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Britain: Blind, Baffled and Blissfully Ignorant - The Snooperís Charter

Saturday the 11th of July, 2015 | Category: Politics | Comment

 

Close friends will know that when it comes to politics, I have a tendency to lean to the right, itís something that developed as a result of growing up in an age where liberalism is being push to such extremes that itís becoming less about equality and nice ideas and more about converting everyone to the Ďright wayí of thinking - and eviscerating anyone who happens to disagree. Of course, thatís not representative of all people of a liberal mind set, just my experience of them. Now, as much as I do support the right way of thinking (see what I did there?) there is one thing that I do take quite an issue with, and itís that very thing that the UK is about to be subjected to, the Draft Communications Data Bill aka the Snooperís Charter.

For those unfamiliar the bill is quite straightforward, the current Conservative government have, like most governments globally, suddenly become aware that they have near to no (if any) control over the internet - and thatís a problem for them, itís something they canít regulate or in most cases even understand, and theyíre scared. This bill is an effort to change that, itíd give them indefinite control over digital communications within the UK. The bill is very similar to CISPA and PIPA, two bills American attempted to pass that would give them similar powers to maintain records, the main point being to retain data on what people are doing online, and spy on people in the name of, wait for it, counter terrorism. Without sounding too much like a foil coated leftie, thatís basically what theyíre pitching this as, a means to counter terrorism in the UK and abroad, you know, by suspecting everyone of it. Over the past 3 years, every time there has been an act of extremism our supreme overlord David Cameron has appeared on TV citing a need for further powers for intelligence services to monitor people's online activity.

Thatís quite ironic really, because historically in those extreme acts, the individual's communications had been monitored, and as a result they were deemed to be low risk. Take a look at the tragedy that was the beheading in London, the extremist in question had been monitored, and had been deemed low risk. If memory serves, there were similar issues around 9/11 - they were being monitored, but were not deemed flight risks - so what do the government really gain from monitoring everyone? Debt and an Orwellian nightmare. The latter speaks for itself, but maybe I should address the former, based on common usage, the average person in the UK will use 40-80GB of data per month, letís call it 60GB and according to the Office for National Statistics 43.5 million Britons had internet access in 2014, so per month, thatís about 2610 petabytes (2610000000 gigabytes) of data - and thatís not including businesses. So the debt: where are we going to put it all? The government wants all of this data retained for a year by internet service providers for a minimum term of 12 months, and based on the average cost of a gigabyte - £0.02 - thatíd cost taxpayers a minimum of £6,264,000 per year for the privilege of having their lives monitored.

I say minimum for many reasons, every day more people use the internet, every day the internet uses more data than the day before, and weíd be paying someone every day to sit and trawl through our data. The government isnít just going to sit on the data, theyíre going to actively dig into it (er, you know, counter terrorism remember), and if the government/we pay them the average UK wage, thatís another £26,000 per number of people they employ per year and theyíd have to employ a lot, at a basic level, a small 1MB text file can contain 1,048,576 characters.

Thatís not the only cost to consider, what about the economy? You see the bill covers a lot more than just data retention, under it VPNís would be completely outlawed and encryption would have state mandated holes. For those unfamiliar, VPNís are a mechanism by which one can connect to another network and can be used for anonymity, however their primary use is to allow business to give their employees access to their intranet when theyíre out of the office. Encryption, quite self-explanatory, is just a means of protecting data during in transition and whilst it is in storage by obfuscating it. The latter especially, is the sort of thing that is critical to online banking, communication, and just about every website that stores data about you. For a lot of business this would mean completely removing themselves from the UK (Google the company Ind.ie), because what business in its right mind would ever agree to leaving holes in their security so the government could come and go as it pleased? Other than Google of course.

