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Apr 222017
 

May continue to cut public sector salaries year on year.

May continue to pillage the public services we all use to pay for the bankers mistakes.

May continue to make tax cuts for the rich.

May continue to cut welfare payments to the poorest families in our society causing a huge increase in child poverty.

May continue to stumble and fumble around during the Brexit negotiations in all likelihood resulting in a poor deal for Britain.

May continue to antagonise the non-English countries of the union increasing the likelihood of a break-up.

May continue to add powers to the secret policemen until we’re living in a police state (hint: it’s not that far off).

Time to look past May to June and choosing anyone other than May.

Apr 202017
 

Today I pointed out that persuading teenagers to stop thinking “filthy” thoughts is roughly comparable to the task of emptying the ocean with a teaspoon, and someone retorted that the later was possible. Well perhaps, but until we’ve worked out a rough calculation we don’t really know do we?

And yes I am weird enough to have gone ahead and worked it out.

 

 

Swirling Sea

According to the wonder that is Wikipedia, the average teaspoon can contain approximately 5ml of liquid – not often ocean but the type of liquid is irrelevant.

According to a handy table, there are approximately 1.3 billion square kilometres of water in the world’s oceans. And according to a handy units calculator this equates to 1.3e21 litres of water. Dividing this figure by the volume of our teaspoon, we get the value 2.6e+23 teaspoons of water in the ocean.

Assuming that it takes 10s (we could argue about how accurate that is, but trust me it doesn’t make too much of a difference to the final conclusion) to move a teaspoon of seawater into a truly ginormous container that magically appears to contain it all, it will take approximately 2.6e+24 seconds to empty the oceans.

Now you could work on this non-stop, but I’m no Victorian factory owner, so I will be assuming an 8-hour working day, and a 5 day working week. Admittedly no paid holiday (you want pay for this? I don’t think so).

So dividing the stupendously large number of seconds by 60 (to get minutes) by 60 (to get hours) by 8 (to get days) by 5 (to get weeks) by 52 (to get years) we get approximately 3.5e+17 years. Good! We’ve reduced the E numbers somewhat!

Now if we divide this number of years by the expected lifetime of the sun (10 billion years – and ignoring the fact that we’re approximately half-way through the sun’s lifetime), we get a much more manageable figure of 34,722,222 sun lifetimes.

However it is not unreasonable to assume that something will happen to the oceans before we get anywhere near completing this little task.

Apr 182017
 

BBC Breakfast had a story this morning covering Prince William’s struggle with mental health, together with an interview with a counsellor and a mental health patient (both women – and this becomes relevant shortly). All very interesting and worthwhile – those with problems should be encouraged to seek assistance.

Yet what was missing?

The fact that William went public about his need for counselling in support of CALM which is an organisation trying to do something useful about the level of suicide amongst young men.

Whilst generalising the short piece to encourage everyone who needs help to seek it, it seems odd that the mysteriously high rate of suicide amongst young men and CALMs efforts to tackle it should really have gotten a mention.

 

Apr 162017
 

I am a racist.

I am prejudiced in favour of the human race.

Of course it is more common to find people who use the word race in reference to sub-divisions of humans, but you usually find that that as you look closer at each sub-division, it has less and less meaning. For instance, “white” in Europe is sub-divided into French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, Birtish, English, Irish, Welsh, … And as you look closer at those sub-sub-divisions, they are also divided up. At the lowest level, there is “family” and “not family”.

The imperative to categorise people into “races” comes from a useful trait for problem solving, but if it doesn’t tell you anything useful, why categorise “race”? There are plenty of more useful categories to put people into.

This was kicked off by a sudden surge in the number of YouTube videos on DNA results that show up for me. Which of course showed the entirely predictable result that almost everyone is a mixture of different ancestors. And people are shocked, distressed, or annoyed about the fact that that their perceived racial identity is smaller than expected.

A DNA test for me will show no shocking results – I know with certainty that all my ancestors for well over 10,000 years were human. As a rough guess, 75% of my ancestors were from somewhere in northwest Europe, with 25% from all sorts of surprising places. The proportions may change, and the higher the proportion of surprising places, the more interesting a story some of my ancestors have to tell.

Apr 062017
 

One of the possibilities when setting a password is to use non-ASCII characters, such as ¨þ¨ (that is a thorn). Well perhaps something a little more secure than just a single character.

But just how sensible is it?

The first thing to bear in mind is that you need to be able to enter the password reliably in all circumstances. A tale from the mists of time: I once set a root password on a Unix machine that included the ¨@¨ character, which normally worked fine but failed on the system console because on that terminal the old Unix tty was still active and ¨@¨ would erase a line, making it impossible to enter the password.

Fortunately I realised what the problem was before it became more than a little annoying.

But the point still remains – if you cannot type a password, you cannot authenticate. So for passwords such as firmware passwords, system encryption passwords, or normal computer account passwords, a password containing Unicode characters is probably a very bad idea.

But for when you have full control over your computer(s), such as for web account passwords, a password containing Unicode characters is worth considering.

So how safe is a password containing a Unicode character anyway? Well, on my usual password cracking machine, john the ripper is unable to crack the password ¨þ¨ in approximately 24 hours. Of course that is a bit of a cheat as john the ripper does not by default check Unicode characters, and if it did it would be able to crack a one character password. But it would take longer; adding Unicode characters increases the space that john the ripper needs to search in order to find your password.

And perhaps more importantly makes it less likely for a password guesser (Hydra for example) to be successful.

So if you normally use a password such as thistlethinthorn, changing it to þistleþinþorn is worth considering. Or indeed changing the separator between words in a multiword password to a Unicode character: thistle☠thin☠thorn, or red¡whistle¡wheel.

Apr 032017
 

Since getting a HiDPI screen, I have been plagued with claws mail merrily doing the right thing with proper emails, but showing HTML emails at a tiny size.

Whilst it doesn’t appear to be a preference you can change in the normal way, there is a zoom variable you can change within the Claws preferences file. Quit claws, and edit ~/.claws-mail/.clawsrc and scroll down through the file until you find the “[Fancy]” section :-

[fancy]
enable_images=1
enable_remote_content=1
enable_scripts=0
enable_plugins=0
open_external=1
zoom_level=100
enable_java=0
enable_proxy=0

Change the “zoom_level” to a suitable percentage (such as 200).

Mar 232017
 

It may be a bit early to comment in this way with 5 dead, and 40 injured after the attack in Westminster yesterday.

But it could easily have been so much worse.

For those who are not aware, every afternoon Westminster is crawling with hundreds or thousands of pedestrians. Any half-competent attacker armed with a vehicle would have a hard job keeping the casualty figures down to 50-odd.

And then to leap out of a hired car armed with a couple of knives just makes the attacker look pathetic.

Yes this is the worst terrorist attack in London for a decade – which just goes to show just how little terrorism there really is.

Yes there were deaths and terrible injuries, but to me it seems that mocking the attacker is an appropriate reaction.

If you look at recent terrorist attacks in Europe, most of the terrorists turn out to be pathetic petty criminals, and it won’t surprise me if this latest attacker also turns out to be a petty criminal. He’s certainly cowardly, pathetic and incompetent.

The New Defence

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