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Saturday, August 30, 2003

Viral marketing 

If the Economist is allowed to publish suggestions about how to write "better" computer viruses, then so can I...

A thought - the main way to protect yourself against a virus used to be not to open attachments from strangers. Now it's not to open unexpected attachments. So to "beat" people's expectations, a virus writer should make use of standard behaviour from users.

To wit, if you want people to open your attachments, and send the virus to people who will also open it, you should piggy-back off their behaviour. This would require a slightly more sophisticated virus, and I'm unsure what info is accessible in mail programmes to let you do this.

But, e.g., I'd open an attachment without thinking if it was sent by a friend as part of an on-going conversation. So - you unleash your virus on a few vulnerable computers. It looks through your sent mail folder for mails to 5+ people. It then "replies to all" (removing the sender from the addresses, if practical), attaching the virus programme, with texts like "here's an example of it". A really sophisticated virus would use a variety of titles for the attachment and the text, based upon the content of the mails being parasited upon. A really sensible virus would track which addresses it had replied to before as it tracked through the out tray. Then it deals with single addresses.

I think this would maximise the number of "read" virus messages. Once it's done that, maybe let it go crazy on the address book, finding names without e-mails....


(The sent mail folder is used as that means you're not replying to people receiving spam from the same source, etc...)

The Lifecycle of a News Story 

The Lemon provides illustrations.

Via Rand Simberg

I'll be damned if I can keep up with the recall 

But Tank's tactics seem sound:


We're talking baseketball... 

Kudos to the Baseketball fan who came here via this Google Search: "First we get the jobs, then we get the khakis and then we get the girls". Now, go play ball
Too hung over for serious analysis. But Iain Murray has taken a look at whether congestion charging is truely a market mechanism in London. Main point: if the charge was set at £5 to produce a 15% fall in traffic, and traffic has fallen by more, the price should be trimmed a little.

Down with me! 

Natalie Solent's dissing my pleasant evening stroll in the black-out. She once walked from Victoria to Seven Sisters, whilst pregnant, because of the IRA. Kudos.

Though my little stroll did get lots of respect in the office yesterday. And was particularly amusing set aside the 1 hour 40 minute wait of the guy with me on the tube who I left at Victoria - stuck underground for that long, jeez...

Yay me! 

For those of you who care, I've just passed my "Test of Advanced Technical Competence"* exams. One four hour paper left, and I'm qualified. Go me.

However, my average has now dropped, which annoys me and/or makes baby Jebus cry...



*(? - I just know them as TATC, or occassionaly BE and BLC)

Thursday, August 28, 2003

New York, New York! (or, "What a British power-cut: only half worked, and happened in the rain" 

So good they cut the power twice. Except the second time was in London. Fortunately, I'd just stepped off the Tube when the power went, and it wasn't a full cut. Unfortunately, they didn't say what was wrong, so I shopped, then waited on a late train, for twenty minutes before setting out for a bus. So I got caught in the rush.

Problem - too many people trying. So waited a little while, and set off on foot. Walked from Victoria train station to Brixton tube station. Says it's three and a half miles on the AA route planner. Not too bad - door to door would add at least another two miles, I suspect. However, proof of concept against a real power cut, not this half-hearted one. And that I can buy a brollie in a small corner shop. And that buying one after two miles in the rain will stop the downpour...

And, as a plus, when I picked up a bus at Brixton, I chatted to a very nice lady from innocent smoothies, who gave me one of their seasonal specials - buy them now. Sadly, no chance to naturally follow up on that, which is a pity as she lives round the corner. But the cherry and strawberry innocent smoothie is great.... Anyway, passing them out is perhaps a modern take on the Blitz spirit...


Update: now my copy of the Times, and myself, has dried out, I am able to suggest that this perhaps provides a modest counterexample to Anatole Kaletsky's suggestion that "life in Britain is good". His points are reasonable, and I mostly agree. But frankly, I hold decent public administration to a higher standard than the slow-motion train-wreck of continental economic and demographic policy, and I find the maladministration affecting my journeys on a regular basis shocking. And to set off hiking in the rain, probably because of problems the government has been warned for a couple of years over, annoys me.

Oh, and I must recommend moderately priced Rioja from Sainsbury's - the bottle I've assaulted since getting home was great...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Now that's the appropriate argument against massive carved Ten Commandments in courthouses:

"I support its removal. A monument to the Ten Commandments is a graven image, and therefore blasphemous."

Yay! 

Natalie Solent is back from holiday, and defending herself almost instantly. You go girl.... Um, she has some decent posts up too.
I too have visited the Bierodrome in the last week, and the glass sizes were slightly odd. I, however, was drinking from a bottle, and hence didn't manage to get an interesting observation on regulatory regimes out of it: Samizdata.net - English beer measures and the liberal French state.

Quick suggestion as to the mechanism (don't know if it's right) - size regulations will have been a consumer protection measure to stop short selling in the UK, probably going back donkey's years. Due to lack of legal upheaval, no changes made, so still on the books...

I too have asked that question... 

