September, 2010

Cold Callers and the drawing pin.

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Years ago when I lived in Wales, my office window used to look out at the street, in the evenings I use to keep the curtains closed even before sunset because the filthy daylight streamed in an interfered with my coding by inducing bright reflections on the screen; but during the day, since my office was north facing, I could leave the curtain open, look out to the sea, and the street below.

This post is inspired by a tweet from @wombat37.

So this one day, I saw a succession of callers going from house to house, and being turned away, but I answered the door anyway, and listened to the blonde girl in the red blazer, with the word “Virgin” on the, well, breast of the jacket.  After a moment I realised that I was not actually listening too her at all, but thinking about my code, because losing the thread is a devil, lose the logic and you can’t write the code.

Anyway, so really I was was just looking at her because she was eye candy, and I really feel quite uncomfortable doing that, because I don’t like to demean people, who are complex; but also and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I’ll say it again because it’s important, I was coding.  So I said as politely as I could that really wasn’t listening because, because I was coding and could she please go away.  Then I looked out the door and saw the next six working their way around the neighbours.

Well, I couldn’t be disturbed again, and they certainly weren’t the Virgin girl, so I really didn’t want to be disturbed again, so I quickly printed a note, a grumpy note in large letters that could be seen from the road,

“Go away, I’m programming”.

Thing I couldn’t find a drawing pin, and I was getting a bit impatient by this time, because I was about to lose the thread, and I was working on something for a client, so by definition, they wanted it yesterday.  So I got the first convenient thing I could lay my hands on and stuck the note on the door with that.

Everyone else sort of paused at the gate, looked nervous and moved on.

“Good note,” I thought, “well done Friday.”

It was only when I went to get the kids from school that I realised that I had stuck the note to the door using a convenient very large carving knife that I had come across in the kitchen.  You can imagine that this led me to question the efficacy of my note.  I took it out before I took the kids home, I thought probably the boys would ask why, and it might be difficult to explain what had seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

Still, we got a lot less cold callers after that.  I bought a packet of drawing pins though.

Invisible things

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

I got run over when I was 19.  Well, not run over, run into.  It wasn’t the drivers fault, poor bugger; he was really upset from what I remember, I didn’t see his face muchly, because I kept my eyes shut in case my legs were broken.  They were not, I am very strong.

So what happened?  Heck I ran out into the road, partly because I didn’t hear the car and partly because it was a cloudy day, the road was grey, the car was silver, and my eyes “passed over” it in amongst all the others cars.

I have often been surprised by silver cars, the favoured colour in years past of the corporate buyer; and I have developed the following hypothesis.  Silver cars are basically invisible.  They take a lot of looking at when on the road, in fact I often comment to my partner that there is another invisible car on the road, with just wheels, and engine, seats and other bits, but definitely no body.  I make up stories about what I can see them doing in the car, which the children will buy if they’re plausible…

Look at that guy, he’s got a bag of crisps in the door!

How do you know?

Invisible car, I can see through it!

No you can’t, we can’t.

You’re too short, you can barely see out the window.

You get the idea.

Pity then that other things have become invisible as I have gotten older, which means that I often cannot find them when planning my shopping list; such as loo roll…

My partner feels that this begs certain questions, but for the sake of dignity I shall end this here.

Backup your data but…

Friday, September 17th, 2010

I got what might safely be termed “A right kicking” datawise over the summer. Yep, the Geek lost data, had it overwritten/lost my work/had to crawl up to my dissertation supervisor and say that I lost two weeks work.

Let’s be clear here; I backup my data, it’s far too valuable to lost and I’ve been bitten before, in the dim and distant past when I didn’t spend money/time on backing up, I learned the hard way that you BACKUP or lose those pictures/data/memories/work.

In fact I often carry so many memory sticks around now, that my single enduring programmer joke is that “I pity the fool! that don’t backup his data!”

Where did it all go wrong?

Well.

There were a few factors. I have teenage boys who think that they are invulnerable to a drive-by, so they will occassionally go and download things without thinking, I’m pointing at YOU the eldest, yes indeed. They got two things at once on their latop at once, one just a nasty bit of malware masquerading as a bit of antivirus kit, and the other some kind of Zero Day exploit, a root-kit. Ouch.

I rather airily assumed that these were removable with the usual stuff, wrong! We actually trashed the hard drive ont he laptop looking for this stuff.

I plugged my Ubuntu rescue kit in, fine, no problem, except that it boots Windows too, and took the root kit, which got onto MY latop.

Ok fine, I knew what was going on then, but I was in the middle of doing the other laptop and didn’t disconnect from the cloud.

