How to search the internet 1: the history of search

This is the first part of my guide to web search; the second part is here; part 3 is here. Part 4 is here.
The first search engine is widely considered to be Archie: a tool for indexing FTP archives which enabled users to locate resources. Its first implementation was written in 1990 by Alan Emtage, Bill Heelan, and J. Peter Deutsch, then students at McGill University in Montreal. It started off as basic lists of files that were accessed using the Unix command grep. Later, more efficient front- and back-ends were developed, and the system spread from a local tool, to a network-wide resource, to a popular service available from multiple sites around the Internet. The archie servers could be accessed in various ways: by use of a local client; by telnet; by email; and later through the World Wide Web. As the web became more widespread, its simpler interface made archie obselete, and now there are very few archie servers to be found on the internet. Wikipedia mentions an archie gateway still up in Poland; maybe that’s the last one?
Then there was Gopher – a protocol for distributing, searching, and retrieving documents over the Internet, dating from about 1991 and used throughout the 1990s. It was a predecessor of, then for a while an alternative to the World Wide Web. Wikipedia describes it as:

a TCP/IP Application layer protocol designed for distributing, searching, and retrieving documents over the Internet, and was a predecessor, and later, an alternative to the World Wide Web. The protocol offers some features not natively supported by the Web and imposes a much stronger hierarchy on information stored on it. Its text menu interface is well-suited to computing environments that rely heavily on remote computer terminals, common in universities at the time of its creation in 1991 until 1993.

Gopher was called Gopher for 3 reasons:
1. Users instruct it to “go for” information;
2. It does so through a web of menu items allegedly analogous to gopher holes;
3. It was developed at the University of Minnesota, whose sports teams are the “Golden Gophers”.
Its user interface (text, based on menus) suited the computer environment of the 1990s – mostly command-line interface on remote terminals. But by the late 90s, as graphical interfaces to the internet became more common (thanks to web browsers like Mosaic, whose integration of text and images was much more user-friendly than Gopher’s text-menu approach) Gopher was in decline. Although it still exists on the internet, it is used mostly for nostalgic reasons.
As the web became ubiquitous, and huge numbers of websites were created, organisations began to collate lists of these sites into directories. Yahoo, Lycos and the Open Directory are examples. These directories listed sites in categories by content: for instance, if you were looking for a particular site about photography, you would look through Yahoo’s list of photographic sites.
But as the web grew ever bigger, it seemed to many people that directories became too unwieldy: if you’re looking for a site about a particular photographer and you’re confronted with a list of 50,000 sites, you’ll probably give up in despair. This is where the modern search engine comes in – the likes of Google and Bing. We’ll get into all that in the next instalment of this little guide to internet search.

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter
<!– End GoStats JavaScript Based Code —

I <3 Dropbox!

