Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Linkblogging For 30/03/10

Posted in linkblogging by Andrew Hickey on March 30, 2010

I promise there’ll be several proper posts this week (two book reviews, a comics post and probably a politics one). In particular, I’ve decided that I’m going to do at least one comics post every week from now on – I’ve been neglecting that side of things too much. But for now, some links:

Lawrence Miles (that link will almost certainly break – he takes his blog posts down after a few days) talks about his problems with the Welsh Series, many of which I share. If it’s true that Stephen Moffat thinks having a DVD of Bagpuss is ‘sad’, then that right there tells me exactly why I’ve never warmed to his work.

Zom talks about Geoff Johns as outsider artist, while Tucker’s Comics Of The Weak is a thing of beauty this week.

This Is Terrorism is “a linkblog focusing on the radical movements inside America and how their activities should be considered outright terrorism, despite the fact that our government and media seem shy about using that particular word.”

Lots of people have covered the chancellors’ debate, but Millennium has everything you need to hear on the subject.

Pillock has a new meme

And LessWrong look at the Bjelakovic meta-analyses of vitamins (trumpeted at the time as the final nail in the coffin for dietary supplements) and find that they were total nonsense ( for reasons totally unrelated to the equally valid reasons for which I’d already dismissed it).

‘Liberal’ Conspiracy

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on March 28, 2010

My good friend Mat Bowles recently took issue with Jonathan Calder, because Calder had said something disparaging about Liberal Conspiracy, and Mat wanted to know why more Lib Dems – and Liberals in general – don’t engage with that site rather than being insulting about it.

In my case, I stopped writing for the site only partly because of the illiberal slant of much of the commentary there – I’m all in favour of a broad church – but mostly because, as my resignation email shows (and it’s lucky I didn’t delete that post as I planned), Sunny Hundal, the site’s editor, has a very lax attitude towards proper attribution – sticking people’s names on stuff they didn’t write, publicly posting emails to private lists as public posts, re-editing others’ work without permission and so on. I don’t mind contributing to a debate where everyone’s voice can be heard, but don’t like seeing things go out under my name that substantially misrepresent my position.

Recently, another contributor to the site, Claude Carpentieri, asked me to write a ‘why you should vote Lib Dem’ guest post for his blog, where he’s doing posts from people ‘representing’ about a dozen of the larger political parties. I thought it rather odd that he’d ask me – and flattering, as the people he’d asked for other parties included the leader of RESPECT and Peter Tatchell, and as a seventh-tier blogger I’m not really in their league. As there wasn’t a huge amount of time or space (500 words) I wrote an extremely cut-down version of the thing I’d written for PEP! – same basic ideas, but less than half the words and for a different audience. I also checked with a few Major Lib Dem Bloggers that what I was saying wasn’t too out of step with the party as a whole, as it was in some sense ‘representing’ the party, albeit unofficially.

I meant to link to this on Friday, when it was posted, but I’ve been having some health problems recently and haven’t been online (or indeed able to get involved in campaigning for the election, about which I feel awful).

However, when I came online today, I saw Alex Wilcock had twittered that people should read something I’d written on why you should vote Lib Dem. I didn’t think Alex read Claude’s blog, so I followed the link out of curiosity, and saw it was to Liberal Conspiracy, where my post had been reposted, without my permission, and with neither Claude nor Sunny informing me of this. It also had a footer saying “Andrew is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs at AndrewHickey.info.”

Luckily, a lot of people seem to have liked the post, which at first glance appears to be what I wrote, but I just want to make it clear I am *NOT* a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy, I was *NOT* asked to write for Liberal Conspiracy, or for my writing to be republished there. The reason I’ve left it to other people to reply to the comments there is because I was unaware there were any comments until five minutes ago. Had I been asked to write for Liberal Conspiracy, I would have refused, partly out of principle and partly because of the disgraceful way its associate editor, Aaron Murin-Heath, behaved when one of his friends started making threats of physical violence against me (I don’t believe calling the police when someone tracks down your address, tells you he has a gun, and threatens to beat you up, makes someone a ‘monstrous thundercunt’. Aaron apparently disagrees.)

I am stating this for the record because I have been a vociferous critic of that site in the recent past, and don’t want to look like a hypocrite now. I am retroactively giving the site permission to use that article, because it has generated discussion there and I don’t want to censor that discussion. But I want people reading this to know that I will never, *EVER* write for that site unless both its editorial line changes, the attitude towards contributors changes drastically, and Mr Murin-Heath is completely dissociated from the site.

Should any other articles appear on that site credited to me, without me having posted in advance on this site that I believe those conditions to have been met, you can be sure that it has been posted there illegally, and it may well have nothing to do with anything I originally wrote.

I do not read Liberal Conspiracy any more, so I won’t necessarily find out if this does happen. But if it does, I shall sue the site and its administrators for copyright infringement, because that will be the only way to make it clear to them that I am serious about my reputation and do not want to be associated with that site and what I consider to be extremely unethical practices.

