Echoes of Derren Brown…

Yet another deranged, highly suicidal stunt is going to be shown on TV with a delay, rather than going out live.

Except that the taikonaut being launched in the Chinese desert this week has a significantly lower chance of survival than the TV conjuror.

It would seem charitable to hope that China’s space technology is more advanced than Brazil’s. Not particularly plausible, but charitable nonetheless.

Comments about butter, guns and the absurd vanity of developing world leaders are as redundant as they are obvious.

Update Wed Oct 14 2:51AM: I was completely wrong. Much respect to Yang Liwei, although I’d still stand by my assessment that you’re crazier than Derren Brown. And if I want a rocket scientist, I’ll hire a Chinese person and not a Brazilian.

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Cuba to remain communist even longer

I know that the US justice system (see, no sarky inverted commas. I’m officially less bitchy than James Taranto…) works on a principle of scaring defendants shitless with the world’s largest ever potential sentences, so that they agree to plead guilty. This saves the expense of a trial, not to mention the difficulty of convincing a jury that the defendant actually did the crime.

But even a potential sentence of 471 years for hacking someone’s email account to send baseball-related abuse seems somewhat harsh. Sure, he’ll plea-bargain and it’ll be knocked down to a few years in jail… but what’s the point of that?

Hackers and spammers are mildly annoying. I’m always astonished by people who find them more than mildly annoying… there really are more important things to worry about. I’m also actively amused by IT security people who dislike them, even though the IT security conspiracy industry wouldn’t get the opportunity to extort vast amounts of money from every business going without the 7337 h4xx0rz’ efforts.

The suggestion that hackers can be dangerous, life-threatening terrorists (not that that was even the case here) is particularly wrong-headed. If you’ve got a life-critical IT system, don’t connect it to the Internet! If I’m ever in an intensive care ward, I’ll happily ignore the urge to check my Hotmail using my life support machine. Nor is it a good idea to connect nuclear power station safety systems to the net so that Homer Simpson-a-likes can monitor them from home…

At worst, hacking should be a money-costing crime. If it goes beyond that, then this is the fault of the idiots who built the relevant systems. And the monetary cost of most hacking (as opposed to virus writing) incidents is so close to zero that prosecuting them is an utter waste of everybody’s time and money.

As for the guy in the article – rather than wasting taxpayer cash keeping him in jail, how about forcing him to support the Red Sox? That way, he’ll never get miffed that his team nearly made the playoffs.

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We know it doesn’t work: that’s why we’re going to do it

While it’s clear that putting policepeople on the streets has no inherent direct impact on crime taking place (compare the number of streets to the maximum possible number of police on them to see why), until now there appeared to be two possible reasons why visible policing might work.

The first – that the risk of running into a policemen might scare away criminals – relies on criminals being both rational enough to fear being caught by the police, and stupid enough to completely miscalculate the risks. This is possible in some cases – although drug-addled crazies on the one hand, and ‘professional’ career burglars on the other, would seem to raise some difficulties.

A more significant reason is the idea that increasing the numbers of police might reduce people’s excessively high fear of crime (for example, unless you’re a career criminal or a young black male, your chances of being shot in the UK are negligible. Nonzero, but negligible. Gun crime is something that’s a serious problem in some places for some people, and that problem needs to be dealt with – but it’s insane for the general population to fear it [*]). This would make everyone happier, and would hopefully reduce the impact of “let’s all be nastier to everyone” political creeds.

However, it now appears that this theory doesn’t actually work either. Which is doubtless why once-sensible Tory Oliver Letwin picked this week to announce his plans to waste taxpayer money on putting 40,000 new police on the beat

My message to the Tories: fuck off. Spend the money on schools and transport, or cut taxes. Crime’s already low enough not to be a serious worry unless you’re neurotic, and I don’t want my taxes wasted on a policy that won’t even make the closeted suburban ninnies it’s designed to appease happier…

* I deliberately chose to live in a reasonably high gun crime area last time I moved house: cheap areas to live in Manchester tend to involve knife crime, gun crime, or serious boredom. Knife crime is frequently directed at people like me. Gun crime isn’t…

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Self-referentialism in the house

The whole scripting thing has paid off a little… fortunately, the site I’m designing is running in almost exactly the same way as a blog, right down to being set up so the clueless [employees of client] can post things on it.

So I’ve also managed to get a test blog thing set up at I haven’t done any design work for it yet, so at the moment it looks like something Chris Lightfoot would approve of. Except for not being sufficiently vicious about Peter Cuthbertson.

When I say ‘no design work’, I really mean no prettifying, I guess. I’ve thought about design in a user-flow-through-pages kind of way, which is far more important and tends to be neglected by the idiots who tend to design cut-price webpages.

Anyway, I’d be most obliged if anyone happening to visit the site (assuming you exist) could take a look at the new one, try and post dodgy scripts in the comments section to see if they can break it, and let me know if there’s anything deeply stupid or unusable about the flow of it all.

You can tell me how I should make it look as well, but I’m quite arrogant about the graphic side of design (I know that with this page set up the way it is I really shouldn’t be, but never mind that now…) so I might well ignore you.

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That wasn’t in the script

For complicated financial reasons (well, not very complicated – my job doesn’t pay me enough, so I’m building a couple of websites for cash), I’m being forced to learn PHP and ASP simultaneously at the moment.

This is slightly irritating, in that the two scripting languages work in almost, but not actually, the same way and use almost, but not actually, the same commands. That’ll learn me, or something. But not for the first time, I’m thanking various deities for the existence of the web.

Learning programming languages when I was little was actually difficult. Built-in help varied between the non-existent (when I learnt BBC Basic) and the rubbish (early versions of VB spring to mind). Getting hold of tutorials involved money, which I didn’t have when I was 12, and being bothered to go to a specialist bookshop, which I can’t be bothered to do even now. And looking at how (more than a couple of) other people did things was near-impossible unless you went out and bought their software.

Now, however, I can google for asp get query string url (or whatever the biggest keywords relating to my query are) and instantly bring up dozens of hits telling me exactly what I need to do.

This absolutely rocks, since I don’t need to learn the actual terms for either language at all. All I need to do is work out how I need to structure the script, then I can look up everything else. And I can make sure it works properly through repeated trial and error, since it’s just a matter of changing what looks wrong, saving and hitting F5.

It’s one example of the key way the Internet has changed the world. You (I/one, if you prefer) no longer really need to know any facts. You just need to know how to find them and (very importantly in some cases, although fortunately the number of malicious ASP tutorials on the web seems to be limited) to work out how credible they are. This is intellectually taxing, but it doesn’t involve memorising anything.

Which suits me just fine.

I’m also happy because once I’ve built the commerical sites I can re-use the code that I write to make SBBS run properly on my server – then I can escape from the infinitely vile Blogger. Hooray!

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Woo! Yey!

Serious reforms are afoot in China, where the government plans to legalise marriage even if your boss doesn’t approve. And people who live in some cities will even be able to apply for passports without their boss’s permission (“No passport for you, Zhao – these Fimbles dolls don’t just sew themselves together”, etc).

A bit pathetic, I know – but at least it’s a start.

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