Well, maybe it’s a bit overboard saying that I “heart” Dropbox. I mean it’s just an online storage solution, it hasn’t got breasts or a dazzling personality! But I think it’s pretty cool nevertheless, and today I’m gonna tell you why.
For quite some time now, barely a day has gone by without me seeing or hearing something about “cloud computing”. And although I hate these buzz words that don’t actually mean very much, I finally figured that “the cloud” was something I could use.
I need to access some files an awful lot, wherever I may be. And sometimes that means accessing the files from a library computer, or a computer at a client’s office – in other words, computers that do not belong to me. And even if I do have my netbook on me, I want any alterations made to my files to be synchronized to all my machines automatically.
For reasons too boring to go into here, I can’t access my home machine from the internet. And I am remarkably ill-equipped when it comes to online resources – I use a wordpress.com-hosted blog for crying out loud, I ain’t got a web server of my own kicking around somewhere. And carrying a fistful of USB sticks is not an ideal solution – sticks can easily be misplaced or even stolen. So I decided I needed to sign up for one of those “cloud computing” services, where I put a bunch of files on a third party’s server somewhere out there on the interwebs which I can then access no matter where I am (within reason – if I’m on a camel in the middle of the Sahara and forgot to pack my satellite phone I’d be screwed. But as I own neither a camel or a satellite phone, I think we can rule out that possibility).
Because of my innate stingeyness, I needed a solution that was free. So I fired up my good friend Google, plugged in the search terms “free cloud computing storage” and let ‘er rip. And it turned up a few free solutions, such as G.ho.st, Google’s various products, box.net, oosah.com… There’s a lot out there – if you want a quick list of freebies check out this guide at readwriteweb.com.
But of course, I’m utterly clueless when it comes to all this cloudy Web 2.0 stuff. So I went to my favourite forum and had a look at what folk there were saying on the subject.
Unsurprisingly for an Ubuntu site, a lot of people seemed to rate Ubuntu One. But there were also a bunch who liked DropBox. And I kinda liked what they were saying. So I chose to go with DropBox.
Like a lot of these cloud storage services, DropBox gives you 2GB of space for free. You install this program on the computers you want to be synced (and yes it comes in a linux flavour), create a DropBox folder on each computer, then link those computers to your account. Once that’s done, all you have to do is put files into the DropBox folder on one of the computers, and before you know it those files are accessible from all your synced computers. And you can even access them if you’re on a different computer, as there’s a web interface you can sign into from anywhere!
Another cool feature is the “Public” sub-folder. If you put a file into the Public sub-folder, then right-click on it, you get a link to that file that you can post in a blog, forum, whatever. So you can make chosen files accessible for absolutely anyone you want, without having to tell them your username or password. For instance, here’s a link that will enable you to download a pdf of the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson. If you’ve never read it, I strongly urge you to give it a go. Extremely cool cyberpunk science fiction. And I’ll let you have have it for the very reasonable price of fuck-all.
Cloud computing isn’t for everyone, despite what some characters will try and tell you. A lot of people will have no need for it whatsoever. But if you think it might be useful, go grab yourself a free account and give it a whirl. I’ve certainly been seduced by the sultry maiden called DropBox, as you may have guessed from this gushing love letter. Did I say love letter? That should have said “porn”. Cos DropBox makes me horny as only a sad geek can be!!
Note: Unfortunately, some of the info here is out of date. For instance, g.ho.st no longer provides a free service (though they’ll happily take your money) and for some reason the oosah.com site seems to be unavailable. But there definitely are free services available out there. Go check it out!
———-
I just thought I’d add a footnote to point out there’s another free (as in beer) online storage solution out there: Gspace. This Firefox add-on enables you to use the inbox of a Gmail account as an online disk. Google gives its Gmail users an awful lot of storage – more than 2GB at the moment, and rising all the time – plus you can use any number of Gmail accounts with Gspace. This solution is especially useful if, like me, you own a netbook with limited onboard storage. It works with Windows, OSX and Linux. I use Gspace, and can thoroughly recommend it.

