Monday, May 25, 2009

BBC clip on the ANPR database

The BBC has an interesting video on ANPR here which eloquently summarises the pros and cons of the system.

As you might expect, whilst I can acknowledge the benefits of the system in all manner of crime fighting, I fear the scheme is the precursor to things like road charging, extended congestion/emission charging and additional driving laws/restrictions with far tougher enforcement.

Moreover it enables the government to comprehensively track innocent people travelling - whether to go on holiday or on a business trip or simply to meet with friends. Add this to the extensive public transport surveillance infrastructure, air and port surveillance and additional general monitoring cameras and suddenly it has become extremely difficult to travel without being recorded.

This is not necessarily a bad thing if we can trust the people working in the government to behave responsibly and not lose data.

However if we were to get people in the government willing to abuse their positions and compromise national security and individual liberty, then the flood gates open for stalkers. All it would take is a few well positioned people and suddenly people in government protection would become vulnerable (as they frequently travel by car). Violent partners with connections could conceivably track down their relocated Exs and their children. Debt collectors could hunt for evaders and company activities could be extensively scrutinised, perhaps by competitors.

Sometimes it is important to be anonymous and have privacy for legitimate reasons, not simply to cover up your expenses, for example. So a message to the Labour party, not that I expect it to be heeded at this late hour: if you want to protect yourself, protect others.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Google's "Wiping data 'hits flu prediction'" excuse

According to this BBC article Google is claiming that if they are forced to delete user data after 6 months as the EU desires then they will not be able to predict pandemics.

I don't know about you, but that is the single lamest justification for keeping data / infringing privacy I have ever heard. They could easily have said that the data enables them to offer improved services and had a degree of credibility.

Instead they've spun a tall tale which makes me worried. When a company or government tries to cover up its data retention and usage practices then it suggests we wouldn't like what they are doing with our data.

In regard to spotting pandemics, just because people are searching for swine flu or indeed flu symptoms, this does not necessarily mean that people are infected with it. They could have regular flu or simply have heard something on the media and decided to do some research (as I do all the time). Also if Google is going to rely on data older than 6 months to tell people that a pandemic might be near then its probably a little late.

Moreover I am pretty sure health officials around the world can spot and measure pandemics far more accurately than Google could.

I'm not convinced. Are you?

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Friday, May 15, 2009

A response to Labour's: "Cameron's Conservatives" smear campaign

I am less than impressed with Labour's new smear campaign against David Cameron. Granted Cameron is a spin merchant and he does game the media, but name me one politician elected today who doesn't?

So why is Labour's campaign poor? Take a look at this Labour election broadcast which apparently features real people.

1) It is entirely negative. By contrast Cameron's Party Election Broadcast is fairly positive. It is true that Cameron HQ has created some negative videos, specifically in regard to Gordon Brown and debt however Cameron has not resorted to the personal slurs Labour has - for example when Labour created a billboard ad featuring Hague with Thatcher's hair, Dave the Chameleon or this.. improved version or the whole McBride scandal

2) Comments/ratings are censored/disabled on the YouTube version of Labour's election broadcast, however this site contains some comments, most of which are critical of the video.

3) I think there are some important policy considerations in the video, however the way they are presented prevents anyone from taking them seriously.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tfl to trial speed control devices in cars

According to this bbc video Transport for London is going to fit 20 cars/buses with machines that know the speed limit of all roads within the M25 and display a green smiley face when a driver is under the limit, an orange straight face when the driver is slightly over and a red sad face when the driver is over by more than a few miles per hour.

There is also a "voluntary" mode in which drivers can have the device restrict the maximum speed of the car to the limit.

What do you think about these devices? Another authoritarian measure to enforce unnecessarily slow limits/raise revenue or a legitimate attempt to improve safety?

My opinion is this: when the speed limit is reasonable then it should be respected. However I know of not one speed limit anywhere which has been raised. They are only going down - meaning that there is no reward for safety, only punishment for danger.

Based on this philosophy the end point is that we all get out and walk.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Beating the recession blues part 3: BBC extras

The BBC is arguably the best media organisation in the world. However if you go to the wrong sections, they can often seem fairly negative and blue. Question Time for example rarely has anything good to say about, well, anything. Also a lot of the main news can be fairly negative.

