Thursday, August 31, 2006

Where's your sense of humour?

I recently posted on an article in Forbes magazine about marrying career women.

Yet ABC news has picked up on the story as well and have written an article in response to the Forbes piece.

As far as I'm concerned, it is political correctness gone insane. The guy from Forbes was having a joke. The Forbes editors had a sense of humour and therefore published the article. It appears however that several feminist women, not content with special treatment in most areas of society, now wish to deny men a sense of humour (if I don't have it, no one can).

I say lets support Forbes in freedom of speech.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

How would you like to destroy any webpage with tomatoes?

If the answer is yes (who wouldn't?) then check out Its a simple idea. Simply enter the site, choose your weapon and go. Hours of fun!


Monday, August 28, 2006

AOL: malware!?

According to every other technology site on the web AOL is now "badware" according to

In my experience, it is better to install as little as possible from your ISP to ensure you maintain control of your browser, favourites and system overall. In the rare instance they provide a truly useful program gift (such as a free firewall/popup blocker), look for a "custom" option in the installer to make sure you only get what you want and also check whether the program is actually available for free on the web anyway (sometimes the web version will install less extras).

Good luck cleaning your system if you have AOL software you decide to uninstall.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Eager for Firefox 2 beta 2

Firefox and the mozilla corporation overall is remarkably open about what its doing and this is great - normally, but not at the moment because many web users realise that Firefox 2 is going to be very important in preventing IE7 from poaching back most of the converts and Mozilla have been providing extremely tight release dates. So far FF 2 beta 1 has been good and FF 2 beta 2 should continue this line - except there have been several delays in its release.Its current expected release date is 30th/31st August.

However if we look at Microsoft and Vista's delays, Mozilla doesn't look so bad after all. At least there will be less bugs ;)


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Men vs Women: The eternal debate.

I regularly seem to find references to which sex is superior, men or women. Here are some stories of note:

It began with Michael Noer wroting an article on titled "Don't marry career women". Then someone at Forbes wrote a response (also on the same page) called "Don't marry a lazy man". Then a woman at wrote an article called "Unhappily ever after".

I wonder what her reaction would be if she discovered!


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Browsing without java, javascript or cookies: website tests.

Java and Javascript are registered trademarks of which company?

I must confess I use both java and javascript all the time and I allow most cookies, but I've decided to do some accessibility tests to see whether people not using these two additions can still have a decent web experience.

Please be aware that if you wish to duplicate these tests you may need to clear your cache and refresh certain pages to ensure you are directed to the correct version.

Site 1:

I had to start here. The site works perfectly (as it should do), however I will admit that there isn't that much interactive content here, but I still feel happy knowing that people without j/js/cookies can do everything people with it enabled can.

Site 2:

Here the problems begin. Firstly you need cookies enabled to be able to log in. Then I got stuck on a "redirecting" page. Then I got stuck on an "error performing your request page". Somehow I eventually managed to get in, but then you lose the "preview" facility and you can no longer change the posts you want to view (All, drafts or published). That depends on what setting you left it on last time you logged in. You also can no longer view your posts on that page by just clicking on their title, but must select view, which takes you to a separate page.

Overall however, once in, the functionality is not that bad.

Site 3:

Remarkably, this site seemed to function rather well. You can listen to the radio with almost no problems (if you choose listen in standalone player (realplayer)) and access text areas of the site with no problem at all. However to view video clips requires the use of cookies and javascript, but overall that is pretty good.

Site 4:

To read the articles is generally fine, but anything else and you are stuck. I found you needed java and javascript to view the video content.

Site 5:

All the basics are covered. You can read stories, navigate the page and search with virtually no difficultly. Logging in to msn however requires cookies and javscript.

Site 6:

The drop down list fails as does the main flash item, but the site overall remains very accessible and provided your not trying to access a java game, flash and shockwave games function exactly as they should.

The conclusion from this brief test is as follows:

Browsing without java or javscript or cookies is possible. With these features disabled far fewer adverts appear and pages load faster. The down side is you sacrifice some functionality such as the ability to log in to pages or use certain menus. If you are looking for a no-nonsense web browsing experience or if you are stuck with a slow connection, then it may suit you. If however you want all the web has to offer, I suggest keeping the features enabled. You decide.