If, like I appear to have, you've asked "Brian's Education Blog, where can we get cut-your-own snowflakes on the Internet?", the answer is indeed at hand: Make-a-Flake - A snowflake maker by Lookandfeel new media

How the mighty are fallen 

InstaPundit.Com may make the Mirror's list of top blogs, but Glenn's no longer the top dog in the Blogosphere ecosystem. "When I paint my masterpiece" currently has 9732 inbound links (allegedly) compared to Glenn's 1911. Proof of discernment on-line: a recommendation from the Mirror clearly has catastrophic effects...

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Track this! 

Why is it that when I read this

"A GROUP of activists who have taken on some of the world’s biggest corporations and seemingly forced them into humiliating retreat is turning its attention to Marks & Spencer.

The group, run by an American graduate student with deep religious convictions, believes that the retail giant has gone too far with new technology for tracking its products. The company is planning a trial this autumn of tiny “smart tags” in its suits."


I immediately thought "number of the beast"? And why was I right? Oh, probably exposure to these loons ("find" "beast" to seen their ramblings). Anyways -

"Ms Albrecht says that her interest stems from her religious convictions. “When I was eight years old, my grandmother sat me down after a visit to a grocery store and told me that there will be a time when people will not be able to buy or sell food without a number, referring to the Mark of the Beast, Revelations xiii,” she said.

“I made a promise to myself at eight years old that if there was ever a number to buy or sell food, I would stop what I was doing and fight it.” "



The group she's founded appear to be aiming to stop the spread of the devices by boycotting relevant retailers. This may work in the short term, but is unlikely to have any effect on the proposals to include "tracking chips" in Euro notes. And they seem more concerned about loyalty cards in the materials on their site.

Whereas what I need to know is how to kill the tags when I get them. I don't care that people can see what I'm buying when I use cards - they can see that anyway if they can access credit info, and they want to track stock. Not a problem. On the other hand, I would like to know how to kill the tags the moment I've bought something to avoid any nasty privacy surprises. Fortunately, Slashdot seem to have identified a few possibilities:

"I see 2 viable approaches if RFIDs are not reined in:

Microwave oven
Given the sparks you can get from microwaving non-microwavable items [eskimo.com], I would assume RFIDs are probably rather easy to neutralize.
Forgery
I'd love to see security's reaction when their scanners report the last 5 customers all left wearing a Mercedes M Class. "


Though sadly this is likely to cause fires. And tags embedded in items may not be open to physical abuse. So who knows how to kill them. But, without the religious crap, I'd rather not have my money "visible" to others as I walk down the street. Or perhaps it's a good thing:

"OK, here's my plan. I get a handheld scanner/PDA thingy. Go to Fredericks or Victoria's Secret and scan codes for anything that turns me on. Have a little database on my PDA.

Then when I go out to a bar or other social event, I've got a scanner that sits in my pocket and tips me off whenever I'm walking up to a woman in a thong. Nice huh? Can also double as a party trick, in a disturbing kind of way."




What hope for a cure for the condition, when scientists involved can't even spell its name:

"A SINGLE gene that goes wrong in many people with dyslexia has been discovered, advancing the prospect of pre-school tests to identify children at risk of the language disorder.

Scientists in Finland have found that a gene called DYXC1 appears to provoke dyslexia when it is damaged, offering an important insight into the heredity of the condition.
"


"dyxc1"? Yeah, right...

The Decline and Faliraki of civilisation 

The best gag in an article on Greek tourism to date?

" Why must we treat tales of excessive youthful sex and vomiting on a fortnight’s holiday as a parable of the Decline and Faliraki of Western civilisation? Although commentators have compared Faliraki to Sodom, the sinful city that God destroyed with sulphur, there are few reports of the Club 18-30 crowd emulating the Sodomites by attempting the homosexual gang-rape of two angels sent down from heaven. "

Of course, Hume's been a fan of drinking and fun for a decade now, since the "Living Marxism" shift to varieties of libertarianism. But v. funny...

Double Secret Probation  

Why was I not informed? The Animal House Double Secret Probation Edition DVD has now come out. I guess they didn't tell me as I only got 9/10 on the test...

Mirror, Mirror, blogging more.... 

The Mirror now has a (slightly passive) house blog. Which is interesting. However, what really amused me was their selection of the "biggest bloggers". Their selection was definitely right-ish, and includes in its number Aussie blogger Tim Blair, the on-line nemesis of prize Mirror columnist John Pilger. The same Tim Blair who has, for example, written an occassional page by page examination of a book by Pilger entitled "A lie on every page". Internal bickering in the Mirror newsroom, or just luck - you decide....

Monday, August 25, 2003

Get rich scheme B 

"The Real Karma Sutra". One of those small, two inch by two inch books they stock by the check-outs in book stores. Rather than containing any of the sex stuff you get in all the other Karma Sutra publications, you'll get the wierd stuff. Of course, most people will buy expecting to get the sex stuff. Instead, they'll get insights such as:

"The following are the arts to be studied, together with the Karma Sutra: -
28. A game, which consisted in repeating verses, and as one person finished, another person had to commence at once, repeating another verse, beginning with the same letter with which the last speaker's verse end[ed]...
31. Study of sentences difficult to pronounce....
39. Knowledge of mines and quarries...

