Archives for August 2006

Accept my EULA (or... turning the tables)

I think by now we're all pretty much aware of the idea of an End User License Agreement (EULA) for software. This is the means by which companies try to limit what rights we have with respect to software we pay them for. Setting out our rights in clear terms is a sound principle. The problems tend to occur where EULA's are unclear (either deliberately or otherwise) or EULA's are drafted by a party in a monopoly power position and thus unfair to one party.

Usually that party is us.

Pretty soon I'm hoping to have a version of PAOGAperson (our application for managing your life online) which will support publishing subsets of the information that is securely stored.

The idea is that you have your core identity that, over the years, will become very wide and deep as it covers all aspects of your life. At different times, and in different contexts, you're going to want to share subsets of this information. We're calling this ability persona's. Ultimately you will be able to create a range of them (business persona, family persona, patient persona, employer persona, job seeker persona, friend persona, public persona, deceased persona, etc...)

Now it occurred to me back when I was first scoping out this stuff that it was a great opportunity to turn the tables on businesses that have been exploiting us. Our persona's should come with an EULA that determines the rights those businesses have with respect to the data we are publishing (which might turn out to be no rights at all).

So for example I imagine at some point we'll have some kind of dialog when you come to publish a persona that will (if we don't already know) help us to understand your tolerance to risk, the context in which you are publishing the information, uses you want to permit, and then suggest one of a range of licenses to attach to the data and which will either be embedded in the data or which will have to be accepted by the information-consumer before they get their hands on your goodies.

As a jumping off point I've wondered about using the Creative Commons licenses. For example if I am creating a persona to publish my email address for friends and relatives then perhaps an Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives license would be appropriate?

I'd love to hear what people think of the idea of turning the tables and using an EULA to control the uses that can be made of your data and about using Creative Commons licenses in particular.

31/08/2006 21:03 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

How not to be a 2.0 dotBomb

Not sure where I got the link now but a good, flippant, guide to not bombing in Web2.0. I'm kind of keen that PAOGA don't bomb for obvious reasons. Here are the headlines:

  1. Have a revenue model
  2. Be a complete business not a feature
  3. Affect real people not just bloggers
  4. Get a real memorable name
  5. Don't intertwine your fate with Web2.0
  6. Get honest feedback
  7. Make sure your revolution really is coming
  8. Make sure your market can support you
  9. Don't expect to be (or be bought by) Google
  10. Have fun

Number #4 is a real thorn in my side. I've disliked the name PAOGA ever since I joined the company (which, a long time ago, used to be called ClearCurve). The company started as a B2B enabler so the acronym People Are Our Greatest Asset kind of made sense. For a company, you could argue, it's employees and customers that are the real asset (okay I don't like the word asset but I think the point is valid).

But around the start of the year we began changing direction. Recognizing that the individual is both the key to the relationship (moving from CRM to Supplier Relationship Management where the individual lives at the centre of his or her many relationships with suppliers) and the key to proving the marketplace we changed focus to support individuals in taking back control of their lives; Enabling them to manage their information and share it with whom they want, when they want, and - critically - to have an audit trail that lets them work out what's happened to their information.

But from this perspective the PAOGA name doesn't really make any kind of sense and we'd like to change it. But you try finding a new name that you can register as a domain... I've tried over 300 different domain names since June and not a single (good one) has been available.

Suggestions welcome!

31/08/2006 15:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Sexy hybrid

Via Lab Notes I read about the PML electric hybrid Super Mini:

All braking is performed by the wheel motors acting as very efficient electrical generators which return almost all of the energy back to the battery system.

Because the wheels are high performance motors, ABS comes as a standard function built into each wheel’s software. Now anti-skid can also be applied to acceleration since the motor can smoothly control torque delivery to/from the road in both cases.

Each wheel develops 160bhp - 640bhp in total. The original Mini One develops less than 100bhp with an engine that weighs nearly double the weight of the four electric wheels! Apart from wheel bearings there are no wearing parts in the electric wheels; this means the horsepower stays for the life of the vehicle - and beyond.

The great part is that the wheels and battery/generator assembly can be retrofitted into more or less any chassis so hopefully we'll see other adaptations soon. I could certainly see myself buying one of these (in a more financially stable future) in, say, an MX-5 body.

One thing I noted from the PML page is this disclaimer:

BMW (UK) Ltd has requested that we mention they have no involvement with this project and that such conversions invalidate warranty!

I think BMW should have seen the choice of a mini as a golden opportunity to support such innovation -- A hybrid car people might actually want to buy!

31/08/2006 10:42 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Thinking music

I'm spending a little time this evening thinking about how to be more creative. One of the things I turn to at such times is music and I think one of the loveliest pieces to accompany such thoughts is Erik Saties Gnossiennes.

29/08/2006 22:39 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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What's sauce for the goose

James Bovard has a modest suggestion in response to the US governments attempts to legitimize torture:

Because many in the administration and Congress feel strongly that coerced confessions constitute the "best practice" to get truth from people suspected of bad things, then, under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, American citizens should be permitted to use the same method to pry the truth out of their elected representatives.

One such method is waterboarding: strapping someone to a board and pushing him underwater to make him feel like he's drowning. Since then-CIA Director Porter Goss assured Congress last year that this was a "professional interrogation method," not torture, citizens should be permitted to bring splintery planks, leather straps and water tanks to expedite discussions with any member of Congress who continues to insist that things are going swimmingly for the U.S. military in Iraq.

I think it only fair that those of us who don't trust our elected representatives be allowed to employ the same methods in extracting the truth from them. After all, if these people will vote for such practices then it's only a matter of where you draw the line.

I'd certainly enjoy seeing Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Gordon Brown, and John Reid thoroughly questioned about the British governments activities in relation to U.S. Foreign policy.

Hooding and electrocution anybody?

29/08/2006 15:21 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Can't get enough of it...

...spam that is.

After a few years of having very little spam to speak of I find that, over the last month, the amounts I am getting has been steadily increasing. The last few days have been reall bad and I've seen, I would say, about 8-10x as much as would be normal. I can't tell if I'm receiving more or more is getting through, GMails filtering. The non-english stuff is particularly galling since there is absolutely no reason at all why I should see any of it.

