Zen Internet review after 9 years

I've been using Zen Internet as my ISP for 9 years now and I always recommend them to people, so I thought it was about time I did a proper review of the broadband package I use.

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Brexit and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

The Brexit backstop

Whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, the issue of the Brexit backstop is surely puzzling. Neither the UK nor the EU want a hard border in Ireland. Yet for two parties who both want the same thing they’re doing an awful lot of arguing about it.

If neither the UK nor the EU is going to put a hard border up, who is? Is perhaps the Dominican Republic a bit bored with life and threatening to put a hard border in Ireland for a laugh?

Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson tops Forbes highest paid actors list again: ludicrous. The world’s gone mad. Again.

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The Tumblr acquisition

If you’ve been blogging for a while — or even just following blogs — you’ll most likely have come across Tumblr. For those of you who’ve never experienced Tumblr, it’s a microblogging, pseudo-social networking site that’s known for its outré content.

It was launched in February 2007 and had 75,000 users within a fortnight. In 2013, it was bought by Yahoo! Inc. for $1.1 billion and in 2017 Yahoo! Inc. was itself bought by Verizon Communications.

Tumblr has recently been sold to a company called Automattic who are best-known for their Wordpress, open-source blogging software and their upmarket Wordpress services via wordpress.com.

Automattic reportedly paid $3 million for Tumblr, which is a bit of a drop from the $1.1 billion it was once worth, but I believe it’s found a good home with Automattic as blogging is where their expertise lies.

Tumblr currently hosts some 475 million blogs and attracts 400 million visitors every month, so it’s a significant chunk of internet real estate.

I link to a recent article on The Verge that carries an interview about the Tumblr acquisition with Automattic’s CEO Matt Mullenweg. I found it interesting, anyway.

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Measuring cosmic distances

I was recently reading an article about the expansion of the universe and how recent data suggests the figures we've been using might not be quite correct. This led me to look at how we measure this expansion - and, more generically, how we measure any cosmic distance - and I thought I'd write an article about it.

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Protect your spuds from gulls

Of the things you need to know in life, this is a biggie. Anything that helps protect my consumption of the venerable potato is worthy of study.

Boffins at Exeter University have determined that herring gulls are more cautious about stealing your chips if they’re being watched. Alas they are career criminals and will most likely still steal them, but they’ll take 21 seconds longer on average to do so than those gulls that aren’t being watched.

As is typical of the criminal fraternity, a lot of them were uncooperative:

The scientists tried to test 74 gulls, but most would not participate.

Only 19 of them of them actively participated in the “looking at” and “looking away” test. I’d suggest they were just the lackeys and those higher up in the criminal network — the Godfeathers perhaps — avoided being linked to any crime.

The University of Exeter researchers said the study, conducted in coastal towns in Cornwall and published in the journal Biology Letters, shows how people might be able to reduce food-snatching by modifying their own behaviour.

Indeed, if I find myself in locomotion with a potato I now constantly crane my neck so I can lock eyes with these bewinged reprobates. This buys me 21 seconds to employ the “arm-over defence” as taught to me by Master Po during my stay at the Shaolin temple.

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Why do films get mental health so wrong?

The article I link to is specifically related to bipolar but the sentiment is true of film and TV representations of all mental health disorders.

The why, though, is easy.

People who don’t suffer from mental illness just don’t understand it. That’s true of most illnesses of course, mental or otherwise, but mental illness isn’t afforded the same respect as other illnesses. It just isn’t.

Despite all the science pointing to mental illness being a combination of biological, genetic and environmental causes, just like many other illnesses, you’re more likely to be blamed for your mental illness. Many people don’t see you as “ill” and assume you should just be able to think yourself better.

The short supply of empathy for these conditions is why so many sufferers find themselves living on the edges of society, either physically or emotionally.

Sadly such opinions are often prevalent even in medical circles, so it’s not surprising TV and film gets it wrong too.

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I am not a robot

I'm a bit fed up with 'robot tests' that websites ask me to pass before permitting me access. Half the time I simply don't bother and visit another website instead. Is there no better way to do this?

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How about a dozenal world?

