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Aug 292016

It seems that occasionally GNOME can go a little screwy and its fancy mouse pointer plugin can result in an invisible mouse pointer. Which makes doing anything just a little bit tricky.

If you can open a terminal, enter the command :-

gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.cursor active false

And all should be well. At least until it decides to turn itself back on again (so make a note of this fix!).


Aug 232016

There are moves afoot to scrap the UK’s Human Rights Act.

Think about that for a moment. There is a minister of justice who wants to take away your human rights.

Whether or not you like the ECHR, the fact that a British politician wants to scrap the Human Rights Act is somewhat worrying. They want to take away our human rights. It is all very well saying that the British authorities never behave in ways that would threaten our human rights, and we have both common law and traditions that protect our human rights. But scrapping the Human Rights Act sends a signal that we do not need human rights; a signal that may not be picked up and acted on for years or decades, but the signal is still there.

Now if they were merely going to modify the Human Rights Act, that would be fine. I am sure there are parts that go a bit too far and others that do not go far enough. The key thing is that changing the Human Rights Act; even improving it, sends a different signal no matter what those changes are. That signal is that we do believe in human rights.

And that is a good message to send.

The New Defence

The New Defence

Aug 192016

Of course it doesn’t. Anyone who claims so needs their brain rebooted.

This topic came up on an online discussion where there were many comments indicating a poorly conceived belief that a “not guilty” verdict from a court means “innocent”.

In a criminal case the court has to decide whether there is enough evidence to determine if the accused can be found guilty in the opinion of the court. The legal system very wisely knows that whilst it has the job of determining truth (as part of dispensing justice), it cannot do that so restricts itself to determining whether there is sufficient evidence to find someone guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

That means those who get a “not guilty” verdict comprise two groups – those who are innocent, and those who are guilty, but there is sufficient doubt over their guilt that they cannot be found guilty. Any policeman (or woman) will tell you that those found “not guilty” include plenty of people who really are guilty, but the evidence isn’t sufficient.

We have a legal system where there is a presumption of innocence – the old saying is that it is better that 99 guilty criminals go free than 1 innocent person be convicted. The legal system assumes that mistakes will be made (quite rightly – the decisions are made by people), and weighs the system heavily in favour of ensuring that mistakes result in people going free when they are guilty.

It does this by asking the jury to decide if the accused is guilty; not whether they are innocent. And they must have no reasonable doubts over the guilt of the accused. In a perfect situation a simple question has a black or white answer – the accused is guilty or innocent; in the real world we all know there are grey areas – there is plenty of evidence showing that the accused killed the victim, but she has a good alibi.

Where a case becomes grey and there is sufficient doubt, the verdict should be “not guilty” even if the accused was probably guilty.

The Edge

Jul 192016

(because everyone else has some)

  1. Stay in the shade; the big shiny thing in the sky is the heat source.
  2. If you are in the sun, wear white; it absorbs less of the heat from that big shiny thing. See point#1.
  3. If you are in the shade, wear black; it radiates more heat. See point#1.
The New Defence

The New Defence

Jul 172016

As seen from afar, the USA seems to be having a problem with racial tensions – police shootings, protests, “Black Lives Matter“, etc., and racial inequality such as found at Facebook. Nobody with any sense doubts that there is racism in the USA – everywhere there are bone-headed bigots worrying about the colour of the dead stuff that keeps the squishy bits on the inside.

But we may be too quick to assume that it is simply racism; many of the symptoms could well be caused by wealth inequality and relative poverty.

The wealthy (and their children) are more like to succeed because of a number of factors :-

  1. They are more able to afford private education – either to supplement state education or to replace it with presumably higher quality private education.
  2. They are more able to afford higher education; even though it is possible for those who cannot afford it to get loans to pay for higher education in the USA, this will leave those in debt at a disadvantage.
  3. Social networks (the “old boy network”) that the wealthy have access to includes greater opportunities at internships at organisations that give their children greater opportunities.
  4. And internships themselves seem designed to favour the children of the wealthy – unpaid work in the hope of getting a better job at the end of it is something that is only a suitable option if you already have money to live on.

There are those who point at people from relatively poor backgrounds who have “made it”, and there’s certainly no doubt that exceptional people can succeed whatever their background. But most of us are not exceptional.

Relative poverty and lack of opportunity can easily lead to frustration with the system, and amongst the criminally inclined a tendency to resort to crime – those with more wealth or more opportunities will not resort to crime to the same extent.

So does the USA have a racism problem or a wealth inequality problem? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I would not be at all surprised if the answer is both.

2012-05-19-sheep standing guard.small

Jul 142016

One of the throw-away statistics I tripped over recently was that there are 5 new malware releases every second.  Now many of those new releases are variations on a theme – there are pieces of software designed to distort a piece of malware into a new piece of malware with the same functionality. This is done deliberately to evade anti-virus software.