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

Net piracy puts 1.2 million EU jobs in peril? More industry and government lies

Have you seen this ridiculous story? Apparently, a study backed by the European Union and the TUC has “found” that “a quarter of a million British jobs in the music, film, TV, software and other creative industries could be lost over the next five years if online piracy continues at its current rate.” It says that in the EU as a whole, as many as 1.2 million jobs are in jeopardy as piracy looks set to strip more than €240bn (£218bn) in revenues from the creative industries by 2015, unless regulators can stem the flow.
This is a lovely little scare-tactic story, designed to scare us all into accepting the UK government’s upcoming Digital Economy Bill, which hopes to introduce draconian powers to cut people off the internet if a film or music industry rights holder alleges that a person has infringed copyright. Anyone accused of copyright infringement will have their internet access disconnected, with no trial and no effective right of appeal.
The diabolical thing about this study is that its figures mean absolutely nothing. The claim is that illegal downloads are causing a financial loss to the entertainment industries of more than €240 billion. How did the study come up with this figure? By asserting that every single illegal download directly deprives the rights holder of the price of that downloaded material. For instance, if I download an album that costs €20 in the shops, that’s €20 I have actually stolen from the record company.
The entertainment industry has been using this formula for a long time now, so they have been able to claim millions of euros in compensation from average joes who share their music and films over peer-to-peer systems like bittorrent. But the formula is utterly ridiculous. Take “my friend” for instance. He has downloaded several rock albums over the years; and yes, if he had bought those albums legitimately he would have paid maybe €300 for them. But the point is this: if he had not been able to download these files for free, he certainly would not have gone out and bought them. Indeed, during this time he has spent a good few hundred euros on other albums. He downloaded many of these albums, to listen to and decide if he liked them – and when he decided he actually did like them, he went down the record shop and bought them on CD. If he likes a record, he wants to reward the artist – by paying for CDs, by going to concerts, by wearing official merchandise… he has absolutely no problem with paying for this stuff. But the albums he hasn’t paid for, he considers are not worth buying. So he hasn’t bought them – he never would have bought them – and the record industry has lost zero sales, and therefore lost zero money.
He likens this system to what we all used to do in the time before bittorrent. I would borrow an album from a friend and listen to it. If I liked it, I would go to the record store and buy myself a legitimate copy. If I wasn’t so keen on a record, I might record it onto a blank audio cassette; but I wasn’t depriving the record company of any money because I had no intention of buying it at all. If I hadn’t been able to copy a friend’s record, I certainly wouldn’t have gone and bought a legitimate copy. I would have gone without it. And I was certainly not alone in this.
At that time, we all saw those ominous posters that said “Home taping is killing music”. But, funnily enough, home taping didn’t kill the music industry. Plenty of legitimate records were bought. And a similar thing happened with video. When consumer VCRs hit the market, the film industry was up in arms. Why would anyone pay to see a movie when they could just get a bootleg copy? was the big question. But, as we all now know, the VCR did not kill the movie industry. Far from it: the video cassette gave the industry a new and lucrative income stream. People bought legitimate videos by the wheelbarrow-full. It’s true that the cinemas took a hit. But that loss was more than made up for by the revenues from video sales and rentals. New technology scared the industry for a while; yet within a very short time, that new technology became the new cash cow.
So, yet again the entertainment industries are worried about the new technology. All they see is doom and gloom. But if they were capable of learning from history, they would soon realise that computers and the internet will soon pour untold riches into the industry coffers. Some companies are already moving into new business models – companies like Netflix are making good money from selling an online streaming service. And in time, more possible solutions will present themselves. The digital revolution is going to be as big and important as the introduction of “talkies”. Why can’t the entertainment industries just get up off their asses and come up with new business models? Why do we all need to suffer, just because the fat slobs are too lazy to do their stinking jobs? New technology always changes the status quo – not always for the better, but very often it’s easy to see the silver lining. Why can’t the movie and recording industry bigwigs see the silver lining here? How in hell did such blind, lazy good-for-nothings ever get to be so successful? Idiots.

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

Did you see "Children of Gaza"? If not: do it!

I just watched “Children of Gaza”, a documentary film on Channel 4 (UK TV channel). It was very good. It followed a group of Palestinian children who live in the Gaza Strip, in the time following Israel’s assault on the territory in December 2008. You can read about it here, and see a video clip here. I expect you’ll be able to watch the film soon on 4OD.