I’ve always thought 12 was a good number. I slightly prefer six because it’s great with eggs. I can eat any number of eggs from the six and still maintain some sort of symmetry — or at least a pleasing pattern — with the eggs that remain in the box. Even removing one egg isn’t too bad, although it leaves the least pleasing remainder.

Twelve isn’t quite so good because removing one egg leaves things unbalanced, which is why I always have two boiled eggs for breakfast. But it’s still better than 10, which, as the BBC video shows, is often hard to divide up into useful parts.

If you’re in IT you’re probably used to working in bases different to ten, most notably hexadecimal and of course binary, but I like the idea of a dozenal base.

It’s just me that cares about the symmetry of eggs in a box isn’t it?

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This 5G nonsense

About ten years ago someone stole our telephone exchange and plunged the entire village I live in into a communications Stone Age.

Carrier pigeons were flung squawking into the air to pass important communiques. Carts were dusted off and tethered to reluctant horses. I think we had our first case of leprosy since 1798.

So, no landlines and no broadband. So use your mobile phones, I hear a bespectacled student shout from the back row.

Well, we can't. We have no mobile phone reception either. Actually that’s a bit of lie, you can sometimes get one bar of reception whilst you’re dialling a number but that will inevitably drop to no bars as soon as somebody answers.

When our telephone exchange was finally restored to working order I spoke to my mobile phone operator to vent my spleen about our lack of reception here, but they didn’t really care.

Instead we hear announcements of 3G, 4G and now 5G, sponsored by the Chinese Intelligence Service I'm led to believe. It irritates me to see these Gs incrementing like this when we’re effectively 0G for most of the time. People in the most populous boroughs of London might get 5G but what of the rest of us?

You may wag your finger and say that this is the price I pay for living in the countryside and by way of compensation I have sheep to look at, but surely it’s just a matter of a few more transmitter masts. I can’t believe they’re all that expensive in the grand scheme of things. They certainly don’t look expensive.

As it happens I now have a mobile phone plan that allows me to dial out through my wireless network but many operators don’t have such facilities.

And there’s still the matter of text messages. I would rather amputate my head than send a text message but banks keep trying to send login security codes to me via text message, and that’s just pointless. So now I just guess how much money I’ve got and hope for the best.

I suppose I have the opposite problem to those who live in civilisation. They’ll use their entire data allowance in 30 seconds with 5G, whereas I can’t use any of my data allowance no matter how hard I try.

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Ransom fees paid to hackers

I’ve recently noticed quite a few articles along the lines of the one I link to here, where organisations pay out ransom fees to hackers in order to recover their data.

Of course these are only the ones we hear about and I have no doubt many companies have paid off ransomware hackers in secret.

It is selfish to the extreme because you’re simply supplying funds that will help the hackers exploit other organisations.

I’d argue that the paying off of hackers ought to be illegal. In fact I thought it was already illegal to aid and abet a criminal.

It seems insurers are often at the root of these payouts:

The town's insurer was contacted by the hackers and negotiated ransom payment of 42 bitcoins, or roughly $500,000. Officials felt that paying the ransom was the most efficient way of regaining computer access.

This is very much a case of “I’m alright Jack” and they’re missing the bigger picture or, most likely, simply don’t care about it.

Kevin Beaumont, a cyber-security specialist, sums it up in the article:

Organisations are financing their attackers to be better than them - and sooner or later that situation may snowball for everybody else trying to defend their networks.

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Porn troll gets 14 years

I have been following the misfortunes of a US company called Prenda Law for some time now.

Basically, they were copyright trolls targeting people who downloaded porn. They’d send such people a demand for $3,000 in order to settle their copyright infringement case and avoid the embarrassment of having their porn proclivities exposed in court.

But Prenda Law thought they could maximise their profits if they uploaded the copyright infringing porn to pirate sites and file sharing networks in the first place, thus baiting people to download it.

Paul Hansmeier, the lawyer in charge of Prenda, was estimated to have made $3m from this scam in three years.

The courts however took a dim view of Prenda’s activities. The judge said:

It is almost incalculable how much your abuse of trust has harmed the administration of justice.

Whereupon she sentenced him to 14 years and told him to pay $1.5m back to the victims he’d scammed.