29/08/2006 15:01 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Roots of coincidence

Taking it easy today, trying to combat my pervading sense of tiredness:

I spent little time with the 'ol PowerBook today and more time reading and napping. I have finally started Arthur Koestlers Roots of coincidence which I obtained, second hand, some time ago after reading V for Vendetta in which it is one of the books read by Albert Finch. V made a big impression on me.

I've read the first two chapters which are about the beginnings of parapsychology (scientific investigation into unusual phenomena such as ESP, clairvoyance, PK, and precognition) and modern physics and the relationship between the two.

As Nobel prize winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli puts it:

"The general problem of the relationship between mind and body, between the inward and the outward, cannot be said to have been solved by the concept of psycho-physical parallelism formulated in the last century. Modern science has perhaps brought us nearer to a more satisfactory understanding of this relationship, by introducing the concept of complementarity into physics itself. It would be the more satisfactory solution if mind and body could be interpreted as complementary aspects of the same reality."

or, to quote Sir James Jeans:

"Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine."

The book was written in 1972, the year of my birth. Through Chris I know a little of the recent history of parapsychology but was relatively ignorant of it's foundings and early history. Any suggestions of a work to read after "roots" warmly welcomed.

Oh, one thing which grabbed me from the early chapter was this quote from noted communications theorist Warren Weaver:

"I find this [ESP] a subject that is so intellectually uncomfortable as to be almost painful. I end by concluding that I cannot explain away Professor Rhine's evidence, and that I also cannot accept his interpretation."

Clearly a man who is no stranger to cognitive dissonance.

28/08/2006 17:07 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

No they don't

Verizon email information about 5,000 of their customers to 1,800 of their other customers. Here is their response:

Verizon Wireless takes the security, confidentiality and integrity of your personal information very seriously, and we deeply regret this error," the company said in the Thursday e-mail. It said that it has already implemented additional quality control procedures and process improvements to prevent a re-occurrence.

Do you believe them? I don't.

27/08/2006 21:01 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Life's better when you're in control

I've had a number of people asking me about what I'm doing and the product I'm involved with. Now that it's on the verge of reality (well... beta anyway) I feel happy to start talking. First off we've updated the long-neglected PAOGA website to try and reflect our real business. I know the design sucks but feedback on the content, whether we're starting to get the message across, is warmly welcomed!

In a nutshell what PAOGA seeks to do is give everyone who wants one a no lock-in, open standards based, "my eyes only" information silo of their own. Each of us can then decide whether we want to dish out our information, when, and to wohm.

This is a response to the many problems that afflict us with the rise of CRM and data mining. These were a reasonable response to the know your customer dilemma when they started all those years ago, but they have gotten out of hand. At a recent conference where Graham was speaking a Swiss researcher contradicted his assertion that our data is held, on average, on 700 databases to say their research put the number closer to 1,000! The situation is, for us as individuals, unmanagable today and getting worse by the second.

To have so much data about us so far beyond our knowledge or control is creating identity problems, life problems, whose consequences will be with us for years. Just ask the many people afflicted with identity theft and fraud. PAOGA's mission is to change the dynamic and put the individual back in the driving seat.

The idea is that if you have your own personal silo that you trust is totally under your control (and which you keep uptodate) that it will -- in time -- be cheaper and less risky for a company to come ask you directly than to try and harvest your data behind your back. In return you know what has been learned about you and by whom.

This seems a pretty clear win-win deal to us.

But it's a difficult world to change and we're a damn small company to change it. There are some companies that want to act ethically but business as a whole is very happy with the idea that it owns your data and can do what it likes with it. Only our voices in concert telling them that this is not how it's going to be will change the status quo.

We won't do it overnight and we won't do it completely. Some companies will not play ball, some people will not care. That's okay. The point is that the world we are shooting for will be qualitatively better for most of us that do and the companies that will.

Our vision is:

"under your control, with your consent, for your benefit."

In a previous post I flippantly quoted something Tim Kitchin said to me about Web3.0 being for the individuals (rather than companies or communities) but it's the truth. We think it describes the web that will emerge when we individuals are in control of our relationships with suppliers, employers, friends, and acquitances. Marc Canter and his company Broadband Mechanics are doing this from a social network perspective, we want to tackle the rest.

Here's an example of the kind of thing we want to enable:

You want to get a quote for home insurance. How much of your personal information do you need to give away?

What if you could just share an anonymous description of your home and your risk zone (the mapping from post code to actuarially evaluated risk) to a range of insurers. When offers come back that you are interested in you can selectively offer more information until you are ready to make a deal and reveal your identity with the winning vendor.

In this model some of your information (like your risk category) may be certified (by a trusted 3rd party) even if it's anonymous. The idea being that a company can trust your risk score (because it's certified) even if they don't know your address. The upshot is that you may have talked to 20 insurance companies but only the one you end up doing a deal with knows who you are. The other 19 don't have your name, address, telephone number, or email. They can't process you, spam you, or profit by selling your details on to god knows who.

There's a huge range of other opportunities here, things that can change the way we live as we move increasinly towards a dual physical/information existence. I'll talk more about those as we get further down the road, but if you let your imagination run free it's not hard to see where this might go.

Practically speaking we're at the beginning of this new journey and as much as we'd love to run we have to take baby steps for the moment. We don't want to take any risks with sensitive personal information and, frankly, the product interface and functionality isn't ready for the mass-market today. So we're making our beta a by-invitation event to begin with.

If you're a hardened data warrior, worried about invasion of your privacy, or interested in being in control of your information I invite you to come and sign-up for the beta. Alternatively if you've got a long train journey or rainy afternoon ahead of you, you might like to read our vision paper and see where all this leads.

We're updating the application weekly and it's been encouraging to see how quickly it's coming on. We hope to be able to open the doors to everyone quite soon.

Please let us know whether we've got something interesting (signing up for the beta is a good indicator) and where you'd like to see us take this.

27/08/2006 19:49 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Not until they build a shopping centre on the Moon

Michael S. Rozeff on manned moon landings and what they tell us about whether politicians make rational choices and why we shouldn't pay for them:

The manned moon shot, like the war on terror, is an example of the inferiority of the political allocation of resources. In their choices of projects, political leaders do not seem to display a high degree of rationality, or at least their rationality seems distinctly below what common sense or even a small amount of thought might produce. The reason for this is that they have power to implement what they think is right or want without having personally to face the full measure of the consequences. They do not directly face the market test, which is this: Will consumers fork over their hard-earned money for the product? Politicians have a higher chance of implementing hare-brained schemes based on false theories. And if they can con the public, the degree of rationality falls even more steeply.