Oh woe is me, because I backup right, to the clould, a lot.  Really a lot.  Curently my main services are Dropbox, Mozy, Humyo, MS Live Sync (Wonderful), Google syncing, (when I connect right), Skydrive and a few others that are less accessable.  So I synched.  The way I sunch often involved putting my encrypted drive, because only a fool syncs unencrypted password data onto the cloud, and a couple of other files that maintain things for me.  Oh goody, I had my encrypted drive open, but it syncs anyhow.

So, because I had been away from my desktop for a while, (I my boys live with my ex-partner, but we get on really very well and I was on an extended visit), it wasn’t on, Live Sync didn’t, saved the work from two weeks ago at least, but I hadn’t backed up to a stick in at least that amount of time, because I was backing up to the cloud so I’m safe right?

Wrong.  Dead wrong as it turns out.

So,

What is the problem here?

It’s taken me a while to think about it.  It’s not the software or the hardware.  It’s not the malware and virus, (well, it IS, but not in this context), it’s a human problem.  I screwed up.

I screwed up because, like nearly everyone I know who actually backs up, and I do have loads of data that I don’t backup because it’s too expensive, so just the important stuff; I was being LAZY and “SAFE” at the same time.  Except that these two things don’t go together.  Especially in the context of data.

I was being “safe” because, I assured myself, I was backing up so I’m alright Jack, you peons don’t know what it is to backup, and I’m always going to come out on top because of it.  Oh how we learn humility.

I was being LAZY because I relied on non-volitional techniques to keep me safe.  I wanted it done automatically, in triplicate, silently witout hassle.  I wanted an agent to do it for me.

Now, what’s wrong with that?

Well, I lost a hard drive and 100GB of data for the family, and two weeks worth of my Dissertation, (for my Masters), that’s what.

Backup, at some point, must be volitional as well.  In the “good old days” when you had to actually put a floppy in to backup, it was volitional.  You didn’t transmit that Zero-day  exploit unless you were careless, unless you actually inserted that floppy.  Now, if you’re not careful, all you have to do is wait for the cloud.  And if you’re paranoid like me, your encrypted files can’t bec checked on the way in by your cloud service, or even your receiving computer.  You are well and truely, like me, scr…..

Anyway.

Point is, backups, real backups are a hassle, they will always be a hassle.  Take the time.  Use a stick daily.  Use two sticks, on every other day.  Do the grandparent, parent, child backup routine, because one day you will get hit by a Zero-day exploit too, and you’ll be writing blog entry about why it’s so important to backup volitionally.

Covering up

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The terrorists have won.

Why do I say this terrible thing?

Because Belgium have passed the law banning the Burka.

Now, there are a few things to be examined here.  First of all, my primary new source is the BBC, I’m trying to convert to Euronews gradually, as I think they are less US centric, and their habit of providing video without commentary is a good one, though also capable of biasing news.

The article from the BBC can be found here:- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8652861.stm

and the Euronews take on it here:- http://www.euronews.net/2010/04/30/belgian-parliament-votes-to-ban-burqa/

Secondly, the ban seems to be aimed at the uncovering of identity,

(BBC) The law would ban any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street.

Thirdly, let’s deal with my own prejudices.  I don’t like it.  I hate seeing people concealed and separated from society, as if I’m a danger to them, or they are to me; or as if my leering eye will lead them astray because I have no control over myself, (see my entry on femininism, probably just below).  I hate the idea that some control or old convention leads people to conceal themselves from the rest of society.  I like my western values, such as they are; this level of conservatism is not for me and I don’t like it.

Let’s put that aside now.

The counter argument is of course, that people can choose in our plural society to follow their religion freely, and in our society, (in case you’re reading this internationally, I’m a Brit and I have all the stereotypes and prejudices fully installed, for which I apologise; I try to apply my intellect to things to try and  counter the enormous drag factor of such thinking as “Channel fog bound, continent cut off.”), can choose in our plural society to follow their religion, personal practices etc. as long as no-one is harmed.  It’s a value, and we should remember that.  I value that more than I value my personal prejudices.

So what is going on here?

From my point of view there are two difficulties in this move, (oh and by the way you should also see this:- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8658017.stm 500 Euros, appalling), two difficulties I was saying.

One is that the backlash, which let’s face it we knew was coming, is that women are now being victimized as practicers of their religion.  I know of no religion that requires men to cover up as women are required to do, and therefore the victims of these laws will all be women, some of whom are going to feel terribly vulnerable as result of these laws.  And couching them in terms of “not having a hidden identity” just makes it a lame excuse.