First of all, for those of you who don’t know about the situation in Gaza: a history lesson. This lesson is aimed primarily at US citizens, as your media generally pushes a very distorted version of what’s going on in the region. But everyone could do with a refresher course in recent Palestinian history, as we all are treated like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed shit) when it comes to this subject. (Note: I’ve chiefly referenced links to Wikipedia here. I am aware that Wikipedia is not always scrupulously accurate; but what I say here is generally accepted to be the truth, and 5 minutes with Google will find you plenty of alternative sources for the info if you are so inclined.)
In 2006, democratic elections were held in the Palestinian territories (the “Palestinian Authority”, aka the West Bank and the Gaza Strip). The elections were closely monitored by international observers from the so-called “Quartet” (USA, Russia, EU, and United Nations), and it was generally agreed that it was all carried out in a fair and professional manner. Edward McMillan-Scott, head of the European Parliament’s monitoring team, said the poll was “extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence.” So, there shouldn’t be any problem in the international community about the results, right? The Quartet wants the PA to be run democratically – so the winners of the election should get to be in charge… right?
The problem is: Hamas won the election. That is, they won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council – 74 of the 132 seats, as opposed to Fatah’s 45. And the Quartet didn’t like that, because they don’t like Hamas. Hamas is generally considered a “terrorist organisation” because it sees one of its goals as “the obliteration of Israel”. (Interestingly, the UK and Australia have designated the Izz ad-Din al-Quassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, as a terrorist organisation, but not Hamas itself. Norway actually recognise Hamas as a legitimate political organisation and have met with them several times. Of course, the USA is vehemently opposed to any kind of recognition of Hamas, and calls them a “foreign terrorist organisation”.)
So anyway, after the 2006 election, Hamas and Fatah (aka the PLO, Yasser Arafat’s old outfit) formed a “national unity” government, with Hamas in charge. The Quartet was opposed to this, and imposed economic and travel sanctions on the Authority. They also threatened to cut funds to the PA, and generally put an awful lot of pressure on Fatah to somehow “recify” the situation. The USA and its buddies are all for democracy so long as it does what it’s told. If democracy gets uppity, the international community will snuff it out just like it would Saddam’s Iraq.
And the international pressure worked. In June 2007, partisan squabbles between Hamas and Fatah turned into open armed conflict, and Fatah succeeded in seizing military control of the West Bank, though Hamas managed to hold onto the Gaza Strip. The Quartet rewarded Fatah by lifting sanctions against the West bank and renewing funds; and the Gaza Strip was besieged. All border crossings between Gaza and Israel were closed. The Quartet and Israel pressured Egypt to seal its border with Gaza. And the Israeli navy patrolled the Gaza coast, attacking any sea traffic. So Gaza was blockaded. And the rest of the world did nothing.
The Quartet said the situation was simple: if Hamas gave up its control of the Strip, the blockade would end. As long as Gaza was governed by terrorists, it would be under siege. But Israel thought this didn’t go far enough. In December 2008, Israel launched a concentrated assault on the Strip. Operation Cast Lead involved heavy bombardment with fighter jets, helicopter gunships, rockets and missiles. Israel’s stated objective was to stop Hamas from launching rocket attacks from the Strip. But many civilians were killed by Israeli weapons. Israel claimed this was because Hamas deliberately located its rockets in civilian areas. But Hamas dismissed this as propaganda. And you have to see Hamas’ point. It certainly looked like Israel was targeting Palestinian civilians. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that 1,284 Palestinians died, of whom 894 were civilians. Unsurprisingly, Israel disagrees: they say 1,166 Palestinians died, of whom 709 were “terrorists” and 295 civilians. Israel finally ended its attacks on 17 January 2009.
So that’s the background. Now let’s look at the film “Children of Gaza”. The documentary film-maker Jezza Neumann arrived in Gaza soon after the end of Operation Cast Lead, and met the children he was to film. The population was in shock. One of Israel’s objectives had been to remove Hamas’ capability to operate as a “terrorist”/military force, and this had involved the destruction of vital infrastructure: police stations, barracks, jails… other government offices, communications links, hospitals, schools, roads… and, whether intentionally or not, a great many civilian homes were destroyed. Whole apartment blocks had been blown up and incinerated.
The Strip was a big bomb site. And it was impossible to rebuild because the blockade stopped the import of building materials: bricks, cement, sand, everything was stopped by the Israelis. Thousands of families were living in tents.
As time went by, people strived to rebuild what they could of their lives. Men used recycled materials to patch up their houses as best they could. And a great measure of “normality” returned to the shattered streets. For instance, schools resumed lessons. But these were “schools” in the loosest sense of the word: classes took place within the bombed-out shells of the classrooms.
At one point in the film, we see one such class session. To mark the cameras’ visit, the class’s subject that day was “human rights”. The teacher asked his students to describe how their rights had been taken from them. The childen described how they had been imprisoned by Israel – life in the Strip was like being in “a little jail”.
Ibraheem, one of the young subjects of the film, stood and answered questions brightly and eloquently. Perhaps a little too eloquently: had he been schooled in what to say? But I don’t think so. As the film goes on, we see Ibraheem often voicing startlingly insightful opinions. He had been taught a hard lesson by the war. But he was still capable of seeing the Israelis – the enemy – as people. The teacher asked: “Who did this to us?” The answer: “The jews!” “Are the jews’ children to blame?” “No!” “So who is to blame?” “Their parents… the older jews!” was the reply.
Another of the children, Ihmal, had been buried under rubble when an Israeli missile destroyed her home, and she had pieces of shrapnel in her head that caused her constant pain. But the destruction of the hospitals and the blockade on medical supplies meant she could not get treatment in Gaza. She needed to go to an Israeli hospital to see a surgeon. But getting the necessary permission to go to Israel was a long, distressing ordeal.
Finally, after endless waiting, she was allowed to go to a hospital in tel Aviv. Not that it did her any good. The Israeli surgeon didn’t think there was anything he could do to help her: “There will be no operation,” he said. Ihmal would have to “learn to live with” the pain. Watching this, I wondered if he would say the same to an Israeli child. I doubt it.
Of course, children play, even amongst such devastation. Eid was coming, and the film-maker asked Ibraheem what gift he’s like to receive. “A Kalashnikov dum-dum” he replied – for boys everywhere love to play with toy guns, don’t they!
Except the games of war here have a shocking realism. The boys said how they had watched “how the Jews kill the Arabs, and the Arabs kill the Jews”, and they reproduced this in their play quite shockingly. At one point in their game of “Jews and Arabs”, 2 “Jews” arrest an “Arab”. “Where are the others?” they shouted at him. “Tell us where they are, you animal!” Then one brought over a bucket of water, and the “Jews” actually ducked the “Arab’s” head into the water! They held him under for what seemed a long time, then let him breathe. “Where are they!” the torturers yelled before forcing his face into the water yet again. I’ve always thought that my friends and I were vicious as children – but this game of “war” made our “cowboys and indians” look downright tame!
For all their horror, these games of “Jews and Arabs” were fought with toy guns (even if the water was real!) – but then we saw one of the boys playing with a real rifle! One of the boys, Mahmoud, was visited by his Uncle Khalid, a member of Islamic Jihad – and Khalid had brought his AK47 to show to his nephew. It was quite disturbing to see Mahmoud sitting on the bed, cocking the rifle and marvelling at the deadly precision of its engineering.
Then came the truly disturbing, as Khalid showed Mahmoud a video of another uncle blowing himself to pieces with a suicide bomb belt. “You see how he martyrs himself? See how it’s painless?”
“It’s like a pin-prick,” replies Mahmoud.
Khalid points out the martyr’s intestines (thankfully pixellated out for the queasy viewers of Channel 4). He describes the operation of the bomb belt. And Mahmoud is entranced by the details. At one point the boy’s mother walks in, and Khalid says “We will make your son a martyr, God willing.”
“Inshalla (God willing),” she agrees.
All these children seem to be set on a path to war; set on it by the Israelis and their thoughtless barbarism. As one father tells the film-maker: “What do you expect my son to do, when he saw them kill his brother? Expect him to kiss the Jewish soldiers?” A counsellor describes how they are seeing increased levels of anxiety and violence amongst the children. They think they have a right to revenge. And a duty. Ibraheem says “Before the war I thought only of my education; but since the war I think only about the resistance.” He explains: “I will tell them, I’m not a terrorist, I’m a Palestinian. I want revenge for what they’ve done to us. Would they accept their children being made fatherless like us?”
No, they wouldn’t accept it. And they won’t. If this cycle of madness isn’t broken, revenge will continue to spill blood on the soil of Palestine.

