Sad to hear today that Dennis Ritchie has died. For writing the C programming language, and being a major figure in the hacking together of the Unix operating system, he gets to be an absolute giant in the story of computing.  I need some comfort :( Please email me at
thursday october 13 2011
Whenever I mention file system encryption, friends and acquaintants look askance. It seems folks think encryption is all about hiding files. It isn’t. A file system is not a read only system! You can write data to a computer file system, as well as read it. I reckon encryption is really about trying to make it hard for an opponent to maliciously write data to your file system.
Suppose Mary has an adversary called Joe. Mary’s computer is in Joe’s possession, and the file system on the hard drive is unencrypted as indeed most file systems are. Joe can boot the computer, carefully plant as much fake evidence onto the file system as he likes, and then take it to a court, or an employment tribunal, or whatever, and say, “Look what we found on this computer! Obviously Mary is guilty of x, y or z.
But if Mary’s computer has an encrypted file system, then Joe is unable to plant evidence there. So now Joe has to ask Mary for her encryption key. And if he does? Well, she may want to tell him to take a running jump. But what if Joe enlists the support of somebody really powerful when he demands her encryption key?
Well, this is probably a good time for me to point out that I am not a lawyer! Nevertheless in these circumstances I would want to think Mary’s lawyer would make sure that first of all, the hard drive in Mary’s computer was imaged, and that image was hashed, and that these pieces of evidence were securely stored at a remote location where Joe would be unable to access them. Only after these steps had been taken, then, Mary’s lawyer might want to release the encryption key.
File system encryption is for me more about this protection against tampering than anything else, and this is the strongest reason for which I recommend it.
You may think this is an unnecessary concern. Maybe it is. But in the U.S., friends of the incarcerated Brad Cooper are claiming the Cary Police Department tampered with his computer while it was in their custody. I doubt if that is the last time such a claim will be made.
thursday september 22 2011
If there were really more than a thousand *genuine* unique silver vintage shoes hits per minute at the opening of the UK governments e-petitions web-page, then I suppose that is good news. But I really hope the rags I saw on sale in the newsagent this morning are not going to succeed in persuading UK citizens to bang the drum for silly things that are miles away removed from the real problems we all have to face. We ought to be concentrating on getting our primary and secondary education systems fixed, and re-examine the cross-party policy of starting wars every few years against countries that have not attacked us and show no signs of doing so. To waste a chance like this by asking parliament to deliberate on lurid fantasies about the death penalty for certain kinds of criminal convictions would be a pity.
friday august 05 2011 #00
Picked up a hard drive delivery yesterday and have just installed it—and am now running it—in my computer. It’s the first actual real thing I’ve bought with bitcoin. Two terabytes and in good-as-new condition; 5.5 bitcoin for the drive, postage and packaging included. This was a good first time out experience: Yay! Oh yeah, another thing I'm excited about today is getting to sleep on my brand new mattress! Learn more about it on my blog page found on
friday august 05 2011 #01
Wow, I didn’t realise UK citizens were being instructed to report their fellow countryfolks’ political beliefs to the local police:
“Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local Police.”
(link, pdf)
The police?!? It seems to me the only crimes here lie in the woefully inadequate account of the meaning of anarchy (the definition is simply the first sentence from the article at Wikipedia, lifted out and dropped straight into the pdf; how ironic given the subject matter!) and in the blaming insinuations about free thinking individuals which accompany that account.
At any rate, I am probably not an anarchist because I don’t believe the problem with the modern western world belongs with the fact that we have lying thieving oppressing warmongering leaders. The problem is that we have so many followers. Hundreds of millions of them. If ever ordinary people decide to stop being spoon-fed their daily life of the mind, then the *leaders* will still be there, but will have no willing slaves to vote for them, or carry out their orders.
sunday july 31 2011
Can we please lift the ban on the possession of soft drugs? The laws making it illegal to handle soft drugs appear to be causing much more trouble than the drugs themselves. Why not have the exchange of these goods for money regulated by the government and practiced at the supermarket, rather than by a friend of a friend? That way the product hitting the market is of a fixed standard and is taxed, bringing in revenue for the exchequer. Why in heaven’s name is there a law preventing UK citizens from growing a cannabis plant? A law banning a plant: how silly! Is it not yet time to pension off this silly war on drugs?
thursday june 09 2011
The Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft is showing a web page (german | english) telling us what a nasty piece of work is bitcoin. Their claims that bitcoin may become a tool for facilitating money laundering, tax evasion or other illegal activities seem to cry out for the reply that the same has been true of dollars, euros and UK pounds for many years, and on a grand scale too. And it’s hard for me to share the author’s faith that western financial institutions and governments are protecting the economic interests of common people, given the atrocious financial mess the western world is in today. As for saying ‘bitcoins are simply dangerous’, and claiming bitcoin is the work of ‘destructive forces’, well, if the english translation is sound there, then that’s just a bit sad really. I suppose there will be more of this kind of propaganda (and worse) should bitcoin become more popular.
thursday june 02 2011
CanSecWest’s Pwn2Own contest is starting to look a bit rubbish. It seems reasonable to expect that—for the umpteenth time—any device running proprietary software will be cracked, but what about devices running open source software? Last time Ubuntu was targeted at Pwn2Own, it proved uncrackable. Now I just wonder why Ubuntu is nowhere to be seen there for the third year in a row? It certainly is easy to see why Steve and Steve wouldn’t want the competition to be seen trouncing them in right in front of a buying public. You think guys like that might have any influence?
sunday march 06 2011
Bradley Manning is a born and raised American, and—as it seems to me—a good conscientious person. But such information as is getting out about his now five months long incarceration suggests that in the USA, an American can be tortured before being tried in a court:
“His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length. The cell has a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet. […] Currently, there are no other inmates near his cell. Each night […] he is allowed to take a 15 to 20 minute shower. On weekends and holidays, he is allowed to have approved visitors see him from 12.00 to 3.00 pm. […] If he receives a letter from someone not on his approved list, he must sign a rejection form. The letter is then either returned to the sender or destroyed.