Fat government contracts to build stuff (think NHS IT or the identity card infrastructure) steal money from all of us (through taxation) and funnels it to friends of the party de jour.

If we thought these things were worth while then enough of us would hand over the cash ourselves to buy whatever product or service was the outcome. Wanna buy a manned space mission? Then go talk to Virgin Galactic.

Wanna buy an identity card?

Not at that price.
Not from you.

Wanna buy a war on terror?

Not at any price.
Certainly not from you.

Give me back the money and I'll decide on the priorities thank you.

26/08/2006 10:31 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

A melange of absurdities

Perhaps Bush's bizarre summer reading, according to his press office, of Camus's The Stranger, is responsible for his melange of absurdities, appeal to existential threat, and erratic point of view, veering from aggressor to passive observer. Would a staff aide have the audacity to suggest that he read Strategy, BH Liddell Hart's military classic? "Self-exhaustion in war," writes Hart, "has killed more states than any foreign assailant." It was a lesson in restraint the father understood when he stopped short of Baghdad. -- Sidney Blumenthal writes for the Guardian

I couldn't resist such a phrase :)

25/08/2006 15:46 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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The Rozeff Archives

I think Michael S. Rozeff is my favourite libertarian writer of the moment. Time after time I find his pieces laden with balance, insight, and good sense.

25/08/2006 15:40 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Resize your text widgets

From fearoffish comes news of a neat bookmarket for resizing text areas in any web app. In my blogging tool, Squib, I never got around to implementing resizing for the editing area... now I don't have to and it's great.

One thing to note, getting the resizing cursor can be a bit tricky. Tricky enough that, to begin with, I didn't think the bookmarklet was working in Safari. I sort of had to twiddle the mouse around the upper right hand edge of the textarea frame to get the cursor to appear.

Highly recommended for all those apps with stupid little text areas!

25/08/2006 11:18 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Dissonant voices

Chris has written a nice piece on our old friend cognitive dissonance although you can get a decent overview from Wikipedia as we would expect from Chris his piece is augmented with interesting experiments and tidbits from the history of science:

When facing a black four of hearts, people would see it either as a four of spades or as a perfectly normal red four of hearts – their expectations about what a four of hearts should look like dictated what they actually saw. As the display times lengthened, people did eventually begin to notice that something was amiss, but they could not determine what was wrong.

Quotes from the transcripts are particularly revealing. One person, gazing at a red six of spades, responded: “That’s the six of spades, but there’s something wrong with it – the black spade has a red border.” Lengthening the display time increased the confusion and hesitation experienced. One exasperated participant reported: “I can’t make the suit out, whatever it is. It didn’t even look like a card that time. I don’t know what colour it is now or whether it’s a spade or a heart. I’m not even sure what a spade looks like. My God!”

I used to keep a poster on my wall saying "What has cognitive dissonance done for you today?" But it didn't help me much because the trigger was never in the right place when I needed it.

In the future, when a functional MRI scanner can be fit nearly into a hat, maybe we'll all wear dissonance detectors that beep when we fall into such patterns of thinking. I'm not sure if that means we'll all live better lives or go mad from how much dissonance we live with daily. Until then all we can do is hope that our friends (and our enemies) help us avoid the trap.

25/08/2006 10:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Who should you trust?

Interesting. Reading Gladwell (he of tipping point fame) this morning I came across this nugget:

One of the predictable responses to this is that this is the idea behind Social Security is--and look at the problem that program is in. I have to say, though, that what reading I have done into the Social Security issue hasn't convinced me that the program is in all that much trouble--that is, with a number of not entirely painless (but not debilitating) adjustments now, we can avoid a lot of the trouble down the line. Put it this way: would you rather, as a retiree, put your faith in the federal government or General Motors?

Repeated a little further on:

But I'd still rather take my chances with the feds than with GM.

Hrmm... Who should you put your faith in... the feds or a big corporation? Sounds like one of Hobsons choice's to me.

My answer is "neither". Put your faith where it belongs, in yourself. Realise that your government and your employer don't care about your long-term welfare and plan to manage your own future.

I say this as someone who isn't walking the talk (I'm using the alternative plan to work until you drop dead system at the moment) but knows that he should.

We turn to the government out of fear. Fear that when we're at our most vulnerable we'll be left pennyless and unable to turn the gas on in winter. But isn't that where a lot of pensioners living on state benefits are today?

We should build for our own retirement. If the government didn't steal so much of the fruits of our labours and waste it on foreign wars and other self-aggrandizement this would be much easier to do.

I'm surprised and not a little disappointed at a man like Gladwell falling so easily into the statist trap.

25/08/2006 09:40 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

No safer today

A very interesting interview with Michael Scheuer who, until he resigned in 2004, was a 22-year veteran with the CIA, he answers six questions:

  1. We're coming up on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Is the country safer or more vulnerable to terrorism?
  2. Is Al Qaeda stronger or weaker than it was five years ago?
  3. Given all this, why hasn't there been an attack on the United States for the past five years?
  4. Has the war in Iraq helped or hurt in the fight against terrorism?
  5. Things seemed to have turned for the worse in Afghanistan too. What's your take on the situation there?
  6. Has the war in Lebanon also been a plus for the jihadists?

His answers seem credible to me and damning for our foreign policy decisions (by our I generally mean US decisions but the UK seems destiny to slavishly follow suit, hence: our). I think his answer to the supplementary question "What should we do now?" is worth quoting in it's entirety:

This may be a country bumpkin approach, but the truth is the best place to start. We need to acknowledge that we are at war, not because of who we are, but because of what we do [Ed: my emphasis]. We are confronting a jihad that is inspired by the tangible and visible impact of our policies. People are willing to die for that, and we're not going to win by killing them off one by one. We have a dozen years of reliable polling in the Middle East, and it shows overwhelming hostility to our policies—and at the same time it shows majorities that admire the way we live, our ability to feed and clothe our children and find work. We need to tell the truth to set the stage for a discussion of our foreign policy.