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

How to speed up dpkg on Ubuntu

I found this wonderful little tutorial at Ubuntuforums.org. Some members have reported significant speed increase for dpkg -i. Thanks to forum member Peter Cordes who wrote it up. Please send all kudos to him, he’s the one who deserves it. Brickbats too.

dpkg -i and dpkg -S are slow when the FS cache is cold. Most of the time is spent reading ~2400 .list files from /var/lib/dpkg/info. It reads them in the order they’re listed in the status file, I suppose. Anyway, _not_ in alphabetical (info/*) or readdir (ls -f info) order.
Most filesystems allocate space in the same area of the disk for a set of files all written at the same time. So cp -a info info.new would generate a defragged copy of the directory. (not that any individual files in it were fragmented, they’re tiny, many smaller than the FS block size. ls -lhrS *.list | less, and type 50% for example, to see the median file size (~600B), or 90% to see the 90th percentile size (7kB).
But this doesn’t actually help, because the disk ends up having to seek back and forth because the files aren’t read in the same order they’re stored on disk. It doesn’t help much that the files are closer together. Maybe 18sec vs. 24sec, IIRC.
Here’s what I did:
cd
strace -efile -o dpkg.tr dpkg -S /bin/ls
cd /var/lib/dpkg
mkdir info.new
grep ‘^open’ ~/dpkg.tr | sed -r ‘/dpkg\/info/sX.*”(.*)”.*X\1Xp’ -n | xargs sudo cp -a -t info.new
# cmd line length limits prevent info/*. I could have used rsync -au info/ info.new
sudo cp -iau info/[a-k]* info.new/
sudo cp -iau info/[l]* info.new/
sudo cp -iau info/[m-z]* info.new/
diff -ur info info.new/
sudo rm -rf info
sudo mv info.new info
sync
echo 3 | sudo tee /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches
time dpkg -S /bin/ls

Result:
peter@tesla:~$ time dpkg -S /bin/ls
coreutils: /bin/ls
real 0m2.877s
user 0m0.264s
sys 0m0.168s
peter@tesla:~$ ll -d /var/lib/dpkg/info
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 76K 2008-12-07 06:36 /var/lib/dpkg/info