Answer: Sun Microsystems


Monday, August 21, 2006

Don't forget Bird Flu.

Find the missing word: fire____load
I am rather intrigued as to why the media has gone quiet on Bird Flu. The threat has not gone away and neither should our media. They carry on about Terrorism often enough. For you see Terrorism may kill say tens of thousands per year, but Bird Flu has the potential to kill tens of millions.

Events have been unfolding very rapidly and efforts against the virus are being coordinated by the World Health Organisation WHO have set up a special Bird Flu page. Fortunately in Britain our risk is slightly lower at this stage.

The good news is action is occuring and plans are in place to protect the world and Europe. However I reckon the better off countries will have a better plan than the poorer countries. The bad news is we have a very high global population and a pandemic might be just what the doctor ordered...

Answer: work: firework, workload


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Finally Big Brother is over!

In the UK (and I believe in some other countries also) we have a cheap, low grade junk show for sad people called Big Brother. If I sound slightly hostile about the show its because its all channel 4 show. They've got it running on all their channels and even repeat bits of it, as if it wasn't dull enough first time.

The profile of a big brother viewer:

-IQ less than 5 (Every minute watching the show drains a point)
-Potential employee for the ministry of love
-Dead end job/life
-Follow the Big Brother religion (the symbol is a giant eye)
-Are sadists

If you fall into that catergory I will try to awaken you from your oblivious state but it may be difficult. Its a hard ailment to cure:

First take a pen and paper and write down everything you need to do or any ambitions you may have. It should be as detailed as possible.

Second calcuate the amount of hours you've spent watching Big Brother.

Third work out which of the tasks you could have completed in that time.

Fourth cross off any tasks you won't be able to do due to time shortages.

Fifth either a) Go and do some of the things on the list or b) Tear up the list and go and watch tv.

If you are feeling bad now then good! Thanks to Big Brother I missed a week of The Simpsons!


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Locating Geography Facts on the web.

Find out the diameter of the earth?

Finding out information about countries, people and places is not too difficult unless you are looking for something very specific.

Here are some UJ top tips:

1. Construct a good search term.
Lets say in this example we are looking for the number of people in London. The obvious search term to use would be "population" "London". Depending on which search engine you use the results may vary. I found Google attempted to offer a figure automatically, however from an unreliable source, and the site I think provides the best answer is:

The UK National Statistics site.

2. Check the validity of all sites. The above search provided me with several different figures. Try and cross check statistics with other pages. A good way of doing this is to find a statistic such as "7,172,000" with some information it relates to "London" "population" and see if other sites verify it.

Yahoo worked best for me with this strategy, but it should work with any search engine.

3. Start at sites you already know.

If you are researching London, a good approach may be to go directly to sites you already know are useful such as Wikipedia and searching or navigating to the appropriate page.

You could do a similar thing with Craig's list.

If you are stuck for good geography sites check out some of these the next time you need to research something geographical:

World Atlas
The CIA world factbook
and even more sites at:
The Yahoo directory Geography pages

Happy hunting.

Answer 12756.3 KM from the world factbook


BBC poll: Do you trust your laptop battery?

What proportion of the £10.54 per month British license fee goes towards the bbc website?

The glorious BBC provides the world's greatest news service and possible the world's best website too. However whoever posted their latest poll "Do you trust your laptop battery?" is making the BBC look stupid, and that reflects badly on Britain, which reflects badly on me!

The word "trust" is perhaps the part I am most concerned about. Anybody who knows about technology will tell you the best advice is to pray regularly to the computer Gods for no problems tomorrow and trust hardware about as much as an idiot beside a big red button with the words "Do not press".

A better poll such as "Is your laptop battery reliable?" is probably a bit too formal for the BBC so how about a compromise: "Does your laptop battery work well?" Its still is not going to show anything useful but at least there is some sign of intelligent life in there.

So how about a UJ poll "Is this the best blog you've ever been to" a) Yes b) What was the question again?

Answer: 36p from BBC


Time magazine creates top 50 list.

5 seconds: 7 + xy = 15. y=1 x=?

The BBC is reporting that Time magazine has created a Top 50 websites list for 2006.

Apparently the criteria is whether a site is "cool". Its quite a good list with many small sites getting listed, but there is a clear omission: The site allows you to host a 100mb file for free. I think that is very cool.