The following are the women who are easily gained over: -
8. A woman who hates her husband, or who is hated by him...
31. An immoral woman...
39. An ill-smelling woman...


The means of getting rid of a lover are as follows:
1st Describing the habits and vices of the lover as disagreeable and censurable, with the sneer of the lip, and the stamp of the foot
[and the hitting and the biting and the snappy teeth and the oy, oy]...
6th Showing a disregard for him on all occassions...
10th Refusing access to her Jaghana
[you figure it out...]"

A stray thought  

There's been a great deal written recently about outsourcing work to, in particular, India. The work involved has started to switch from low-skill roles such as call-centre work to more valuable work in computer coding and so forth. I'm afraid I have little to say about the process from an economic point of view - go ask googlenews if you want to know more...

However, something has struck me: the outsourcing companies go to a great deal of trouble to produce call centre workers with perfect (or at least, near-perfect) English and accents that don't give away the speaker's origins. You hear about this most with outsourced call centres from America, but I'm sure UK ones do it too.

Is it possible that this will act as a powerful force to mitigate the fragmentation of spoken English? India, home to much of the outsourced work due to a large very highly educated, but cheap, labour segment who speak English to begin with. However, "at home" young educated Indians tend to speak "Hinglish", a mix of English and Hindi that would, I expect, technically be a Creole.

Is it possible that call centres etc will be a force to "restandardise" English (probably on the American model)? I have little doubt that "Hinglish" will continue to be the main spoken English in India. However, there will be an on-going preservation of a more "standard" dialect among many of the speakers, preventing the splitting off of the language.

Similarly, as call centre work spreads to the Philipines, parts of Africa, and no doubt in the end the West of China (why not...), this will reestablish knowledge of standard English over local English vernaculars.

Good thing or bad thing? Probably a good thing, as it will increase inter-communability, though possibly at the price of a certain amount of linguistic innovation that could spread through all varieties of English (e.g. the movement of Hinglish through Bollywood films to Britain, where there is potential for uptake of words by the population in general, though I lack an example.)

Get rich scheme A 

China's already got its own Amazon*. And a roaring trade in selling self-improvement texts, presumably both in English and in translation. However, there seems a market niche unmentioned - a get rich quick book written by a sellable "name" in business, but using Chinese cultural metaphors, etc... Please contact me if you'd like to collaborate on one... **

* Subscription only Economist article
** I think I'm joking....

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Samizdata.net - Something missing, something black 

Samizdata has thrown up a couple of the "missing" stories of the war, things that were reported, seemed significant, and then disappeared. Were the stories never real, are they on the QT because of potential follow up, or is something else going on?
There seems to be something of a contest to find the most insulting way to summarise the Wales-England result (9-43). The Independent's Sport section seems to have won:

"Those nice people at Qantas have a scheduled flight from Sydney to London at 22.15 on 2 November, with one-way tickets an absolute snip at A$1742.68. (£720.03) If the impoverished Welsh make a block booking now, they might even save themselves a few bob, especially if they go for the non-transferable, non-refundable option. Why wouldn't they? As Wales play the All Blacks earlier that day and will probably need to beat them to stay in the World Cup, they are unlikely to be concerned with either transfers or refunds. And by flying to Heathrow, they can get their disguises sorted long before they reach the Severn Bridge."

Is this spam, a virus, or just wierd? 

Looks like spam, only a 3kb mail with no link throughs so seems not a virus, but distinctly wierd:

"Dimensional Warp Generator Needed qsvv m qiy

Hello,

I'm a time traveler stuck here in 2003.
Upon arriving here my dimensional warp generator stopped working. I trusted a company here by the name of LLC Lasers to repair my Generation 3 52 4350A watch unit, and they fled on me.
Since nobody in this timeline seems to be able to deliver what I need (safely here to me), I will have to build a simple time travel circuit to get where I need myself. While it might be hard to find parts in this time to build anything decent, I need easy to follow schematics from the future to build one which is safe and accurate that will not disrupt the time space continuum with both forward and backward capability accounting for temporal location settings (X, Y, Z, n), which can be built out of (readily available) parts here in 2003. Please email me any plans you have. I will pay good money for anything you send me I can use. Or if you have a dimensional warp generator available, and are 100% certain you have a (safe secure) means of delivering it to me please also reply with a secure way to contact you. Send a separate email to me at:
webmaster@custompaintshop.net


Do not reply back directly to this email as it will only be bounced back to you.

Thank You
Brian Appel



sea
lfjhqtpd wfn j njf
mtxcu
jiwm uud
djzalrd"


Sent to a variety of addresses at one of my providers of mail. Very odd. For the record: I don't have a Dimensional Warp Generator

Recall-o-rama 

Mickey Kaus is only slightly obsessive on the recall, so probably the best "go-to guy":

"Let those East Coasters try to make something of this. The dignified, orderly process of winnowing the recall candidates has begun:

"State election officials certified 135 people to appear as replacement candidates should Davis be recalled. The list shortened by one this week when one dropped out after police said he was the leading suspect in a 1996 Atlanta murder case."
"

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