Essential reading for the committed cynic

September 30, 2009

Must-read stuff! Private EyeIf you want to stay informed about the UK’s political shenanigans, then Private Eye is essential reading.

The magazine is published fortnightly, and gives more details on the goings-on in and around British politics than anything else you can buy (it’s £1.50 well-spent). It also has the distinction of being Britain’s most-sued publication; not that surprising if you know how truly appalling UK libel laws are. Were you try and set up a similar publication today, nobody would offer any financial backing because of the outrageous risks involved.

The magazine’s editor, Ian Hislop, has become almost blasé about that. In one high-profile case brought by that pillar of society Robert Maxwell, his remark to reporters outside the court upon losing was, “I’ve just given a fat cheque to a fat Czech“. As some might remember, that unctuous media mogul who was born Ján Ludvík Hoch, once owned, and was chairman of, Oxford United Football Club. Perennially absent from the team’s matches, the fans had their own little chant for the man who saved their club from bankruptcy: “He’s fat. He’s round. He’s never at the ground. It’s Cap’n Bob, Cap’n Bob“.

Rupert Murdoch, better known to Eye readers as The Dirty Digger,saw his arch-rival, Maxwell, subsequently vanish – supposedly falling off his yacht in the middle of the ocean. The body was never found, and the timing of the disappearance was spookily convenient; there was a huge scandal surrounding the fact that he had robbed the pension funds of his newspapers to prop up his business empire.

Ian Hislop – on the other hand – is, allegedly, still alive and doing rather well. He’s instantly recognisable to most people in the UK as one of the team captains on the popular satirical show, Have I Got News For You.

And to close, let me explain the joke in the above magazine cover for non-UK readers. Question Time is a popular topical debate programme on the BBC. Sometime in the coming month, it expected that the leader of the British National Party will appear on the show. The BNP are the inheritors of Oswald Mosley’s legacy, and successors to the British Union of Facists. The speech bubble is a play on host David Dimbleby‘s manner when selecting members of the audience to put questions to the panel. As a comment below suggests I add, the actual origin of the show’s name comes from a long-running tradition of the British House of Commons, Prime Minister’s Questions.


Computer security that works?

September 30, 2009

While I am happily sitting here typing away in Linux (Ubuntu 9.04), the vast majority of desktop PC users are still stuck with Windows. Yes, I still have a copy of Windows on my PC, but I’m somewhat forced to do so; I need to be able to run Internet Explorer to test websites.

As virtually everyone will attest, possibly the biggest headache with Windows is the threat of viruses and all the other malicious software that wants to control your PC, spy on what you’re doing, or use you your machine to help launch a distributed denial of service attack against some random individual or company. In short, with Windows security software is essential. For quite some time, Microsoft has made a couple of products to help with this – the first was their firewall, and the second is Windows Defender, a tool to scan your PC for hidden-away malicious software.

This left most people without an actual anti-virus solution. Actually, what it generally means is that when you buy a new PC the bundle of software included with it probably included something from Symatec – commonly known to most as Norton anti-virus. I’m old enough to remember when Norton products were good, but that was quite some time before Windows XP came out. The crap they shovel out now will slow your PC down more than having half a dozen viruses installed. And, to top it all, you have to keep paying Symatec protection money to keep it working. That is the whole purpose of the free trial version you get bundled with your new PC. If you do as most people do, you ignore it until that free trial expires. This is a bad idea. At that point, it will no longer download updated virus detection data, and I have actually lost count of the number of times I’ve been unable to get it off a PC without resorting to a boot into safe mode, deleting all the physical files, and cleaning up the mess in the registry. Why? Well, it tells you the software license has expired, and the uninstaller will actually refuse to run until you’ve updated it – which requires you to stick your hand in your pocket and pull out your credit card.

An article on ars technica indicates there may be an alternative to my preferred solution, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). You could be forgiven for thinking this means hell has frozen over – the long-standing geek joke is that, the only product Microsoft could make that doesn’t suck is a vacuum cleaner. Ars technica seem to think the new MSE package is worthy of serious consideration. What you’ll find is this is because Microsoft bought most of the technology from a very well-respected company better known for working with large corporations and the military-industrial-complex.

If you want to try it, here are the steps you should go through:

  1. Download the package and save it somewhere you can easily find it
  2. Disconnect from the Internet – pull the ethernet cable or WiFi dongle, switch off the WiFi on your laptop, whatever.
  3. Uninstall whatever anti-virus or active anti-malware software you have
  4. Install the Microsoft Security Essentials package
  5. Reconnect to the Internet
  6. Make sure MSE is fully up-to-date
  7. Run a full, in-depth scan of your PC

If you buy a new PC, I would recommend this is one of the first things you do – if you don’t follow my below instructions for the package I’m still using – Avira. If your shiny new PC offers to do a backup after configuring and installing the default software, DON’T. Defer that backup until you have the latest Windows updates, a half-decent package such as MSE, and all the trial versions of stuff you’re not prepared to pay for removed. Basically, if that’s how the PC supplier get round giving you a Windows install disk, make sure the PC is ready to use before you back it up. Otherwise, if you’re forced to install from the backup CD/DVD six months down the line you’ll be jumping through all these hoops again.