Answer: 8


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How good are you at connecting the dots?

A candlemaker creates his candles from lumps of wax, one candle per lump. He can also make one new candle from the off-cuts of ten other candles. On one day he has 100 lumps of wax. Including the candles he can make with off-cuts, what is the total number of candles he can make that day?

I have discovered a remarkable way of testing your dexterity, artistic skill and general co-ordination.

Its a new game called Scribble and apparently I am pretty good:

Level 4: Click here to play Scribble

One word of advice: the level ranking is based on speed and not accuracy. I don't know whether its true or not, but there are rumours of an elusive level 5...

Answer: 111. For more like these have a look at BBC Mind Games


Blogger beta

Today has released a new beta version. If you are a blogger however the transition is somewhat frustrating - as they merge the blogger accounts with the Google accounts database (a privacy timebomb?). Despite this several of the new features are good ideas, however you are forced to "upgrade" you template to get access to some of these, so do not be alarmed if the page design changes drastically; blame Blogger.

Update: The upgrade template feature does not allow users to edit the raw html. A rather large oversight I think. Apparently support for that will be coming soon.

Update 2:
A validation check using the new template produced over 650 errors! However editing the new template has grown considerably easier with their more user friendly interface.

The "Labels" feature will only work if you "upgrade" to the new design.

I have decided to keep the current template for now.

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Monday, August 14, 2006


"Which creature in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?"

A new link has appeared in the UJ sidebar through the magic of the internet! The blog is question is called Penguin.swf and is all about the development of *Adobe* flash player 9 for linux. I think it is a good cause and am pleased that Adobe has decided that linux is an important platform and they presumably expect it to grow into a larger, more popular one over time.

The only issue is that posting isn't as frequent as it could be, but its a good idea nonetheless.

Answer: (Riddle of the Sphinx): Man, who crawls on four legs as a baby, walks on two legs during adulthood, and uses a cane during old age.


Friday, August 11, 2006

A concise guide to getting started with encryption.

Find a word that rhymes with "Month"

Presenting the UJ guide to encryption.

Step 1: Why is encryption important?

Encryption has become increasingly important in society, yet very rarely implemented. I find this rather odd considering the high value attached to data today and also the advances in surveillance which make it easier to intercept information.

Head over to He created PGP (a popular public/private key based encryption program) and fought a legal battle with the US government over it. I recommend reading the section on "Phil's Background" and "Why I wrote PGP" under "Writings on PGP". Unfortunately because his site uses frames it is rather less useful if I link directly to the pages so you'll have to navigate around, but that won't be to difficult for you if your reading this site now will it.

Back to the question, Encryption was created in response to threats of surveillance. It is the result of people not trusting each other (often with good reason) and wanting to keep their communications with specific individuals private.

Governments have great need for such measures and all security is checked very vigorously to prevent, for example, terrorists discovering defence plans. Companies have great need to prevent other corporations discovering their latest innovations. The British Royal Family have need for security, or nosy journalists might hack their phones. As for you and me, we're not terrorists, nor do I suppose your a big shot making millions as the Godfather of some crime syndicate. Yet you may still have a need for encryption.

What would happen if you came across a small email company on the web, created an account and sent a message to a friend with your address or phone number or any other personal details and the person running the site looked at it? Probably nothing, but do they have the right to look? Would you switch services if you knew it was happening? What about if you use spreadsheets or budgeting software and your computer is used by a friend or gets hacked into? What if you want to send an email about who you might vote for?

Encryption is about protecting any data you don't believe is for public eyes.
Here is a quote from Phil Zimmermann's site:

"Perhaps you think your email is legitimate enough that encryption is unwarranted. If you really are a law-abiding citizen with nothing to hide, then why don't you always send your paper mail on postcards? Why not submit to drug testing on demand? Why require a warrant for police searches of your house? Are you trying to hide something? If you hide your mail inside envelopes, does that mean you must be a subversive or a drug dealer, or maybe a paranoid nut? Do law-abiding citizens have any need to encrypt their email?"

One of the key problems with encryption is its limited usage and the difficulty involved in setting it up and educating others how to decrypt messages and files. But remember: 90% of the population still use IE because it comes with Windows. Democracy works best when people are well education and not apathetic.