Now dpkg -S (and presumably dpkg -i, too) takes
2.8s elapsed time. (Root FS = 1.5GB JFS, on a degraded RAID1 (md), at the beginning of a WD5000YS (RE2) supporting NCQ with depth 31, AMD64 Linux 2.6.28-2-generic (Intrepid user-space, Jaunty kernel), Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4GHz), 4GB DDR2-800. But mainly it’s the HD and the FS that matter here)
I wonder how long this performance will last, as packages are upgraded. At least it doesn’t matter if readdir order changes as files are removed and added (since the file’s reading order doesn’t depend on that), but it does matter if the status file’s order changes. Since the files won’t reposition on disk, it’s only fast as long as they’re read in (mostly) the order they were written.
The directory itself can start to fragment, since it’s 76k = many filesystem blocks. XFS gets directory fragmentation fairly easily. (I use XFS for everything else, and it’s fast with a couple tweaks. e.g. -o logbsize=256k, and enabling lazy-count=1 with xfs_admin or at mkfs time.)


_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

UK to ban the poor from owning dogs

I’m a dog owner, and this story has really pissed me off! It appears that the UK government is considering law changes that will make dog ownership all but illegal for the poor!
The Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been carrying out a consultation, ostensibly to see what legislative changes are required to improve control of dangerous dogs. A copy of the document has been leaked; and it seems that DEFRA are seriously considering the introduction of a “dog owner’s competency test”. As the paper spells out, establishing such a scheme would be very costly, and would be funded by charging a prohibitive fee for those taking the test and reintroducing dog licenses.

If you're short of cash you can kiss your puppies goodbye!

DEFRA haven’t responded to the reports, claiming they never comment on leaked documents. But it’s a fact that for some time now there’s been a concern about the ownership of pit bull terriers and other so-called “status dogs” amongst poor white males. This concern has been fuelled by a number of attacks, such as the case of John-Paul Massey, a four-year-old Liverpool boy, who died after being savaged by the family’s pit bull. There is a stereotype amongst the British tabloid press of young men roaming council estates with vicious pit bulls instead of knives and guns.
It is only a stereotype – there’s no real socio-economic link between poverty and dog attacks – but the tabloids have conjured up this image so often, there is now a very real belief among many people that the poor are using dogs as weapons. Now government spokesmen are talking in the same terms. And as a result of this “tail wagging the dog” mentality, some politicians are seriously thinking about banning the poor from owning dogs. Or at least introducing fees that will make dog ownership an expensive luxury.
Britain is well known to be a nation of dog lovers. Normally, the idea of pricing dog ownership out of the reach of the poor would be a ludicrous notion. But with a general election looming, and a hung parliament a real possibility, politicians of all parties are considering any idea that might win them a few votes. Remember when the Liberal Democrats used the spectre of racism to try and win votes in the east end of London? I’ll bet most of you never thought you’d see the day when liberals sided with the BNP, did you? So don’t dismiss the idea that desperate politicians will take pet corgis away from hard-up pensioners, in the name of clamping down on so-called “dangerous dogs”. We need to tell the politicians to keep their paws off our dogs! Or, never mind the pit bulls, we’ll bite the bastards ourselves!

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

Microsoft request takedown of Cryptome.org… then change their minds out of the goodness of their black hearts…

Well, Cryptome.org, one of my favourite repositories of “documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance”, has had an eventful day. They put online a copy of Microsoft’s “Global Criminal Compliance Handbook – US Domestic Version”, an interesting little booklet that describes exactly what info they collect about their customers for law enforcement; this annoyed Microsoft enough for them to get onto Network Solutions, Cryptome.org’s ISP, and have the site knocked off the web!
Somewhat predictably, this quickly became big news on the interwebs. But it doesn’t look like Microsoft predicted that outcome! Someone there must have realised, somewhat belatedly, that it doesn’t look too good to be a nasty bully silencing the voice of freedom. So a Microsoft lawyer got back to Network Solutions and asked for Cryptome.org to be reinstated! Here’s the email Microsoft sent to Network Solutions:

X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft Exchange V6.5
Received: from opsmail.prod.netsol.com ([10.221.32.60]) by nsiva-exchange4.CORPIT.NSI.NET with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959); Wed, 24 Feb 2010 22:47:25 -0500
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
boundary=”—-_=_NextPart_003_01CAB5CD.3E340480″
Received: from corpcm3 (corpcm3.mgt.netsol.com [10.221.32.102]) by opsmail.prod.netsol.com (8.12.10/8.12.10) with ESMTP id o1P3lOsM023759 for ; Wed, 24 Feb 2010 22:47:24 -0500 (EST)
Received: from [10.253.64.77] ([10.253.64.77:43581] helo=networksolutions.com) by corpcm3 (envelope-from ) (ecelerity 2.2.2.41 r(31179/31189)) with ESMTP id E2/39-15380-3C2F58B4; Wed, 24 Feb 2010 22:47:15 -0500
Received: (qmail 23471 invoked from network); 25 Feb 2010 03:45:41 -0000
Received: from dchost2.cov.com (HELO CBIEXI02DC.cov.com) (216.200.93.137) by tip2.lb.netsol.com with SMTP; 25 Feb 2010 03:45:41 -0000
Received: from cbiexm02sf.cov.com ([172.16.160.88]) by CBIEXI02DC.cov.com with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959); Wed, 24 Feb 2010 22:46:57 -0500
Content-class: urn:content-classes:message
Subject: Re: Ticket Number 1-452132847
Date: Wed, 24 Feb 2010 22:46:56 -0500
Message-ID:
X-MS-Has-Attach:
X-MS-TNEF-Correlator:
Thread-Topic: Re: Ticket Number 1-452132847
Thread-Index: Acq06IFo420gHHQPThWg1v/l3yM7TAAAjYcAAABtzJAAABl6EAAAmcd6ADcZlUA=
From: “Cox, Evan”
To: “DMCA”
Cc: “internet4[at]microsoft-antipiracy.com”
Dear Ms. Larsen:
I am outside counsel to Microsoft Corporation. I am writing to confirm my telephone message left with your nighttime operator at 7:45 PST this evening to withdraw Microsoft’s takedown request with respect to the file available at http://cryptome.org/isp-spy/microsoft-spy.zip which is the subject of the correspondence below.
While Microsoft has a good faith belief that the distribution of the file that was made available at that address infringes Microsoft’s copyrights, it was not Microsoft’s intention that the takedown request result in the disablement of web acess to the entire cryptome.org website on which the file was made available.
Accordingly, on behalf of Microsoft, I am hereby withdrawing the takedown request and asking that Network Solutions restore internet access to http: cryptome.org as soon as possible.
I can be reached at 415-640-5145 if you wish to discuss this request.
Sincerely,
Evan Cox
Counsel to Microsoft Corporation

So Cryptome.org is back up, even though the Microsoft compliance handbook is still available from there! All that ill-judged takedown request succeeded in doing is getting a shit-load more publicity for the handbook. Publicity that I’m doing my little bit for by posting this. I urge all interested parties to go to the site now and get yourselves a copy of it. There are also copies of compliance handbooks for many other organizations such as Yahoo, Facebook, Myspace, Comcast… and many more. Why not get yourself the full set?
I find it strange that a company as adept at public image as Microsoft can shoot itself in the foot in public so foolishly. Dicks.

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

Toyota "sticky accelerator" mystery

By “mystery”, I don’t mean the mystery of what causes the problem. I mean the mystery of Rhonda Smith, the Tennessee woman whose Toyota-made Lexus suddenly zoomed to 100 miles per hour for 6 miles before “God intervened” and slowed the car. She says she “tried everything” – shifting to neutral, trying to throw the car into reverse and hitting the emergency brake. But couldn’t she just have turned the engine off? Or am I missing something here?
Also amusing is the testimony of Toyota boss Akio Toyoda (how come he’s called “Toyoda” not “Toyota”?). In his written testimony to the US Congress he said: “When the cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well.” Somehow, I doubt he really thinks that…

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

What they didn't want you to know: read the secret torture evidence here

I got this from the Guardian:the previously covered-up excerpt from an official document that reveals how much the UK government knew about Binyam Mohamed’s illtreatment at the hands of the CIA.

It was reported that a new series of interviews was conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2002 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.
v) It was reported that at some stage during that further interview process by the United States authorities, BM had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.
vi) It was reported that combined with the sleep deprivation, threats and inducements were made to him. His fears of being removed from United States custody and “disappearing” were played upon.
vii) It was reported that the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews
viii) It was clear not only from the reports of the content of the interviews but also from the report that he was being kept under self-harm observation, that the interviews were having a marked effect upon him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering.
ix) We regret to have to conclude that the reports provide to the SyS [security services] made clear to anyone reading them that BM was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment.
x) The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972. Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities.