Hansmeier was rumbled many years ago but he has since been spouting all sorts of nonsense to various courts in order to try to evade justice, which didn’t help his case at all.

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Privacy policies are still far too long

Why are many sites' privacy policies so long? Laws have changed regarding online privacy recently (GDPR, for example) but I'm not sure your typical user is any better informed and I think complexity prevents many people from asserting their rights and options.

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Why do bats live so long?

No, that’s not the opening to a joke, bats really do live a long time.

Typically, a mammal’s longevity falls broadly in line with its mass. As mass increases, metabolism slows and lifespans get longer. We humans are a species that bucks the trend because we live considerably longer than mammals of similar or even greater mass than ourselves, but the formula holds in general.

There are 19 species of mammals that live longer than us relative to their body mass and 18 of those are bats.

So what gives? It turns out bats are very good at maintaining their chromosomes.

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Shuttlecocks, Hawking and what happened 'before' the universe.

Just yesterday I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about how the last two weeks seem to have flown by and my friend asked if there were ways we could slow time down a bit.

I suggested he could consider jumping into a black hole or accelerating himself to light speed and that the tools for these endeavours might be purchased cheaply via one of Amazon’s ‘Deals of the Day’.

Then an article pops up on Quanta Magazine that talks about the origins of time and the universe itself, particularly in relation to Hawking’s Shuttlecock Universe proposal.

When I look at what’s going on in the world I quite often have a downer on humanity in general and certain individuals specifically, but I think it’s astonishing that our thinking has advanced to the stage where we can consider the origins of an entire universe.

In their view, the only sensible contour is one that scans through real values (as opposed to imaginary values, which involve the square roots of negative numbers) for a variable called “lapse.” Lapse is essentially the height of each possible shuttlecock universe — the distance it takes to reach a certain diameter. Lacking a causal element, lapse is not quite our usual notion of time.

Get your head around that.

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OmniFocus 3 for macOS - tags make everything better

OmniFocus has been my task manager of choice for a number of years now and, with the release of OmniFocus 3 for macOS, I thought I'd jot down how I think things have improved.

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Galactic currency proposed

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have proposed a theoretical form of virtual money that, they claim, would be highly secure, fast to transfer, and could also enable financial transactions on galactic scale.

The article I link to is somewhat opaque but make of it what you will.

It’s proposing a new concept of money that …

… may also be thought of as something needed to get to a specific point in space-time, in response to data coming from multiple points (in space-time).

The interesting bit for me is that it uses a quantum encryption protocol (called BB84) to secure the transactions. What this basically means is that whilst it’s still possible to eavesdrop on the transaction, it’s impossible to do so and remain undetected. This is due to a property of quantum states called no-cloning and this cannot be cracked — ever — because it’s a physical law rather than an algorithm.

So if I want to transmit a secure key to you, we’d use BB84 and we’d know for definite if someone had eavesdropped on the transaction. If that happened we’d discard the keys, invalidate the transaction and try again.

But what I’d like to know is the exchange rate this currency is going to have with the Altairian Dollar. I’m led to believe a competent hitchhiker should be able to see the galaxy on less than thirty Altairian dollars a day.

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Why would anyone post a good blog on Facebook?

Or at least if they do, they should give it Public visibility so it can be linked to from outside of Facebook.

What rattled my cage was a post by Dave Winer on his Scripting News site, which always worth a read, incidentally.

Dave Winer says:

You know what pisses me off. A guy writing the best political blog out there, on Facebook. So after I read his piece and think “everyone should see this” I can't send the link outside of Facebook.

We have this incredible thing called the web and we don't use it.

Quite so.

Yes, I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Zuckerberg and his privacy-busting, pseudo-narcotic corporate silo, but I don’t understand why anyone with anything interesting to say would run their blog on Facebook.

Newspapers don’t just post on Facebook. The BBC doesn’t. Shops don’t. Even Facebook doesn’t (see their Newsroom and Media Blog). Why then should an individual do themselves such a disservice?

Facebook is meant for people who don’t have anything interesting to say to the rest of the world. That’s why it’s shielded behind a virtual barbed-wire fence away from the real web, so that we can keep all those photographs of people’s lunches out of sight.

I could rant on for some considerable time about this subject, but I won’t, just this once.

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