The other side to the argument for encryption is that the (UK) government has the power to intercept emails, phone calls, all websites visited, letters and so on.
Encryption allows you to prevent the government from (easily) accessing your private data (which becomes particularly important if you are living under a tyrant or in a place with very few freedoms such as China.)

Step 2: How does encryption work?

Essentially it is the process of altering data to an unrecognisable form whilst allowing the information to be decrypted later.

An excellent explanation is offered here.

It may sound good in principle, but getting it working is slightly harder.

Step 3: What practical uses are there for encryption?

If you've been diligent and followed all the links you will already have some answers.

Here are a few ideas of mine but I'm sure there are others:

  • Email
  • IM security
  • Secure website connections (such as online banking or shopping)
  • Connecting wirelessly to a network
  • Storing confidential information
  • Preventing fraud/phising and so on

I will mostly focus on securing email, instant messaging and confidential information from this point forwards as these are the primary functions of encryption software and the mostly likely tasks for home users. The other uses often require additional hardware, custom built software and more expertise.

Step 4: What software is available for home users and what can it accomplish?

PGP and its non-commerical counterpart GNUPG are very popular and believed to be amongst the most secure encyrption available. This is because they both allow review of the source code and both use trusted alogorithms.

Most other encryption programs are closed source and whilst you may think this offers security, in reality because the code has not been exposed to as many threats, it is often less secure.

The freeware version of PGP (the trialware version reverts to freeware after 30 days)allows individual files, emails and text to be encrypted and is fine for regular usage. has a large list of available alternatives for specific needs (file, disk or email encryption).

I have also found hushmail to be pretty good (however the free service is limited to just 2mb storage). It encrypts and decrpyts all messages using OPEN PGP keys without the user having to do anything.

It isn't only limited to other hushmail users either. Anyone with a (GNU)PGP key can communicate with others using different email services.

Additionally Hushmail has developed an IM client which also uses PGP keys, allowing people to communicate securely. The downside is that only people using Hush messenger can talk to each other.

However if you use GAIM (an open source IM program which supports the MSN, Yahoo, AIM, Jabber, IRC services and a few others), you can download a plugin to encrypt communications between only people who have that same plugin.

At one point there was a project called gaim-e, which was designed to allow OPEN PGP encryption. Sadly the site no longer appears to be maintained.

An alternative plugin is called Gaim Encryption(very original), but it is a solution.

Step 5: So when should I really bother with encryption

Go to any encryption website and they will invariably say "all the time" or "as often as possible". My view is that it is still very inaccessible to normal users and this makes it difficult to use frequently. Projects like Skype have tried to address this by building encryption into the program, however it is closed source.

My advice is to use it as often as you can, but as part of an overall security program. The strength of the encryption is rarely the weakness. Normally a machine is compromised by a keylogger or trojan of some kind, or in very severe cases the equipment is ceased and the hard drives analysed for data. Using a good browser, complex passwords written down somewhere safe, firewall and anti-virus program should keep you protected from most threats. Lastly remember to keep all software up to date and change any default passwords.

Answer: Impossible! No other words in the English language rhyme with it! Another example is "Orange".


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Terrorist attack "foiled" - my take

As the end of the day draws near in Britain it is clear the threat to British and US citizens was high. But who were the terrorists and why did they target us and was the response by the government the right one?

1) Who were the terrorists?

A question I cannot answer. The BBC attempts to provide some answers at this page: Q and A

2) Why did they target us?

A second question I do not know the answer to. Perhaps they believe Britain is responsible for the war in Iraq or some other middle eastern issue? Or perhaps clerics are simply indoctrinating muslims into believing they or their faith has been wronged by the west (maybe this explains September 11th?).

However either way their long term strategy is flawed. America and Britain were being pressured to redraw from Iraq and Afganistan. With this incident they now will stay their longer. People in the world have little sympathy in general for Britain and America especially, but now they have more.

The only things that is occuring as a result of their actions is the repression of human rights and free speech in the west by our governments. Perhaps this is their aim? I can't see how that would benefit Islam?

3) The government response

The government has acted extremely precautiously, which is probably a wise thing, however the jams and congestion at the airports themselves would have been the ideal target for additional attacks! Also I do not understand why they raised the security threat level after the incident or why they introduced security threat levels for the public in the first place as they are extremely vague and, as we have seen, cannot be raised when a real threat is present.