At the core of the debate is oil. As long as we and our allies are dependent on Gulf oil, we can't do anything about the perception that we support Arab tyranny—the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, and other regimes in the region. Without the problem of oil, who cares who rules Saudi Arabia? If we solved the oil problem, we could back away from the contradiction of being democracy promoters and tyranny protectors. We should have started on this back in 1973, at the time of the first Arab oil embargo, but we've never moved away from our dependence. As it stands, we are going to have to fight wars if anything endangers the oil supply in the Middle East.

What you want with foreign policy is options. Right now we don't have options because our economy and our allies' economies are dependent on Middle East oil. What benefit do we get by letting China commit genocide-by-inundation by moving thousands and thousands of Han Chinese to overcome the dominance of Muslim Uighurs? What do we get out of supporting Putin in Chechnya? He may need to do it to maintain his country, but we don't need to support what looks like a rape, pillage, and kill campaign against Muslims. The other area is Israel and Palestine. We're not going to abandon the Israelis but we need to reestablish the relationship so it looks like we're the great power and they're our ally, and not the other way around. We need to create a situation where moderate Muslims can express support for the United States without being laughed off the block.

There is a risk, I guess, that you listen to the "experts" who support your cause and denounce those who don't. I acknowledge that. But those people seem most credible to me who acknowledge that, in a Newtonian sense, there is no reaction without action. I believe it is our actions abroad that lead us down the path we are on and things are getting consistently worse. To believe that they will get better by continuing to do the same things seems like folly to me.

24/08/2006 14:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

From dubious to criminal

I haven't really reacted to all the recent activity to do with bomb plots to blow up plains bound for the US using drain cleaner and hair dye. I found the whole thing far too depressing since it had all the makings of a classic scare ploy. Nothing I've read about it since leads me to think otherwise and two items in this mornings links seem to hold the key:

1) The plot wasn't feasible

After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.

The genius of this scheme is that TATP is relatively easy to detonate. But you must make enough of it to crash the plane, and you must make it with care to assure potency. One needs quality stuff to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," as Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson put it. While it's true that a slapdash concoction will explode, it's unlikely to do more than blow out a few windows. At best, an infidel or two might be killed by the blast, and one or two others by flying debris as the cabin suddenly depressurizes, but that's about all you're likely to manage under the most favorable conditions possible.

We believe this because a peer-reviewed 2004 study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) entitled "Decomposition of Triacetone Triperoxide is an Entropic Explosion" tells us that the explosive force of TATP comes from the sudden decomposition of a solid into gasses. There's no rapid oxidizing of fuel, as there is with many other explosives: rather, the substance changes state suddenly through an entropic process, and quickly releases a respectable amount of energy when it does. (Thus the lack of ingredients typically associated with explosives makes TATP, a white crystalline powder resembling sugar, difficult to detect with conventional bomb sniffing gear.)

2) The backstory and sources aren't credible. Compared to the thuggish John Reid I find Craig Murray far more convincing:

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.

The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.

So we have:

  • one rather incredible story about blowing up planes
  • suspects but far from terrorists arrested at Heathrow Terminal 4
  • a government waging a brutual spin war on it's citizens
  • a media who will say anything
  • a raft of "experts" who will corroborate anything

This seems to me a more depressingly lethal coctail than a little hair dye, drain cleaner, and paint thinner.

24/08/2006 09:25 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Ant Colony Optimization

Interesting article from Dr. Dobbs journal about a technique called Ant Colony Optimization. ACO Is an example of how agents with simple behaviours (individual ants know only how to select paths based upon pheromone trails, and how to deposit pheromone along trails they visit) can evolve solutions to complex problems (the problem in the article is that notorious travelling salesman). Individual ants don't communicate directly but co-operate, in a simplified sense, by the use and laying down of pheromone trails. These trails are used to guide selection of routes in the TSP problem. The supplied source code builds easily on MacOSX and turns in a solution within 10% of the optimal solution in under a second.

24/08/2006 08:20 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Space to think

Lilia writes:

Some time back Aldo wrote about thinking locations - places where you can get away from the pressures of thr urgent to think your big deep thoughts - I was thinking of it while I enjoyed work and fun here in Umea.

The social component is very important, and perhaps one of the unique aspect of such a Deep Thought-network: thinkers need on the one hand to be able to concentrate, focus, and withdraw from the world. On the other hand, they very much need to be able to talk with kindred spirits, preferably people working on their own creative projects.

I'd really like to find a thinking community to call my own.

22/08/2006 10:05 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Be your own Bill Gates

Anu Gupta's post on Kiva was very timely. A little while ago I wrote about why I thought the government should get the hell out of the aid business and let us support the causes we thought worthwhile with our own money.

I've signed up and put $25 into four businesses. That comes to about £50 at todays exchange rate. Not a vast amount but a significant sum in the context of my present (and seemingly inevitable) finances. I figure I will try and do this at least once a quarter.

I tried to pick businesses which look stable and community enhancing. My hope is that the money I provide will help enhance the community and help them to develop more wealth themselves. Any money returned (I have already written it off, seemed like the best mental approach) will be reinvested into other businesses.

I'd still like the government to stop stealing money from me and giving it to buddha knows who.

22/08/2006 09:54 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Back from holiday

A week away was just enough time to realise how tired I have become and to get the perspective that continuing as I am will only compound the problem. It was also a good opportunity to think about a lot of things that just haven't been able to find space in my brain. It's time for some changes.

22/08/2006 09:45 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Going offlyme

It's been a hectic time for me since Christmas and, although I know it's August, I find it hard to think that it's been more than 6 months since I had any real time off so I'm taking a break next week, leaving the laptop at home, and spending a few days in Lyme Regis.

Just me, my camera, and some of the 60+ books I've got piled up waiting for me to read them!

See you in a week.

13/08/2006 12:10 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Interview with David Tebbutt

As Graham notes we spent the Friday afternoon with David Tebbutt talking what why the work we're doing at PAOGA is important.

I was particularly gratified that an old hand like David -- someone who has heard it all before -- didn't sneer at a small company like us for having such large ambitions; Instead we got onto the issues and, looking forward, the consequences of success. David's already blogged an interesting high-level view from an information professionals perspective for Information World Review readers.

It won't happen overnight, but expect companies like PAOGA to securely centralise personal information on our behalf, and put us in control of who sees it. This promises to transform our personal lives and introduce higher levels of trust into our business activities.