“[…] PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day. The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.
“He receives each of his meals in his cell. He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. However, he is given access to two blankets and has recently been given a new mattress that has a built-in pillow. He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell. He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.
“He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop. He does receive one hour of ‘exercise’ outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.”
You see that bit where he gets to walk? That may mean walking in chains—it is hard to know for sure. The blankets he has for the night time are like “lead aprons used in X-ray laboratories, and similar in texture to coarse and stiff carpet. He [has] to lie very still at night to avoid receiving carpet burns. Hey, but a least he gets a couple of hours’ telly per day! Mind you his choice of viewing is vetted, so he can’t watch anything dangerous like—you know—world news. (source for the claims in this paragraph.)
Now it’s true that none of this is very like the rack or the thumbscrew. Immediate and severe physical trauma of that kind appears to be absent in this case. But bodily violence is no sine qua non here. Would you dispute that a day or two’s worth of so-called Chinese water torture is indeed torture? There you have an example of how in a relatively short period of time a healthy person of sound mind can be stripped of their sanity with no violent bodily trauma whatever. Where a high degree of psychological pressure is applied to an incarcerated and powerless individual over a long period of time, there must be a reasonable expectation the mind of that individual is going to start to break down. When did that get to be anything other than torture?
It’s hard to see a good reason Private Manning has had to endure twenty-three hours per day solitary confinement in a cell where he can’t even exercise. This has been going on for months on end. Maybe the authorities are trying to break him before he can defend himself in front of a court, or maybe they just want to make an example of him. Whatever the excuse, the treatment being meted out to Private Manning is barbaric and should stop right away.
… Meanwhile David House had his laptop, video camera, and flash drive confiscated by the always vigilent Department of Homeland Security. Why? Because he had just been to see the above mentioned Private Manning? Well, I can’t prove *that*! But the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement sure enough returned those goods *one* day after the ACLU breathed down their necks. Hooray for the ACLU, in this case at least.
friday january 07 2011
United States patent application 20100207721. Because you want that shiny Apple product so much, you’ll trade in your heartbeat “signature” for it. What could possibly go wrong?
tuesday january 04 2011
I’ll be looking out for music from Khatia Buniatishvili. Check out the timing, confidence and discipline in this minute-or-so passage from her Brahms piano concerto in b-flat. Yep, she’s good.
monday december 07 2010 #00
Made a start with the open source bitcoin currency this morning. It’s easy to set up, I didn’t even need root privileges. Block count is 34,000 as I write; I need 96,121 for the entire block chain before I can start generating my own “coins”. Where ever will this lead?
monday december 07 2010 #01
So why is Wikileaks a good thing again?
monday december 07 2010 #02
Youtube sans flash is on the way. This is obviously great news. Hopefully the webm container format will go on to leave video by flash, as well as every offering to spill from this seemingly disreputable development, dead in the water.
friday september 10 2010
It seems Julian Assange is about to be inducted into the club Ralph Nader and Scott Ritter joined many years ago. Some—not all—of the charges against Assange have been dropped, but what are the chances this whole thing is the opening move in a smear campaign? High chances, I’d say.
saturday august 21 2010
Not satisfied with ssl encryption and a no ip address logging policy, duck duck go is now running on a tor exit enclave. This is so the coolest search engine on the internet. Thank you very much Gabriel Weinberg :-)
tuesday august 17 2010
Is the Association of Chief Police Officers promoting fear with these two messages they had broadcast on UK national radio? It looks like that to me, even if the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn’t publicly say so in their adjudication on the matter. Check this out, straight from one of the broadcasts:
“The man at the end of the street doesn’t talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn’t have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route. This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential, Anti-Terrorist Hotline on *blah blah*. If you suspect it, report it.”
Well, that is a close enough description of… me :-O But my behaviour is not “anything suspicious”. And it certainly does not denote that I might be a Terrrist! If there is “anything suspicious” here, it’s the spreading by powerful people of misdoubt and anxiety, and the public promotion—not for the first time in the UK’s very recent past—of stasi like snooping.
wednesday august 11 2010
It’s easy to be sceptical of an individual who courts publicity through the big media corporations, but in the case of Julian Assange, it may be meet to make an exception; he does seem to be working hard to promote the public interest. I downloaded his insurance.aes256 file and hashed it thus:
$ sha1sum insurance.aes256
… but what is it
sunday august 01 2010
Did I ever wince reading the UK government’s apology for continuing to use IE6 on their computers. Yes, not just IE, it had to be IE6. The usual painful management speak followed up with the sort of excuses that can only be generated by people terrified of software. That web-page is promoting some severely stone-age computing practices. Update: thanks to plandreamer for the trollface IEcon. It’s actually an IE7/8 troll, but still, the image is too funny to resist!
friday july 30 2010
Democracy—to me, and to its inventors—is not when people vote for people: it’s when people vote for laws. That is why I think this looks a bit lame. Lots of vague talk about how the best submitted ideas will inform government policy. That is not democracy. You have a democracy when a randomly selected group (something like a jury) agrees a question that is then put to the people, whose answer immediately becomes the law of the land. In England we don’t have democracy; we only have the choice to be obedient. The late initiative from the government is welcome, but nowhere near enough.
2010 Pwn2Own contested nine days after Apple plugged over a dozen holes in Safari. It didn’t help them much; they still got savaged, as did Microsoft. The last two contests were bloody too, except for Linux users. This year Ubuntu was not attacked, an unwelcome step as far as I’m concerned.