It is worth noting that ID cards would not have prevented these attacks, biometric or otherwise. The same can be said of the US visit program which involves taking photographs and the fingerprints of all visitors to America.

The surveillance mechanisms enabled the detection of the threat and security forces to prevent it. I am sure government officals will be using this as an example in future discussions as a justification for such powers. Lets hope that the innocent do not become the victims in all this...

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Terrorist attack "foiled" - update

"Constant vigilance" is needed according to John Reid.
BAA advice:

Caesar: Check airline sites. I suggest trying your luck (for long flights), but expect huge delays, and if possible, reschedule. Keep up with the BBC broadcasts.


Terrorist attack "foiled" - update

21 people have been arrested, 9 planes in total were planned to be blown up - three at a time. "During the investigation an unprecedent level of surveillance has taken place".


Terrorist attack "foiled" - article list

I was shocked to discover this morning that terrorists had planned to board possibly three planes travelling to America and detonate themselves midway over the atlantic. It was only through the efforts of the secret services and their intelligence that they were able to prevent this incident. The security level has been raised to critical and the airports have become very congested.

Here are various news sources and agencies to check for information:

Times Online
Al jazeera
Sky News
Sky News
The Telegraph
The Independent
The Mirror
Yahoo News
Daily Mail

Also see:
The Police response
The Home Office response


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Serious fun

Sort the numbers one to nine alphabetically.

The last few posts have been very serious in tone. That is not all UJ is about however, and today is really about using the web to have fun.

Firstly for an instant laugh check out I particularly recommend Dilbert if you are stuck in an office.

Then there is with the simple aim of making you happy with jokes and other interesting bits. is similar and also has a section of Simpson quotes such as "English - Who needs that? I'm never going to England!" :D

Perhaps your looking for something else to make you happy. Try, a site that lists alternative words to songs. Some are very accurate.

Happy yet? Maybe some of the flash movies here will help:

Perhaps I will be able to come up with a more sites tomorrow....

Answer: eight five four nine one seven six three two


Monday, August 07, 2006

"Gate Britain" part 2: The letter

I am pleased to announce that I have sent a letter to Douglas Alexander about the issues raised in the previous posts here and here.

Below is a transcript. I will of course update the blog with any feedback I recieve and I hope it has a positive impact.

"To Douglas Alexander,

I am writing in response to an article by "The Mirror" which discusses requests by MPs for you to take action to address the issues of congestion, pollution and global warming. I am concerned that the policies being proposed are both inherently negative and also dangerous to the long-term economic prosperity of Britain.

Firstly according to "The Mirror (archived version)"
you proposed to add level of toll roads and congestion charging zones to large parts of the UK. However unlike in London there are many locations where there is no viable public transport alternative for business commuters. This means that the charge instantly becomes a transport tax. Only the wealthiest will be able to afford to travel and the rate of inflation will soar. The United Kingdom economy is almost entirely focused on tertiary and qua-tertiary sectors and if the costs rise too high, footloose businesses will relocate even more, forcing unemployment up.

Instead your policy should focus on speeding up journey times, improving public transport services and pricing them competitively against the car to promote usage.

People need to travel and your job is to facilitate and assist people in achieving this.

The article then discusses plans to increase taxation on vehicles that release more CO2. I accept that this is not entirely a bad idea but once again your policy is incomplete. Where is your policy on getting cleaner biofuels into UK petrol stations? Why has the Labour government increased the rate of tax on biofuels to the same as levels on regular petrol? Why have you not demanded that car manufacturers offer cars powered by renewal energy? The article states you have pledged 10 million into the technology for toll boths and that by the next election the Labour party will have passed laws on this. Instead of pursuing this quick fix tax policy why not create a legacy of your own by addressing some of the above questions.

At this point in the article I was baffled by a statement "They also want 70mph speed limits on motorways and trunk roads cut or rigorously enforced to cut pollution." Cutting speed limits, road narrowing, and generally slowing traffic down does not cut pollution, it increases it. Using more eco-friendly engines or cutting down the number of motorists may help, but considering we are talking about the motorways where people make mostly essential, long distance journeys, all lowering the speed limit would achieve is decreasing the capacity of the road network and increase journey times; another negative policy.