The meeting was doubly important for me because this was the first time I've been on the record. I write a blog and I talk to lots of people who could report what I say; This is not the same as being opposite a journalist who asks you searching questions and if your answers aren't good, well, then that's the story!

It's was a tense experience but it was also a lot of fun. David was good company and, although he asked lots of questions, it didn't feel like an inquisition. At the end I was surprised to find we'd been talking for two and a half hours.

I hope we gave a good account of ourselves and I'm looking forward to doing more of this in the future.

12/08/2006 12:39 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Do rainclouds have warning signs?

Ze's branching out.

12/08/2006 12:04 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

I'll certainly be recommending him to my friends

Today I had another example of how dysfunctional our semi-socialist health care system is: I visited my doctor.

What's wrong with me is that I have a tacky throat and a bad taste in my mouth. I've had it for about a week (at least it's been bothering me that long). Today is worse in that it feels like something is trickling down the back of my throat accompanied by a slight (I emphasise the slight) sickly feeling.

The doctor was pretty much completely uninterested in my symptoms checking quickly to make sure I didn't have swollen glands, spots, or a temperature. At this point - bereft of an opportunity to prescribe me an antibiotic - he declared his interest in the matter closed and offered me a referral to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

What choice did I have but to agree? And because I don't have private medical insurance I will be waiting for a month or more (although if it gets worse - by which I assume he means that I develop an infection he can treat with antiobiotics - I can come back).

I tried to engage the doctor in a discussion of my symptoms and possible causes but he was unmoved. When I suggested I couldn't be the first person to arrive in a doctors surgery with a sticky throat and bad taste in my mouth he said I was the first he'd come across. But this didn't provoke any interest. For him there was no mystery to solve and he obviously felt he'd discharged his duty in referring me on.

Now this is not the worst encounter I've had with a doctor. But it was unsatisfactory and, as I left, I made a mental note to ask for a different doctor next time. I also mused that I would certainly have been unhappy paying for such a consultation.

But then I didn't pay him. He got paid by someone else: central government, the local health authority, the trust, I don't know. But someone paid him for that experience (I wonder how much?) But whoever paid him has no idea of the outcome for me -- why don't they want to know if I was satisfied and thought he was doing a good job?

What's wrong with this picture is that the delivery of the service has been disconnected from me the customer using it. It's like people who have to fly a lot for work but their tickets are bought by a procurement officer who doesn't care if the journey is crap so long as it's cheap.

The system is also screwed up in that I can't take my business elsewhere. I have to go to the doctors for my area. So my doctors practice, good or bad, is granted a monopoly on delivery of doctoring to the people who live near me.

What's wrong with this picture? I think it's that doctors have a virtual monopoly on their practice and are paid irrespective of the service they deliver to their clients. I won't accept that for gardening, getting my car fixed, or buying a computer. Why the hell should I accept it for something as serious as my health?

Beyond that it can't be good for the doctor: If my doctor is great I can't recommend him to my friends. My friends can't go to his practice. His practice and his wallet can't swell because of the great job he's doing. He can't bring in new people, train them in his methods and expand.

On the other hand if my doctor offers poor service I can bad-mouth him to my friends but, ultimately, I have no sanction. It's not like I can just drop in at the practice up the road and take my money to them. I wouldn't be welcome since I'm not on their list. Worse yet, if my doctor takes a dislike to me he can get me struck off his list. Then where the hell am I?

I think the solution lies in taking the money out of the hands of the central planners and putting it where it belong: in the hands of the patient. Good doctors will thrive and grow their practices, bad doctors can find another career.

You may argue that this means that there will be competition for the good doctors and their prices will go up. Well, in the short term yes. But right now the situation is that if you get a crap doctor you're stuck. Is that better? Or fairer? At least in the market if good doctors command a premium there is an incentive there for more to get trained and join in.

I'm still evolving my thinking around this area. But I'm convinced this system needs to change.

Update: Andy took one look at my description and suggested it might be post-nasal drip. Certainly it sounds close and I was without my antihystamines last week because I didn't get the prescription filled in time. I mentioned the antihystamines to my GP but he wasn't interested.

Andy also made the point that the GP is probably tired, he's likely overworked, under-appreciated and in the system he's in, similar to HMO, just figure out what specialist he can send you to.

That's an excuse that gets trotted out a lot for underperforming doctors. I can certainly forgive the doctor but I can't forgive the system that lets a doctor who is unable to treat the patient keep on racking up his numbers.

I mean do you really have to be "Chairman, Department of Surgery" to come up with post-nasal drip as a suggestion?

My current plan is to get back into my antihystamine regime and try to avoid dry environments and see if it clears itself up. Oh and chew a lot of gum!

Update#2: And if we want to consider the economics of the thing, how much will my consult with an ENT specialist cost the NHS? If we assume that his first reaction will be post-nasal drip (which could have been ruled out before I saw him) then I just wasted a consult and maybe held up someone with a more serious complaint.

11/08/2006 00:03 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

One hundred fabuloso days

Just caught up with Ze Frank The Show #100. I've been a fan ever since I first saw Ze's approach to handling tricky email replies. He's one of the most intelligent and entertaining people on the web.

09/08/2006 16:34 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Ceasefire now!

I have little faith in political leaders or the processes they wrap themselves in. I have little faith that a UN force will change anything in Lebanon. Nevertheless I am happy to support a cause that seeks to reduce mass human suffering. I just signed a petition to the leaders of the warring parties and their supporters asking for a ceasefire. I was signature number 90,233 the target is 150,000. I'd encourage you to read the petition and sign it.

09/08/2006 11:19 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Soup for the soul

Terry reminded me this evening not to take everything so seriously. One function the blog serves is to be my online bile-duct and pressure-release valve so I guess if it's getting hot on here it's helping me stay cool. Anyway to change pace...

A week ago I went back on Weight Watchers to try and get my weight back under control. After success a couple of years ago (where I went from 82 to 70 kilos over about 6-7 months) I have reached the heady heights of 86kg recently and I didn't like where it was going.

I really want to do the Shangri-La diet. I have the book and the theory seems to hold enough water that it's worth trying. However in practice I have found it very difficult to do. 400kcal of sugar is a lot when you try to dissolve it in water and putting an hour of nothing either side of that. Well I've found it a challenge.