And it’s lame, it’s lame because while we have no general need to conceal our identity, the law enshrines a fear, a fear that anonymity is dangerous, that it is not allowed, because be we have no right to privacy in public places.  It enshrines an idea, that we need to be afraid of people we cannot immediately police, (through CCTV etc.), because we need to be afraid.

It victimises women in particular, Muslims in a more general case, and in the broadest interpretation, it makes us all subject to government scrutiny and control, (or at least, inspection), because we might be terrorists.

Our, and by our in this case I mean Europe, laws have become so much more draconian since 9/11, 7/7 and so many other dates that are sadly meaningful in the track of bombings and other abuses that people have practised upon the world.

These laws, however do nothing to improve safety, but do everything to alienate and stigmatise a tiny minority of Europe’s population, and a majority of the population in the Middle East, people who must be looking on and shaking their heads in wonder at our “liberal” society.

I don’t like the Burka, but I don’t  like suppression, distrust, suspicion and racism a whole lot more.  MY values are that we remember that not everyone on this earth lives the same way, that we respect other cultures and value them, because humans need that “hybrid-vigour” that comes from having cultural values that differ.  As a Discordian, I don’t mind if people disagree, in fact, I rather value that; and I don’t want people to have to leave their culture/religion behind just because they are living near me, because eventually I will learn different points of view, and history that I know nothing of, and philosophy that is beyond value.  Let there be a rainbow, and let it be the colours of all the humans.

As usual, if anything comes across real right wing, then I left out some negation somewhere.

Religion

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Yeah, they say don’t talk about politics and religion.

Get over it. We’re exposed to it in the press and TV and Radio every day, we see the results in war and in peace, and despite our penchant for reflecting upon the negative, religion is, I would assert, a force for good as much as it is a force for, dare I say it wickedness. Upon this reflection I would say that the wickedness is perpetrated when groups, and this is important, perpetrate their belief system as better or superior, or the only way. The goodness is from the belief of individuals in something greater than themselves, I can certainly see the calmness and stability in the individuals who believe; in other words, faith is good. It’s good for people.

Bearing this in mind, what I’m about to say is not a reflection of the superiority of my belief system, because really it isn’t superior. It is something I subscribe to, and I don’t need anyone else to do so. I share this, only because; it amuses me, I get comfort from it and it provides a new philosophical imperative that I think is worth sharing.

I’m a Discordian. In brief, generally Discordians embrace the idea that conflict is an inevitable part of the human condition.  People try to impose order on the universe, and fight the chaos, where chaos is an inevitable part of the universal experience of life.  Any mathematician knows this.  Donald Rumsfeld, (I’m NOT a fan, but wisdom is wisdom from whatever source), once said that there are known knowns, unknown knowns, known unkowns and unknown unkowns.  This is sage.

Let me explain this.

We (humans), know things, have knowledge, the domain of which can be well defined.  These are known knowns.  Knowledge requires context, more precisely, facts require context.  We also know things which do not have a context.  These are commonly facts in isolation, that require contextualisation.  This is hard to think about, but these are the “unkown” knowns.  Mathematicians know that knowledge comes in islands, some of which cannot be joined, at least, with our present level of understanding, and sometimes not ever.  (See Godel).

There are then, consequently, known unknowns.  These are things that we know that we cannot know.  (Is Riemann true?  Can we even know if it is true?)

Lastly, there are things that we do not know.  We don’t know them, because we have either not discovered them, or we cannot know them.

These are the four quadrants of knowledge, (this is nothing to do with   Discordianism), the  point is that chaos, we we began a while ago is inherent.  People of good intent can disagree or have different goals or paths, and this is the human face of chaos.  We don’t have to be wicked to disagree, we just have to be human.

Given this, the story of Eris, she who threw the apple engraved “To the most beautiful”, is profound.  All you have to do to realise this is remember that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Discord is inherent.  Discordianism embraces this idea.

Discordianism is also, as far as I am able to determine, the most honest, (that’s not a stab at other religions), and the most traceable of religions, as well as the least demanding, and the most individualistic.  I doubt that you will find two Discordians who follow the Discordian “way” in the same fashion, even remotely.  I’m pretty serious about it for example, and nearly everyone else who follows it, that I have met or read about, is not.  That’s nice, because the “holy” book is 99% BS.  Maladict the Younger, who wrote most of it in 1956, was I’m sure certifiably something.  Insane?  I’m not sure.  The book, if you’re interested is the Principia Discordia.  I suppose that it’s about now that I should say our word.  Fnord.

Why do I follow this crazy religion?

There are two principal reasons, I have never found another that satisfies my spiritual impulses.  I like to annoy people by being reasonable about what it is difficult to be reasonable about.

OH, and it reminds me that religion is part of the human condition.