Raise the speed limit along motorways and other areas where there are few pedestrians and decrease them to very low levels when cars are in close proximity to pedestrians such as along high streets and near schools and accident blackspots, especially at certain times of the day to reflect road conditions. Use common sense. Just slowing traffic down is not a sustainable long term policy, and in reality highlights failures at all levels of government in managing traffic. People do not respect the current speed limits because the transport department does not respect people.

Bob Roberts continues by addressing your policy on road charging which it is claimed will help reduce congestion by reducing the number of journeys people make. However is your department being manipulated? I believe the long-term aim of the Labour party is to use road charging to track people by satellite by making it compulsory for everyone to have a black box in their car, giving the state the ability to monitor exactly who is where. Also in your reply you cannot state: "There will be protection against abuse" because as we have seen with virtually all previous intrusive legislation, the Labour party extends it and removes safeguards. And what happens if a party such as the BNP come to power?! If you value privacy and the ability to travel without being recorded oppose this legislation.

The final aspect of the article I will address is the airline fuel tax. Alternative engines and Biofuels appear to be the ideal answer. Do you have the courage to implement a positive transport policy for the remainder of your time in office?

Thank you for reading and I eagerly await your reply,


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"GATE BRITAIN" warning from The Mirror

What is the concentration of Co2 in the atmosphere?

Two days ago I described some of the issues facing motorists and the public about cars.

Today "The Mirror" is running an article called "Pay-as-you-go roads vision"

The article basically states that if the transport secretary gets his way Toll Gates will start emerging at various locations across the UK, drivers of higher polluting vehicles will face a significant tax hike, speed limits along motorways will be lowered in an effort to "cut pollution" (maybe I should be getting more vitamins or something because that doesn't make sense to me), more congestion charging zones will be added and satellite road charging will be introduced along with various other measures.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! None of those measures are positive. Sure it may stop people from travelling and increase inflation, erode more of our privacy and make driving more difficult, but in the long term, those measures will just turn into a not so stealthy tax on freedom.

If you haven't already, check out my previous post on the subject where I offer suggestions for dealing with pollution and congestion. Douglas Alexander is rapidly becoming a target for a new letter!!

"As of 2006, the earth's atmosphere is about 0.038% by volume (381 µL/L or ppmv) or 0.057% by weight CO2." From wikipedia

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tor: surf anonymously

Find the missing word: book ____ hole

In the UK Labour passed the RIP Act in 2000. This essentially allows our security services to snoop on all our web communications. All ISPs by law are required to log every site visited by each of their customers. Furthermore under the terms of this bill, you must surrender any encryption keys or passwords/passphrases used to protect emails or risk a prison sentence; even if you forget or lose them it becomes your responsibility to prove this e.g. guilty until proven innocent.

However all is not lost. I will discuss using encryption in a later post, but today I am going to focus on Tor.

Tor is a small program that allows you to surf the internet without giving your true IP address to any website. It even goes beyond a proxy and prevents your ISP from seeing what information you are viewing. Essentially whilst you can clear out cookies and erase your temporary files, this program actually gives you real protection against the problems of the web.

To get started have a look at where the developers offer an excellent explanation of the way Tor works and how to set it up.

Once you have Tor running, you'll notice several problems. Firstly the speed issues. Browsing the internet on a slow connection is like watching a film freeze and stop playing every few seconds. Very frustrating. There is little that can be done about this, and this is perhaps the single largest limitation to Tor. Your fantastic broadband connection will be reduced to dial-up.

You will also realise that without javascript,java, flash, shockwave and various other plugins disabled, websites will have another way of determining your IP address. Additionally I suggest being careful with cookies. This is a big blow because basically it is limiting what you can do massively.

What you end up with is a connection that is very slow, awkward to use and on top of that several sites block Tor servers. Its a big sacrifice for peace of mind.

Sadly the Tor software is now essential to privacy for anyone living in Europe, North America, Canada, China, Australia.... and the list goes on.

Answer=worm: bookworm and wormhole.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

UK motorists getting bad deal

What is the total stopping distance of a car travelling at 40mph according to the highway code?