On the other hand Weight Watchers (by which I mean I count points, I don't go to the meetings) fits me quite well. I've already managed to curb the uptick in my weight and with the exercise I'm getting from the bike think I should be able to bring my weight down to a more reasonable level and trim my body fat in 6 months or less.

However to keep to a reasonably low point count (I am starting at 28 points per day, I usually get down to about 24-25 when I have it going full-tilt) requires staple foods that are very low in points because I do enjoy snacking.

Soup is great for this. It's hearty, it's packed full of vegetables (well veg soup is anyway), and there's practically nothing bad about it from a Weight Watchers perspective. The brocolli & stilton pasta I had for lunch is, I guess, around 10-12 points. A large bowl of soup (with a hunk of bread - essential) about 6 points. You can see why soup works so well.

Tonights soup is a first in that I used two roasted butternut squash. I've never cooked with squashes before so I've no idea how it will turn out but it already smells great.

Tonights recipe:

  • Cut squashes into chunks
  • Lightly coat in oil and roast for 60mins (Gas Mark 6)
  • Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup vat
  • Sautee 3 large onions, as many carrots as you can find, 2 chillis, and a bell pepper
  • Blanche a load of french beans then chop and add to the vat
  • Sprinkle with parsley
  • Add a huge amount of courgette lightly peeled and roughly chopped
  • Add 4 pints of vegetable stock
  • Peel skins off roasted squashes and add
  • Add salt, pepper, and pepper balsemic sauce
  • Add 500g potatoes
  • Add any left over vegetables from the fridge
  • Simmer until it's good and done

Oh and here is the point tracking chart I created in case anyone else wants to have a go. It's my first attempt to use Adobe Illustrator and I don't think it came out too bad. The design is (I think) original although I was influenced by looking at some of the beautiful forms designed by David Seah. Comparing our efforts I don't think David has anything to be worried about ;-)

08/08/2006 23:22 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Psycho killers, qu'est que c'est

Who knew the Talking Heads were fortune tellers?

I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax
I can't sleep cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me I'm a real live wire

Via Chris Floyd I learned about a Harris poll published July 21th that:

..found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents — up from 36 percent last year — said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.

this depsite:

The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

When combined with Butler Shafers analysis of the psychology of American nuclear sabre-rattling it paints a frightening picture of a country that cannot face itself in the mirror. You can almost hear the wheels spinning trying to justify it all:

Iraq just had to have WMD to justify all the horrifying murders, torture, suppression and corruption that we've allowed our shrub of a president and his gangster friends to get away with. They just had to...

The rather more terrifying thought is that this makes it even more likely that America, sick with neoconservative venom, will sleepwalk fitfully into further disasters in Iran and Syria.

But what I just can't understand is what in the name of hellfire we are doing in the same damned handbasket with them!!

I despair!

08/08/2006 09:04 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

I am who I say I am, except when I'm not!

Graham is talking about what our identity is and why managing it right creates a raft of opportunities for the individual as well as being good business:

Now ‘you are who you think you are’ - what you are, what you have and what you know has even more value. It is up-to-date, complete and, with your consent, available to appropriate organisations who can respond with relevant information and services to meet your requirements ‘to your benefit’. Your accurate information is your asset. It has value whether divulged anonymously or attributed, as an individual or as an aggregated database, for single use or continual access. Organisations will pay you for your permission to access this valuable information ‘under your control, with your consent, for your benefit’.

We know our identity has value. It's why companies are prepared to spend billions annually to find out as much as they can about us and data-mine the hell out of it.

Why aren't we getting in on that?

If a company can get up-to-the minute, accurate, data from us then isn't that good business for them? And if they're prepared to cut us a good deal because they don't have to go hunting for this information, isn't that good business for us?

There is a brave new world on the horizon where we will have a new relationship with companies that we trust and want to deal with. This new world will be defined by our controlling how much of our identity we want to expose and to whom, by the usage license our data is wrapped in (I anticipate creative commons style licenses for my personal data), and bywhat we expect in return.

I call this new world: Web3.0. As Tim Kitchin said in conversation:

Web 1.0 was about the companies. Web 2.0 is about communities. Web 3.0 will be about me!

07/08/2006 16:58 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Survey of MacBook & MacBook Pro problems & reliability

MacInTouch has done a fascinating survey of Apple's latest portable hardware lines -- via Tao of Mac

The "average" laptop in our survey had a roughly 13% chance of requiring some sort of repair. We can't compare this directly with past PowerBook and iBook reliability, because these MacBooks are too new. But the MacBooks and 15" MacBook Pro laptops do exhibit their own characteristic flaws. Apple seems to be addressing most problems, but is stonewalling on the heat issue, which may vary from one computer to another, perhaps due to manufacturing variances.

Owner satisfaction is remarkably high across the board. "Satisfied", "Pleased" and "Very happy" combined were 87% for all MacBook models, with a standard deviation of just 2.4% – eg, very consistent. Since issues such as noise and heat appeared in nearly 40% of models, we're amazed at how satisfied owners are.

Based on what we've seen in this survey, we'd be cautious buying a white or black MacBook until Apple more effectively addresses the heat, noise and trackpad button issues. We'd be reasonably confident buying a brand new 15" MacBook Pro, but keep an eye out for sleep and shutdown problems, and call AppleCare the moment they appear. We would have no hesitation at all buying the 17" MacBook Pro, with or without glossy display.

07/08/2006 13:48 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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A libertarian reader

N. Stephen Kinsella's top Libertarian books.

07/08/2006 12:29 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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The dark side of nuclear weapons

The ever insightful Butler Shafer writing about the nuclear racket:

It is interesting to observe the Bush administration’s self-righteous posturing over the question of whether Iran is – or should be prevented from – developing a nuclear weapons system. Coming from a country that holds some ten to twelve thousand of such weapons in its quiver, American appeals to the dangers of nuclear proliferation seem hypocritical and self-serving. On the other hand, allowing only the charter members of the nuclear club in on the racket does have the same purpose, at the international level, that gun-control laws serve domestically: to disarm those the empire wishes to control with the threat of superiority in weaponry.

Shafer constructs an argument along the lines that American society, naive and unable to deal with how it's government operates, projects it's fears about it's own behaviour onto others. From Wikipedia:

According to the theories of Sigmund Freud, projection is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one "projects" one's own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, feelings—basically parts of oneself—onto someone else (usually another person, but psychological projection onto animals, inanimate objects - even religious constructs - also occurs). The principle of projection is well-established in psychology.

