave a little history of the search engine: I covered Archie, Gopher, and site directories like the Open Directory Project. Those are the old technologies, all pretty much obsolete now. That brings us to the present day and the modern search engine.
When I write “modern search engine”, I mean web search sites like Google and Bing. Because they all work in pretty much the same way – the only difference seems to be in the algorithms each service uses.
Now I could tell you all about spiders crawling the web and stuff, but I think most of you would just tune out after a couple of lines. So I will give you 2 lovely Youtube videos to watch instead:
The 3 Minute Guide to How Search Works:


A slightly longer video that looks at the subject from the perspective of a webmaster who wants to increase traffic to his site:

Watched them? Good. So now you have the basic idea: little programs called “bots”, “crawlers” or “spiders” are sent out to crawl over the world wide web, following links, and compiling lists of URLs that they consider to contain good information. And how do these mindless software automatons decide that the info is “good”? It all comes down to the algorithms.
It’s Google’s algorithms – the “secret ingredient” – that has made Google the world’s favourite search engine and kept them at the top for so many years. Any coder of sufficient proficiency can create bots to crawl the web; but it’s the secret algorithms that turn a regular bot into a googlebot. And there just hasn’t been another bot that can compete.
At least that’s how it has seemed for some time. Yahoo has a hard core of admirers; Altavista.com has had success mostly due to its “Babel Fish” translation service blowing its rivals out of the water; but it’s only recently that a true contender for the title of Number One Search Engine to step up and challenge Google. That challenger’s name: Bing.
Microsoft has been trying for years to break into the search engine market, with a plethora of products: Live Search, Windows Live Search, MSN Search – they even tried to buy, then made a deal with Yahoo to get that Microsoft name up there with the giants – but nothing was able to make much impact on Google. Then in 2008 Microsoft (following the tried and tested strategy of “embrace, extend, extinguish”) bought a tech company called Powerset and, importantly, its “semantic technology”. Microsoft claim that their improved technology cuts down on the risk of “search overload”, when a user is inundated with millions of barely relevant results – something that can happen when using Google. And Microsoft has used the near-ubiquity of its web browser, by incorporating Bing into Internet Explorer 8. Google is still number one search engine, but Microsoft has certainly made its mark on the territory.
So who’s going to win this battle of the search engines? I think it could still go either way. Google has years of good form and a hell of an online presence; but Microsoft still owns the desktop and the browser. And anyway, someone else might come from the left field and clinch it in the final seconds – Ixquick is a potential outside bet with their whole “ethical privacy” trip; Google’s got the “Don’t be evil” motto but it’s Ixquick who are out there actually being “not evil” (and if privacy is a major concern, don’t forget Scroogle). One thing we should have learnt from IT history is that nothing is set in stone.
I’ll bet you’re thinking “Oh well done Google and Microsoft, give yourselves a pat on the back… but what in hell has any of this got to do with how to use a goddamn search engine?!! I figured it would be useful to cover all this history and present situation stuff. Well, maybe interesting rather than useful… I certainly find this kinda crap fascinating. But you’re right, it doesn’t tell us a great deal about how to use a search engine. So I promise: the next instalment of this howto will actually cover some proper howto material. So keep ’em peeled… you definitely don’t want to miss this!!

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