This, in addition to the revelations in a US court that Mohamed suffered physical and psychological torture including mutilation of the genitals, is a damning indictment of the way the CIA and its allies conduct their so-called “coercive interrogations”. And the UK is just as bad: an MI5 officer known only as “Witness B” knew exactly how Mohamed was being treated when he visited a Pakistani prison to question the man. The Pakistani torturers asked Mohamed questions on behalf of Witness B during interrogations – so while we can’t say that Witness B personally tortured him, it’s certainly true that Mohamed was tortured for the MI5 officer.
Unfortunately, the high court judges who ordered the release of this secret evidence don’t come out of this smelling like roses either. Lord Neuberger, master of the rolls and one of the three judges involved, had originally meant to include in his ruling a scathing criticism of MI5: his draft ruling said that the Security Service had failed to respect human rights, deliberately misled parliament, and had a “culture of suppression” that undermined government assurances about its conduct.” But Jonathan Sumption QC, the government’s head lawyer on the case, privately wrote to the judge asking him to tone down his criticisms (you can read Sumption’s letter here); and shockingly, Neuberger complied!
n his letter, Sumption warned the judges that the criticism of MI5 would be seen by the public as statements by the court that the agency:
• Did not respect human rights.
• Had not renounced participation in “coercive interrogation” techniques.
• Deliberately misled MPs and peers on the intelligence and security committee, who are supposed to scrutinise its work.
• Had a “culture of suppression” in its dealings with Miliband and the court.
That’s as maybe. But so what? Those statements are true, aren’t they? It seems apparent from this case that MI5 don’t respect human rights, they do approve of “coercive interrogation, they did deliberately mislead parliament and the courts… and they’ll do the same again if they’re sure they can get away with it.
But Neuberger and his “learned colleagues” bottled it and gave into Sumption’s request. After all, they’re probably all great mates outside of court and hunt foxes together on the weekends. Probably.
Luckily, some news organisations heard about the last-minute revisions to the judgement and protested to the court. They complained that Neuberger had granted Sumption’s request without giving the other parties a chance to have their say. The judges conceded that it was a little irregular, and so Sumption’s letter was made public: that’s why the Guardian have put it up for everyone to read here (with annotations by Guardian journo Ian Cobain).
It’s a real pity that the high court judges act like trained attack dogs one minute and then like toothless poodles the next. Then again, we should remember these judges are government-appointed and government-paid, and that they are all members of the same back-scratching, trouser leg-rolling gentlemen’s clubs. So we ought to be grateful that the high court occasionally does the right thing.
Thanks, judges! I really appreciate it (you old sods)! :p

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter

High court orders government to reveal evidence of UK complicity in torture

Senior High Court judges have ordered the UK government to release secret evidence of official complicity in the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed, who was held in Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA prisons in Morocco and Afghanistan for two years.
Foreign secretary David Miliband has repeatedly claimed that releasing evidence that proves MI5 and MI6 knew about, and were complicit in, torture including genital mutilation would damage British national security. The judges dismissed this claim, ruling that:

“In principle a real risk of serious damage to national security, of whatever degree, should not automatically trump a public interest in open justice which may concern a degree of facilitation by UK officials of interrogation using unlawful techniques which may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

In a recent case in a US court concerning another former Guantanamo inmate, the judge noted that Mohamed’s “trauma lasted for two long years. During that time he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated … All the while he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.”
Mohamed was subsequently released without charge, clearly demonstrating that he in fact knew nothing about any terrorist offences.
The British high court judges say there is clear evidence that UK government officials knew what was happening to Mohamed and supported the torture. In the high court last year, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled that it was clear from the evidence “that the relationship of the United Kingdom government to the United States authorities in connection with Binyam Mohamed was far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing”.
I don’t know what you think: but if my government think it’s okay for an innocent man to have his genitals crushed and mutilated, I want to know about it. What’s more, I want the individuals concerned to be punished. British law bans the use of torture for very good reasons: we are supposed to be civilised and to respect the rule of law. No one can be allowed to think they are above the law. Releasing the evidence of this complicity in torture is essential.

_gos=’c4.gostats.com’;_goa=354450;
_got=2;_goi=2;_goz=0;_gol=’Free hit counter’;_GoStatsRun();
Free hit counter
Free hit counter