What are they afraid of? Shafer again:

I recall a 1980s-era television talk show featuring Phil Donahue and a Soviet journalist, Vladimir Posner. On one program, a discussion of nuclear weaponry ensued; and Donahue was troubled by the fear, apparently expressed by many Russians, that the United States might use such weapons. “But what would make the Russian people think that Americans would do such a thing?” Donahue queried. “Because you’re the only country in history that has done so,” replied Posner.

...

Is it unreasonable to suppose that the basis for the “dark side” fears – and, perhaps the guilt – emanating from the monstrously destructive research of the Manhattan Project, and being continued today by the same American state, are being projected onto the likes of Iraq and Iran? Might the baseless fear that “they” have “weapons of mass destruction” operate as a psychological cover for the fact that the United States has been both the creator and exporter of such horrendous weaponry? Are Americans to take comfort in slaughtering the innocent civilians of other countries as a way of relieving themselves of the sense of guilt that their nation – with which they identify – was the one to have created and employed the Frankenstein against which they now rail?

I am no more afraid of a nuclear Iranian state than I am of the present American administration. If anything I think the neoconservatives are more likely to actually use nuclear weapons. Shafers whole article is well worth reading.

07/08/2006 12:15 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Making word salad

This stuff may be of no use to anyone but me however reading about Google releasing a huge amount of ngram data reminded me it might be worth posting about.

In my spare time I am doing a little messing about with word structures and names. To help me I've created a couple of libraries which I have put on RubyForge. The first is a small library I call strsyntax which extract the syntax structure of a string in terms of consonant and vowel groups.

The groups I have used (based somewhat arbitrarily upon Chris' work on the alien languages in Outlands) are: CVC, VCV, CV, VC, and of course C and V. Some examples:

Irulan:~ matt$ strsyntax ruby
[[:cvc, "rub"], [:c, "y"]]

Irulan:~ matt$ strsyntax programming
[[:c, "p"], [:cvc, "rog"], [:cvc, "ram"], [:cvc, "min"], [:c, "g"]]

The library attempts to maximize the use of longer groups to preserve as much "structure" as possible.

The second and larger library, ngrams, parses a corpus to determine the frequency of letter groups called ngrams. It determines the frequency of occurence of individual letters (ngrams of length 1), bigrams (ngrams of length 2), and trigrams (ngrams of length 3). It also splits these into starting ngrams and anywhere ngrams. In a version not yet released ngrams are also codified according to their syntax so a trigram fel would also be codified as CVC.

The gem version comes with a precreated Ngram::Dictionary generated from the MacOSX standard dictionary file /usr/share/dict/words although any file structured a word per line can be used to create a new dictionary using the supplied ngramtool. The dictionary is indexed for fast access according to whether you are looking for ngrams length 1, 2, or 3, in starting or anywhere position, and with a given syntax. It also has a helper method #word to generate a random word of arbitrary length.

As a sample application of what it can do the gem installs a command-line tool called genpasswd which generates randomized pronounceable passwords ala Tom Van Vlecks GPW tool, e.g.

Irulan:~ matt$ genpasswd -n 8
pisterma
vompogra
fraspinu
reampter
loblowea
wilessin
viriogis
trationa

genpasswd fixes one outstanding problem with GPW in that it correctly distinguishes between trigrams that appear at the beginning of words and those which only appear later. It works by generating a starting trigram and then doing a random walk finding following letters based upon frequency analysis.

The genpasswd tool is just an example of using an Ngram::Dictionary to generate random bigrams and trigrams. In my real case I combine ngram and strsyntax with a genetic algorithm (and in some variants a neural network) to try and evolve interesting words.

The principle is that I can generate a random word using english trigrams, e.g. busion, see it's structure [[:cv, "bu"], [:cv, "si"], [:vc, "on"]], evaluate it ("gee busion sounds like a neat word" || w >= threshold) then use GA manipulations (crossover and mutation) on it using syntactic units as the alleles.

There is a method to my madness but I'm not ready to share it just yet.

05/08/2006 22:10 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Astounding Rails

I wouldn't have believed it possible. The Ruby on Rails community has ponied up over $13,000 in a single day to support improving the Rails documentation.

This tells you something about how real the Rails business is right now. Nobody is forking over cold hard cash for this unless they are making a decent living at it. That there's more than $13k lying around to spend on documentation is a very healthy sign for anyone contemplating developing with Ruby and Rails. That people will give it says something quite positive about the Ruby community.

05/08/2006 20:51 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Start your toddlers with Emacs

I'm beginning to come around to the Emacs argument which runs something like this:

You should know an editor that is available on every platform.
You should know an editor that can be extended in any conceivable way.

Since the Brief days on DOS I've never really had _an_ editor. On Windows I ended up using whatever the editor was in the IDE I was using. QuickC, Visual Studio, Visual Cafe, IntelliJ, and so on.

When I switched to the Mac I quickly fell in love with TextMate which is very functional, very nice Cocoa application. TextMate is very 80/20 focused and nice to work with and fits well with a language like Ruby that is script-based and doesn't seem to gain the benefits from an IDE available to static languages such as C# and Java.

However when I wanted to experiment with Lisp and, more recently, Prolog though I find I hit limitations principally around TextMate's inability to drive and communicate with a running interpreter (one could extend this argument to Ruby as well I guess). Emacs+SLIME for example allows one to create an interpreter within an editor buffer, execute code in it, interact with it and so on.

So I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that I have to make a concerted effort to wean myself away from TextMate, lovely though it is, and try to learn Emacs instead. And I am beginning to think I should have started learning it a long time ago. In the same way as languages we acquire after our teenage years tend to be acquired less easily and less fluently, learning Emacs at 34 feels exceptionally hard and I wonder if I will ever feel like a fluent native...

So my advice, if you don't want your kids to edit like foreigners, is to get your toddlers using Emacs today!

05/08/2006 20:19 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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100 ways to turn your customer against you #53

So I got a text from Orange today telling me how important they thought my views were and asking me to call 244 on my phone. Orange customer service has, IMO, been in terminal decline since France Telecom took over and Hans Snook departed. I didn't expect much from this call and, from the outset, I knew I was right not to do so.