I often find myself pondering why motorists are given such a hard time. They have to pay very high, rising petrol prices (most of which goes towards tax for Labour to waste), high road tax (more money for Labour to waste), MOT, parking (most of which goes to local councils), parking fines and speeding fines (again giving money to the government) and various other costs associated with driving.

Yet the attack doesn't stop there. Mr Livingstone has a lovely CONgestion charge running in central London (which gives more money to the government) and in legal terms drivers usually get the blame when they collide with anything or anyone.

Perhaps a more fundamental attack is on the actual road layout itself. Across the UK road narrowing campaigns are taking place and "traffic calming measures" are going everywhere. Speed cameras, number plate monitoring cameras and general surviellance cameras line the motorways. Traffic lights are being designed to slow traffic down.
Bus lanes are increasing rush hour congestion and parking has become either impossible with all the yellow, red and white lines or when you can find somewhere, very expensive.

On all sides the motorist is getting squeezed. Yet I believe that this is not helping the population because everybody needs to travel and increasing motoring costs means increasing inflation and don't get me started on what Labour is doing to our economy!

Anyway the arguments against cars are as follows:
1) Pollution!
Eveybody is complaining about global warming and the solution politicans are offering is to increase driving costs. They have also attempted to improve public transport but with a single bus journey now costing £1.50, have not really given any incentives to use (other than making driving harder). My solution would be either cars powered by biofuels and other renewal energy sources (make it compulsory for garages to sell green fuels and for new cars to have engines that support them) or a scheme to offset pollution by planting trees along roads or to lower the cost of public transport so that it is at least equal in cost to using a car for an eqivalent journey. I also believe better provisions for parking bicycles would help.

Notice that most of my suggestions do not penalise the driver in any way. We've had enough of that already.

2) Congestion!
Ken Livingstone is making congestion worse! Its a deliberate policy to slow traffic down and make driving unpleasant. Therefore any suggestions he has I mostly ignore. My first action would be designing roads to get traffic moving. Identify and remove bottlenecks and up the speed limit on motorways to 80mph in normal conditions, but give harder penalties to people who, for example, drive at that speed during foggy conditions - e.g. dangerous driving.

Public transport needs to play a role and become cheaper and, where possible, faster. Also as mentioned before better provisions for bicycles would be helpful.

3) Road safety!
Here is where everybody has different views. Campaigners seem to think the answer is too ban cars, lower speed limits and drivers seem to think "get out of my way stupid pedestrian". Essentially my policy here would be to separate cars and pedestrians as much as possible and remove unnecessary road street funiture. I think bridges over roads, pelican and zebra crossings are the best way of dealing with this. However education needs to be given to pedestrians and children in particular to look before they walk in the road.

I think part of the problem is that drivers do not respect speed limits because in most cases they are inappropriate. Therefore I would increase speed limits in most places, but lower them in danger areas, such as crash hotspots, dangerous corners, near public buildings (e.g. schools and hospitals) and anywhere pedestrians are likely to be.

Road safety is an important issue, however is not an excuse for tax and excessive road restraints as Labour uses it for. All parties must realise the roads are a dangerous place and respect them. If a driver drives at 60mph outside a school at 3.10pm on a thursday afternoon, send him to jail for stupidity. Likewise if a school child runs into a road to get a ball without looking blame the kid and the parents and the school for failing to educate him properly.

What was the point of this post? Basically to get people to think differently about driving and the problems with cars. Current political policies are highly ineffective as is shown by the high number of people caught speeding every year, the ridiculously slow speeds of traffic in our urban areas, the high number of road fatalities and generally the poor design of our roads compared to the rest of Europe and the world.

For more information check out:

Answer= 36 metres or 120 feet (12 metres thinking distance and 24 metres stopping distance)

Labels: ,

Browser comparison: IE7 vs FF vs Opera

Unscramble the word: llan mi eous sce

As a follow up to my previous post I have decided to do a comprehensive comparison of the main browsers today. Before the arrival of IE7 this was hardly worth doing as the answer was relatively obvious. The three browsers I have chosen are IE7, Firefox (with reference to FF2) and Opera 9.