And I’d just like to say that it is *ONLY* the fact that Mat Bowles and James Graham – two of the people I respect most in the ‘blogosphere’ – both have very different opinions of the site to mine that has stopped me doing so already. Sooner or later Sunny will do this to somone who *isn’t* as easy-going as I am, and that site *will* end up getting sued out of existence. He has reused others’ material often enough without permission that it really is a question of when, not if, and not everyone he’s done this to is a seventh-tier blogger with a handful of regular readers and no financial interest in the work.

Ada Lovelace Day: Emily Short

Posted in computing by Andrew Hickey on March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace day is “an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.” by blogging about a woman in technology.

Unfortunately, it’s also a day when I’m getting over a bad case of the ‘flu, and not really coherent enough to write well, and I was seriously considering not doing this at all – after all, earlier this year when my work were after nominations of names of computer scientists to name their meeting rooms after, I’d named Ada Lovelace there, so I could have done my bit. But I’ve decided to go ahead with a post about Emily Short.

(I feel quite embarrassed writing about her as she’s someone I don’t know – at all – but who blogs and whose blog I’ve commented on, and so she may well read this. I just wanted to write about a programmer who’s actually one of those responsible for something I actually use on a regular basis).

Short is the writer of a series of games, all of them ‘interactive fiction’ – the kind of thing that used to be called text adventure games. And while I don’t know as much about the genre as I should, I do know that her games are among the best I’ve played, and are regarded as such by the small community of people who are still interested in these things. Rather than be Zork-esque ‘GET LAMP, KILL TROLL’, her stuff is actual art, its sophistication limited more by the relatively crude tools at her disposal than by her imagination or writing ability – a classicist, she often uses figures from Greek and Roman history and myth (I’ll have to replay Damnatio Memoriae soon, as I’ve recently been rewatching I, Clavdivs), and manages to get quite an astonishing level of characterisation and interaction from her NPCs.

But more important than her games, as far as this goes, is her work on Inform 7, a programming language I’ve written a little about before ( here and here ).

The basic concept behind Inform 7 – and the bulk of its implementation – are the work of Graham Nelson, a mathematician. But Short is the co-maintainer of the project (and increasingly its public ‘face’) , and wrote many of the built-in ‘extensions’ (what most programmers would probably refer to as libraries) to the language – as well as providing more than thirty further extensions on the Inform Extensions Page. She also wrote the vast bulk of the 300+ example programs in the Inform documentation, and the regression test suite used on every release (and as someone whose day job involves, in large part, regression testing software, I can tell you what a tedious, thankless, but necessary job that is).

And on top of that, she’s put in this huge amount of work on a community software project (albeit one not yet fully under a Free license, though getting released that way piecemeal) not for any cash, and not even (as far as I can tell) for ‘real-life’ credit – according to Wikipedia, ‘Emily Short’ is a pseudonym.

No doubt there are better candidates for celebration on Ada Lovelace Day, but I’m assuming you all know about Grace Hopper and Rosalind Franklin, so someone doing good work in a tiny niche, but work I for one appreciate, deserves writing about as much as anyone else…

Odd Search Terms Of The Week

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on March 23, 2010

A possible semi-regular feature I might start doing if people like these, here’s just a simple list of the most interesting terms for which people have searched and found my blog in the last seven days:

tarzan sex
most annoyng thing ever
how often does forbidden planet restock
do it yourself acid-casualty doo-wop
tijdschrift pep
what’s the a cappella music in the 70’s
justice leak gay
smile though meaning
things to read online
peter davison socialite
gaiman poseur
how to get a spotify playlist written
make a michael jackson comic
does people know when you fuck a lot
does ukip have migrant members
things i disagree with
ponns sex film ommas
why hitler had a short mustache

That sounds like a much more interesting website than this one, actually..

Tagged with:

Tories, ‘hacking’, Twitter and #cashgordon – Look, I Just ‘Hacked’ Mark Reckons’ Site Lib Dem Voice!

Posted in computing, politics by Andrew Hickey on March 23, 2010

ETA: Actually Mark doesn’t use the Lib Dem Blogs RSS feed – just features the RSS feeds of various Lib Dems, under a ‘lib dem blogs’ header, so I thought he did. Feel free to substitute in the name of $prominentlibdemblogger below

Yesterday, a website run by the Conservative party, cash-gordon.com , got redirected to various supposedly-offensive (if you consider elderly people engaging in consensual homosexual acts offensive, which I personally don’t) websites. A lot of people are claiming that it was ‘hacked’ by ‘Labour stooges’.

Now, the Conservatives are claiming that this was people ‘hacking’ their site – and people have been getting threatening ‘phone calls at work about their alleged part in this ‘hacking’ – and arguing that this means there should be more regulation of the internet. In fact all that happened is the Conservatives were incredibly, ridiculously stupid.