As an aside I loathe and despise the Orange IVR and it's smug, Radio 4 announcer, female voice. Even as they insult your intelligence, waste your time with vapid announcements, or just plain fuck you over you can be sure it will be done in smooth, unruffled, tones. I hate's it I tell ya.

So I was not best pleased when, instead of being interviewed by someone from an independent 3rd research company about how I feel about Orange, I was greeted by the IVR which, after giving me it's meely mouthed spiel presented me with a range of opportunities to tell Orange about my recent experience with Orange CS:

If you think Orange is fantastic, Press #1!
If you think Orange is great, Press #2!!
Or, to be abruptly disconnected, Press #3!!!

Okay, I'm paraphrasing. But I'm afraid it doesn't work that way Orange.

If Orange had the least interest in what I really think they would ask me not give me a nice series of slots they want me to fit myself into. Providing your phone works Orange seem no worse than any other provider... but if you ever need them to do anything for you they are appalling. Orange are to customer service what the cheap polyester shirt is to sartorial elegance. For this reason it's probably better if Orange don't have to talk to any of it's customers and hear what they think of them.

If I had a sense that any of the mobile operators were qualitatively better than Orange I'd switch in a heart-beat. Over the last 6 years they have worn down any sense of loyalty I had to their brand (which was quite high in 2000) and these days I could care less what happens to Orange who do not understand the meaning of the word "service."

03/08/2006 10:59 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

One of the great things about the bike...

..is that I can go to dinner about 4 miles away and not worry about drinking a pleasing amount of Pinot Grigiot over dinner with friends. I cycled back and, if I was a little wobblier than I was on the journey over that's probably as much to do with the complaining of my knees (whiners!) about cycling up Harvest Hill on the way over. But even with that it was all rather enjoyable and now the bike has been setup properly I'm really getting into it. Alas that probably means buying more gadgets...

Something else that's amazing me about being on the bike is how little I obviously observe when I am in the car. I've been driving in to Bray Village semi-regularly for 18 months now and I never even noticed they had a church let alone observe that's very pretty and well kept. Biking past it this evening I was tempted to think it had been airlifted in over the weekend!

In short, bikes are cool :-)

01/08/2006 23:33 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Et tu Technorati?

Google has been at war with my blog since about last November. Today Technorati seems to have opened a second front against me by now claiming that no blogs link to me at all.

Et tu Technorati?

Thanks Technorati, I needed this.

Update: bethlet thinks I take these things wayyy to personally and I guess this time she' right because Paolo says his is empty too and thinks maybe this is part of some anti-blogspam reset. He pointed me at my Google Blog search.

Me: Oh, haven't seen that before
Paolo: oh, it's a pretty famous company, they started with two guys at some US college, they do search on the web. It's a pretty big thing nowadays...

Sarcastic bugger :-)

Update#2: So it was all in a storm in a tea cup. Everything is back to normal. Well normal for technorati anyhow.

01/08/2006 16:09 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Fellow DataWarriors Unite!

Technorati has just deigned to tell me about fellow DataWarrior Tim Kitchin and his effort to get the NHS to tell him what they know about him.

If you are also a DataWarrior please make sure I know about your efforts so that I can link to you from my DataWarriors blogroll (which you can see in the sidebar!)

01/08/2006 15:40 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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How cool is that?

I just accidentally discovered that Cmd+Z in Safari can "Undo Close Tab".

01/08/2006 14:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Welcome to Orange (as if)

So the DPA pledge I setup succeeded. My thanks to everyone who signed up. But now I have to follow through. In fact I've been a little tardy in doing so but I am getting my act together at last.

I've selected my cellphone company Orange Personal Communications Services Limited as the target for my Subject Access Request. I've been a customer with Orange for about 14 years, should be quite a juicy stack of info they have about me.

I need to send the SAR to their company secretary so first of all I need their registered company address. Should be no problem, right? Let's go look at the website... Okay having scoured their websites including personal, business, and corporate I can't see a sign of it. I thought that, even if it's not a legal requirement to publish it, that it's good practice. Orange desparate to communicate with people again I guess.

Now with some trepidation I called Orange customer services: the dread 150. The IVR had nothing to offer me and Orange have no interest in hearing from customers so I had to pick my way through to an option where I would reach a human being. After 3 calls including 1 disconnect, 1 connection to a line full of static, and then a long wait on hold (about 25 minutes in total) I finally got through to an Indian lady in billing.

First of all I had to explain I didn't have a billing enquiry but wanted the registered address of the company. Then I had to explain to her that, no, I didn't have to tell her my mobile number for her to give me the registered address. Then with some spelling out of F as in Foxtrot she managed to convey the following address:

50 George Street,
London W1 H5RF

along with, I was surprised to say, the corresponding telephone number:

020-7984-1600

Wasn't I pleased. The information I wanted plus a telephone number for Orange HQ!

But there was something about it that made me a bit... I don't know... suspicious is the wrong word but, given my long history of dealing with Orange, it would not surprised me in the least if I'd just been given totally duff information either deliberately, because the information wasn't right on their system, or because of operator error. Since I had the phone number, why not check it out?

So I dialled the number:

The number you have called has changed.
Please dial again using our new company number of 0870-373 followed by the last 4 digits of the number you dialed

Hrmm... okay these things happen...

The number you have called has changed.
Please dial again using our new company number of 0870-376-8888

Okay aren't you supposed to be a telecomms company? And you can't redirect the numbers yourself? Well, okay...

Welcome to Orange.
If you have a mobile query, press 1. If you have an internet query, press 2.

ARGGG! The hell that is Orange's IVR and exactly what I wanted to escape. It would give me great pleasure one day to meet the Orange IVR and introduce myself with a few well choosen epithets and a flamethrower.

I thought for a few seconds and then went back to that 0870-373-xxxx. I guessed that 1600 used to be main switchboard number which probably means there would be a 1601, 1602, ... so I decided to poke around.

I called 0870-373-1601 and got an earfull of FAX bweooping. Sounds promising.

Next I called 0870-373-1602 and got a human being. The receptionist at the Orange headquarters no less. He gave me the following address for their registered office:

50 George St,
London W1U 7D2

So it seems like it was a good idea to check it out and, in the process, I now have useful information for when I want to escalate my complaints beyond Orange Customer services (asking for the CEO is usually a good place to start).

This afternoon I shall write my nice letter to Oranges company secretary.

01/08/2006 12:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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