Comparison table:
Internet Explorer 7Firefox 9
Website support (not really a fair test, but an important consideration nonetheless)(3) Full, with IE's high market share webmasters cannot afford to ignore this browser(2) Good. Most sites will function perfectly, although occasionally certain websites will not work e.g. or In joint second with Firefox.
Standards support (This category is a far more accurate reflection of the browsers performance)(1) Still poor. As with IE6 Microsoft has cut corners and this in many regards is limiting the development of the internet.(3) Although it does not fully pass the Acid 2 Test, Mozilla is a great advocate for standards and makes great contributions towards them.(3) Despite being closed-source, Opera also advocates standards and is the first of these browsers to pass the Acid 2 Test fully.
Add-ons(1) Very limited. Although Microsoft claims to have achieved this it hasn't! The addon site is very weak and mostly lists plugins and full programs.(3) First place for Firefox. Its open source and has a full system developed for extending the browser. Extensions are created by the community and provide truly useful extras such as Adblocking and Feed reading.(2) Opera has Widgets which are somewhere in between. They can't do everything Extensions can, but they are certainly better than Microsoft's offering.
Ablocking(1) Nonexistent(2) Automatic pop-up blocking. However the extension "Adblock" allows all adverts to be blocked. Because this functionality is not built Firefox only gets second place.(2) Opera also has popup blocking and a built in facility to remove content, however this is not always effective at removing all adverts and is not as good as Adblock or Remove It Permanently for Firefox.
User interface (Unfortunately I have given all the browsers second place here. Read why.)(2) IE7 looks quite good out of the box but that is really it. IE7 has little else to give. I also feel they may have sacrificed functionality in their quest to maximise the webpage viewing area.(2) Firefox comes looking grey and boring and somewhat outdated, although it is more practicle. Luckily its possible to customise most aspects of the interface and download additional themes. When I tried this at the main firefox add-on site however most themes would not install and I'm using, the current stable release. Perhaps there is a hack to get the themes working, but an average user would not know about that.(2) Opera has a (reasonably) customisable interface and several themes. Yet when you first install Opera the interface is incredibly cluttered and it took me about ten minutes to get it looking how I wanted it.
Privacy and Security(1) Microsoft's big failing. IE always gets targetted by hackers and this will probably occur again. Their new phising site detection is quite a weak offering. Will the list be maintained? Based on IE6 levels of unpatched security holes I'd be a little cautious about trusting microsoft entirely. At least they are providing an open beta this time however.(3) Firefox's security is excellent and the available extensions make it even better. The best part is the options are useful and easy to adjust such as the options to handle cookies: Accept? Original site only? Unless previously removed? How long do I keep them? Very good. Only 3 unpatched vulnerabilities and these aren't critical(3) Opera also is fantastic at keeping its users secure. 0 unpatched security problems. Like Firefox, Opera does a good job at keeping you secure and deservedly gets joint first place.

There are several other criteria I could have used to compare the browsers and the ones you assign greatest weight to will depend on your needs. My final tally is:

-Last Place: Internet Explorer: 9
-Second Place: Opera: 14
-First Place: Firefox: 15

As you can see the scores are rather close and I think if Opera keeps on innovating it may soon overtake Firefox. Deciding which one is my favourite may take a long time...

Answer: Miscellaneous


Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Acid Test (2)

Find an anagram of Microsoft's Internet Explorer

I believe strongly in web standards. IE and Netscape initially lacked standards and websites commonly had to use a massive IF statement for each browser. Then for a time IE became the standard. Now however with several other good browsers around (Firefox, Opera, Safari, Konqueror and so on) standards have really made a comeback.

More recently some clever people at have created a test of new standards which all browsers should be able to handle. You can try it out at

You may be surprised to learn that Firefox does not pass (I certainly was!). Normally the Mozilla foundation is very keen on supporting web standards, but they have not yet released any version which works (Support should be arriving in Firefox 3). documents the progress of each of the main browsers in meeting the requirements and gives more information about the test overall.

If you want to see it working, I recommend using Opera 9. Without the adverts in the interface (which occurred in version 7 and earlier) and with all the advanced features it posses it really is starting to compete with Firefox and its cross-platform too. Give it a try.

In any event compared to IE7, both browsers are brilliant and I strongly discourage IE usage until Microsoft decides to start investing some real energy into making a secure, functional and compatible browser.

That was a hard one: Complexities front ten errors. See for more anagrams.