The Tories set up a new website, to try to make the Labour party look bad for taking money from unions, to deflect from their own problems with funding from non-domiciled billionaires to whom they gave peerages, though exactly why it’s meant to be bad that the Labour Party were given millions by a union I have yet to understand (and I am no supporter of Labour, as you know). To promote this site, they started a #cashgordon hashtag on Twitter, and got excited when it started trending – even when it turned out that most of those using the hashtag were making fun of the Tories, because they said ‘all publicity is good publicity’.

They even had an unmoderated ‘twitterstream’ on the website, displaying every single post anyone made to Twitter using this hashtag. Can you see the problem yet, boys and girls?

They should have learned from the Torygraph, which last year during the budget had a live twitterstream which very quickly turned into a stream of abuse against the Telegraph, jokes, and general anarchy (a couple of my ‘tweets’ then actually got quoted in Private Eye at the time, because mine were some of the few printable ones). If nothing else, they should have realised that as soon as a hashtag starts ‘trending’ (showing up in a list of popular hashtags), spambots start posting using that hashtag, so very quickly a large proportion of the tweets using that hashtag – and thus showing up on their website – were by that popular Twitterer Ms Britney Fuck-Vids.

However, some people wanted to experiment a bit more, and started posting little bits of JavaScript to Twitter, along with that hashtag. Now, Twitter is a properly-designed website. If you post random bits of JavaScript to it, it displays them as text. However, cash-gordon.com was designed (for $15,000 ! ) by people who literally don’t know the first thing about web design. So it ran this JavaScript in the browsers of people visiting the site.

Those people are *very* lucky that the JavaScript in question merely redirected their browsers to lemonparty ( a site which, I am given to understand, having never visited it myself, shows three elderly gentlemen engaging in mutual oral sex) or, far more offensively, the Labour party website. That shows, if nothing else, that this was people playing around and having fun, not doing anything malicious – allowing for execution of arbitrary JavaScript code from unknown sources could very easily lead to much, much worse (and it’s lucky this was noticed, and the site pulled, before someone put in a link to a Windows virus or phishing site).

But looking at what’s happened, it’s absolutely obvious that nothing was ‘hacked’ (in the vernacular sense of someone ‘breaking in’ to someone else’s website, rather than the sense used by computer people – in that sense it was quite a funny ‘hack’) at all – people posted material that was *perfectly safe* to *their own twitter streams* – their own websites. The fact that the Conservatives – in attempting to use that material for political gain – did incredibly unsafe and stupid things with that material is fundamentally neither the Twitterers’ fault nor their problem.

For an analogous situation, many Liberal Democrat bloggers include a feed from Lib Dem Blogs on their page, showing the titles of the most recent blog posts by Lib Dems. Were I to title a post “Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers”, that title would show up on Mark Thompson’s site. I would not, however, have ‘hacked’ Mark’s blog. I wouldn’t even have visited his blog, or necessarily even known that my post had showed up there (I read Mark’s blog through a feed reader). I hope you are all suitably impressed with my ability to get profanity onto the site of the 20th most influential blogger in Britain. F33r my 133t h4x0r 5ki11z!

However, there are a few differences. Firstly, were I to title my post ” <script type=”text/javascript”>window.location=’http’ + ‘://lemonparty.org/'</script> ” it wouldn’t turn into executable script that redirected Mark’s blog to geriatric porn, because neither Mark nor Ryan who runs Lib Dem Blogs are the kind of complete imbecile who would let that sort of thing happen. Secondly, all blogs whose RSS feeds are aggregated at Lib Dem Blogs have to be manually approved, and can be removed if they start doing that sort of thing, so it’s a relatively trustworthy source. And thirdly, these feeds only go on people’s personal blogger accounts, not on official party sites that cost tens of thousands to build.

So no-one was ‘hacked’, and this was nothing regulation could or should have stopped (though were there some kind of ‘internet roadworthiness’ test along the lines of an MOT, that site would have failed it, and likewise all those responsible for its creation just failed their ‘driving test’). Quite simply, if you put up a giant billboard and a free supply of marker pens, along with a sign saying ‘please draw whatever you want on here’, and you come back a while later and see someone has drawn a great spunking cock on it, that should be *what you expected to happen*, not a shocking discovery. If you don’t want people to graffitti your site, *DON’T ASK THEM TO*

And one final thing – the Torygraph have been claiming that this ‘hacking’ – which we have now proved was nothing of the sort, was by ‘Labour stooges’. As I was following events as they happened, I happen to know that the lemonparty redirect was courtesy of ‘liberal provocateur‘ , who tweets as @hashbangperl (and whose description of himself as a ‘hacker’ on Twitter should definitely be taken in the sense I linked above, and *NOT* in the sense most people use it…)

So, in total, what we have learned today is that if you’re going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for an exciting whizzy social media site for your political campaign, you should give it to somebody with the first clue about what they’re doing. An expensive lesson, and one I suspect the Tories won’t actually have learned…

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