The parts I recommend for happy living are:

1) Iplayer. Since the BBC has begun using flash for all their shows, it has really taken off. Normally you will be able to catch up online for at least 7 days (often more if you factor in repeats and such) or up to 30 days if you download shows (though I don't fully see the point of this unless you specifically want to watch something offline).

If you are international reader, then do not despair. Despite the BBC filtering much of the video content by ip location, you can still get access to a lot of the radio services from the BBC, and if you haven't looked through those you are in for a bit of a treat. There are loads of good shows (especially on Radio 4 and the hidden gem that is Radio 7 which predominantly has plays, drama, comedy and other fun goodness).

2) Fun news. Most of the BBC news is sombre, but there is an Also in the News section, which has more fun bits.

3) The Hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy. If you are looking for something a bit less conventional, the BBC supports the H2G2 community dedicated to extending Douglas Adam's world. I found it a bit confusing, but perhaps you'll understand it better.

4) Browse - start at the BBC homepage and see what excites you - there are language courses, history and science lessons, information for people with hobbies in Gardening and Antiques, health tips and advice, loads of recipes from many different shows and lots more. In particular if there is a show you like, many of the personalised websites have loads of bonus content and features. I won't spoil all the surprises. But I will say if you haven't give the BBC site a thorough look, you'll probably have missed some bits that you just might find can give you a smile.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Beating the recession blues part 2: Jibjab new-ish movie

I missed Jibjabs annual yearly review video in December, but I've discovered it at last. You can watch the year 2008 here. For those who don't know Jibjab is a company that used to produce lots of its own movies, however lately has shifted into ecards and such. It may be more profitable, but I still prefer the proper movies. If you are like me though, do not fear, but instead head over to Newgrounds flash portal for all your flash needs. Yay!


Protecting our rainforests

I was very pleased to discover that Prince Charles has taken an active step towards ensuring we do not loose the world's rainforests with the formation of The Prince's Rainforests Project. Whilst readers may be aware of my scepticism for a lot of political climate change posturing, I think preserving the rainforest is a very worthwhile cause for the following reasons:

1) Natural beauty - I think rainforests are spectacular and often unspoilt parts of nature - in England for example, you'd be hard pressed to find any area of land that isn't being "managed" or otherwise mucked around with. The rainforests aren't national parks or anything like that. They are raw and untamed and we should value them immensely.
2) Scientific interest - rainforests have some of the highest biodiversity figures in the world and many of the plants and species already discovered have had extensive medical uses and other benefits.
3) Carbon storage - of course this area is contentious and the amount of carbon released during, for example, a bush fire is huge, however our rainforests do absorb a large amount of CO2.

Unfortunately because these wonderful natural assets gifted to us are so valuable - the soil is rich - at least for a short time after deforestation, the wood can be of excellent quality such as century old or longer mahogany trees and the land cleared can have any number of uses, deforestation is occuring at an extremely fast pace.

We therefore have to work around the world to halt the destruction of the rainforests and give them time to reestablish themselves and expand again.

As the Prince says in this video, rainforest deforestation accounts for more than all the C02 caused by transport around the world. Of course if you ask an eco-warrior what the solution is, because they have been so heavily indoctrinated by the media, they are most likely to blame modern lifestyles.

My opinion however is that we can have a good quality of life and continue to grow if we practice sustainable policies. Google for example are attempting to run their search operation off entirely renewable, non-polluting energy. I do not think we are overpopulated, simply that we need to manage ourselves better. My opinion is that the world could support, if required,
maybe 20 billion people or more if we manage ourselves and the world properly.

Do you agree?
Either way if you visit you can give money to the preservation of the rainforest for free by viewing a page of adverts. Though don't get me started on all the questionable activities of the so called "do-gooders." For example I think tagging animals in many cases is cruel and traumatic. Do we really need "big brother for animals?" - it isn't as if nature can manage by herself.

Anyway I'm going to end this post here before I confuse you further. :)

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Beating the recession blues part 1: Happy news

Around the world people are worrying about the economy and associated troubles, so over the next few posts I am going to cover what's great.

To get things started I want to recommend Happy News. It is a brilliantly designed website that focusses exclusively on positive, good news and events. Whilst it is largely US centric, there's plenty of international coverage as well. It's perfect if you want to stay sane and remember that life is special. :)

Update: They also run the Happy Living magazine.

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