And it works. Every so often I feed some strange mail attachments into virustotal to find out how widely it is recognised. It is not uncommon to find that only 2-3 will recognise it as malware out of 50-odd virus checkers on that site. So if you happen to be dumb enough to download and activate the attachment, your anti-virus checker has a roughly 5% chance of protecting you.

Not exactly what you should expect.

I recently sat through a sales pitch for a not-so-new corporate product that does anti-malware protection very differently. Of course it is also insanely expensive, so I will not mention the actual product, but it does offer something new. Protection against malware by checking and blocking behaviour.

Whilst they add all sorts of clever data analysis tricks, fundamentally anti-virus products recognise malware because they recognise the data that makes up the malware. If they don’t recognise the signature of the malware, then they do not know it is malware; so they have an incredibly difficult time recognising new malware releases.

But recognising malware based on behaviour is far more likely to successfully recognise malware – for example by recognising an attempt to make itself persistent in a way that an ordinary application does not do, and blocking it. Which is a far more practicable method of blocking malware (if it works!).

It is also something that should probably be built into operating systems, which to a certain extent already has been.

The New Defence

The New Defence



Jul 142016

You do surprise me. Who would have thought it? If you go to work in a place with zillions of sick people each of whom gets a stream of visitors, you get sick more frequently than other jobs?

The accountants have been at work and decided that the NHS could save up to 2 billion by “doing something” about the sick days. Perhaps they should consider banning sick people going to hospital.


Jul 142016

… and it pretty much does.

The “lock ’em up and throw away the key” crowd are keen on pointing out that life should mean life. Meaning that those sentenced to life imprisonment should be inside for the rest of their lives.

Everyone “knows” that murderers sentenced to life are often freed after 10-25 years or so.

What is less well known is that when someone sentenced to life is released, they are released “on license”, and are definitely not free in the normal sense of the word.

For a start, lifers do not get released until they have convinced the relevant authorities that they are no longer a risk to society (in theory). When you come down to it, there is no point keeping a murderer in prison after 20 years if the circumstances have sufficiently changed that they are no longer likely to murder anyone – that 60-year old woman who went berserk and killed her children when she was 40 isn’t likely to have more children.

Bear in mind that keeping murderers in prison is expensive and the expense of the big TV and playstation a lifer gets in their cell is irrelevant compared with the cost of the bare cell.

Even when lifers are released, they are released on license, and monitored (although I dare say there are not enough resources allocated to monitoring). And if the lifer gets up to anything that makes their monitor feel uncertain, they’ll find themselves back inside without going through court. There have been lifers who have found themselves back inside because they were drinking too much.

So, no a murderer is never truly free.


Jul 012016

It’s the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme this morning, and there are those commemorating the event by claiming they all died for our freedom. Well that may have been what they thought they were fighting for, but that’s arguably not what the war was about. At least for the British, there were no real risk of invasion at the beginning of the war.

There is still arguments to be had over the causes of World War 1, but a very high level view indicates military adventurism by the Austria-Hungary empire in the powder-keg of Europe (the Balkans), combined with interlocking defence treaties that amounted to the mutually-assured destruction of the 19th century. To a great extent, Britain was fighting because France was fighting, and they were fighting because Russia was fighting who were fighting because Austria-Hungary were invading their allies in the Balkans – Serbia. Germany was pulled into the mess because of it’s alliance with Austria-Hungary.

If that sounds like a confusing mess, you don’t know the half of it. Not least because I have not mentioned Belgium.

Why does this matter? Particularly since I am implying that the sacrifice of the WW1 casualties was not for a particularly noble cause.

The first reason for remembering, is that those who thought they were fighting for a noble cause deserve to be remembered.

Secondly we need to remember just how stupid war is, and particularly that people are still arguing over exactly how and why it started. There may be justifiable wars – even wars that are not strictly defensive. But if you are not entirely sure why the war is being fought, it is definitely a war you should not be in.


Jun 292016

Having said give it a rest already, this is where I rant a bit about the dumbest decision England has made since following the direction of the pope and invading Ireland back in the 13th century.

So it turns out that crowd-sourcing decisions can sometimes result in the dumbest possible result. If you think about it a bit, you realise that the decision is effectively not a decision at all. The result (52% for exit, 48% for remain) indicates that half the country wants to leave and half the country wants to remain. We’re effectively undecided.

Parliament could ignore the result and decide to remain within the EU; the referendum is not legally binding. That probably isn’t going to happen, and a second referendum is even less likely – I cannot see the politicians wanting to spend that much money on democracy.

The amusing thing is that there are people out there who voted to leave as a protest vote, and didn’t really want to leave at all. Which strikes me as possibly the dumbest method of protesting you can possibly come up with. Mooning number 10 Downing Street is more sensible than voting for something you do not want.

But what do those of us who want to remain part of the EU do? Probably the most sensible thing is to keep quiet, let things go through their course, and in about 5 years time start campaigning to re-join the EU. Five years is about long enough to demonstrate just how dumb this move was, and will also shift all those under-18 remain fans get old enough to start voting.


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