As I mentioned in passing, my preferred solution has to-date been Avira. The procedure with that is exactly the same as detailed above, but substituting Avira for MSE.

Of course, you could always abandon Windows altogether. Several of the current Linux offerings, such as Ubuntu, effectively are ready for prime-time use. Most offer a downloadable version that you can put on a CD and boot your computer from to try it out. The actual installation and setup has a few quirks in it that will stump the non-technical, especially if you want to keep Windows on the machine at the same time. And, if you want to play DVDs and such, you will be installing non-Free software (that’s not “non-Free” as in you pay for it, but “non-Free” as in you’re either using something which you either can’t download the source code for it, or it implements something patented such as MP3 or the DVD format). The good news is that almost all you need is available from what are called repositories – where the software is digitally signed and you’re not searching the Internet and hoping the shiny DVD player isn’t actually a trojan horse.

Praise the Lard!

September 29, 2009

This is a great little video and highly entertaining – unless you are a fundamentalist Christian. Who would have thought that so many people still get their panties in a twist about a book first published in 1859.

I love this, some Muppets write an introduction to a classic work that has stood the test of time and become generally accepted as the best explanation we have for the world you see around you. They really, really deserved this critique. I applaud this young eastern European woman for telling it the way it is, and simply showing what the real agenda is.
Personally, I stopped believing in any god when I realised Karl Marx was right; Religion is the opiate of the masses. It probably helped that that I discovered that the ambition I had as a child of about five or six to be a hearse driver would not quite work out the way I expected. No, I would not be chauffeuring people up to the pearly gates.

For the Americans in the audience, please keep god and other religious mumbo-jumbo out of your schools. As Frank Zappa said in one of his songs, “Some folks don’t want prayer in school; we’d need an Ark to survive the drool“.

Damn copyright complexities

September 29, 2009

Have you ever looked into the quagmire that is copyright?

It is a horribly complicated mess, but the general principle is that when you create something you own the copyright on it. That copyright is effectively a ‘legal fiction‘ – but it is meant to be a social contract. A contract between you, the content creator, and society at large. You are granted a limited monopoly on your work – the exclusive right that might give you an opportunity to cover the cost of what you have created, or possibly even make money from it. After that limited monopoly expires, anyone can take your work and do whatever they want with it – it is said to have entered the public domain, become part of our common cultural heritage.

That limited monopoly has become a joke. Put more bluntly, we now have Mickey Mouse Copyright laws. The reference to Disney’s sacred cow character is most apt. Mickey first appeared in a black and white cartoon called Steamboat Willie in 1928. (Well, it wasn’t quite the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, but it was the first where the images and audio were synchronised). It is still under copyright today, in 2009, eighty-one years after it was released. It should have entered the public domain in 1956, it should have entered the public domain in 1986, again in 2003, and now will allegedly enter the public domain in 2023. The reason it has missed all these dates is repeated extension of copyright law – lobbied for by big-name content producers, just like Disney. They are stealing the world’s cultural heritage and locking it away to profit on it indefinitely. A particularly hypocritcal act on Disney’s part when you consider how much they profited from the public domain when making films like Snow White and all the other Brothers’ Grimm fairytales.

Now, here is my little copyright headache. A song with the uninspiring title, “I’d Like…“. You will recognise the music, if nothing else from “deity”-only-knows how many adverts for Coca Cola. Enjoy, and damn the copyright complexities, they’re designed to give you a migraine. If you really want to know the hoops I’d need to jump through to legally release this, look at the mechanical license page on Wikipedia.

[If you have problems playing the above little ditty, that is probably because it isn’t in the MP3 format. It’s OGG. This is a Free audio codec with published specifications allowing anyone to write their own computer programs to work with it. A Google search for OGG and the name of your operating system (Windows, OS-X) will find you the bits you need to be able to play such files.]

Good grief!

September 29, 2009

Ah, a freebie blog. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a free sub-domain name on I lost count of the various memes, permutations thereof, and other ideas I dug up in an effort to get a name. Just typing a plethora of site names into the address bar of the browser reveals a vast number of people who came up with a good idea for a blog name, made one or two posts, and then abandoned it. What is this? A case of, “I’ve got something to say! Er, no… I forgot, I can’t be bothered with this, nobody reads it anyway, I’ll just go back to trolling YouTube, shouting ‘me! me! me!’ on MySpace, or being completely passive on the Internet“.

Wake up motherfuckers! Your life is slipping through your fingers like the sands of time. Your only claim to fame is being the fifth Spice Girl – “Waste of Spice”. Open your eyes and see how truly screwed-up the World is. Quit sitting in the cheap seats tisk tisk-ing at the disaster that is your government. Drag your flabby arse away from the glass teat spewing forth the propoganda of Rupert Murdoch, and do something to make you really believe you are alive.