All of that, when combined leads to the most obvious levels of hypocrisy that only the government could miss it. They want to store everyone's details, in one big database, but leave security holes in everything - Iíd imagine China and Russia are rubbing their fingers together already, just look at the OPM hack in the US (and that data was Ďsecureí). The plans are completely unviable, the resources arenít there, the technology isnít there, and the money certainly isnít. I agree with monitoring individuals who pose a risk, but under these plans it seems the government views us all as a risk, because, as I said, theyíre afraid of something thatís changing so rapidly that they just canít keep up, theyíre clutching at straws in an effort to gain some control, but ultimately, itís just not feasible.

The fact of the matter is, this bill would be a major intrusion into everyday Britonsí lives in clear disregard of the Human Rights act and the only thing the government would gain from it is almost totalitarian control. Imagine how much Facebook knows about you because of the pages you like and what you post - multiply that by 1000 and thatís what the government could know about you, they could potentially profile everyone, not unlike the Stasi.

Britainís motto has long been ďDieu et mon droitĒ - God and my right, and if this bill does pass, it will send one clear message to the world: Finie est mon droit - Gone is my right.


Tags: Snoopers Charter, Draft Communications Data Bill, UK, CISPA, PIPA, Stasi, Convervative | Click here to join the mailing list →

 

Elementary OS: 'Icon Drag' Mouse Glitch Fix

Saturday the 2nd of May, 2015 | Category: Geek | Comment

 

I recently installed Elementary OS as my main OS on my laptop, and about ten minutes later, I uninstalled it. Why? Take a look on the right (image credit on the bug track page. Whenever I clicked and dragged an icon, first the icon when all hazy, like pixelated, and then when I released the mouse key, the mouse pointer became the full size icon that I was initially dragging - complete with two pointers - that's what the image is of, what the pointer becomes. To get it back to normal you had a few options, reboot, reload the desktop, change and reset your desktop resolution and a few other - not exactly convenient - methods.

But, a week later, after installing Ubuntu (Unity/Mate), Debian (Cinnamon/LXDE/KDE/Gnome 3), Linux Mint (Cinnamon/KDE) and finding niggling issues with them all, I decided to give Elementary a whirl again and try and fix it.

And I did (with a few pointers from various Launchpad threads of course).

The commands below depend on using Intel graphics drivers, I'm fairly certain you could replace references to intel with your manufacturer, e.g, xserver-xorg-video-ati, but I can't say whether they'll work, or what dependencies they'll need. Proceed at your own risk.

From terminal, run the command:

sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg-video-intel

You'll see that it has a few dependencies, running an apt-get build-deps doesn't work here, instead, build the dependencies for one of the missing packages, this will pull the other along too:

sudo apt-get build-dep libgbm1

Now, this isn't all, because the install will fail again, this time on a dependency that it couldn't see before, and all I can imagine is that it becomes a dependency based on the other dependencies installed. So this time run:

sudo apt-get install xorg-video-abi-15


This will get you all the dependencies you need, but old files from xserver and intel that are no longer required still exist on your system and the install won't play along if they're still there, you can remove them by running:

sudo apt-get autoremove

Now you're safe to install the xorg-server drivers for your card, again note that this will probably work for other cards, just by replacing intel with ati or whatever your card may be, but the dependencies you have to build will most likely be different - so pay heed to your errors! Now, back to business, run:

sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg-video-intel

Now just reboot your system, and your graphics should be fixed!

What it seems to be coming down to is an ill-configured xserver (doing this gives you the default intel xserver config) or a conflict between the base system of Elementary, Ubuntu, and it's Pantheon desktop interface (which isn't easily installed to Ubuntu) - that at least would explain the dependency issue at least.


Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Elementary OS, xserver, mouse drag bug, glitch, intel, graphics | Click here to join the mailing list →

 

Let's talk about university

Sunday the 9th of November, 2014 | Category: Log | Comment

 

York is indisputably a beautiful city, full of life and history, the same can be said about the university I attend, York St John. It's a brilliant place, the main campus is - in my opinion - an architectural masterpiece, the lecturers (whilst maintaining their little quirks) are the picture of the perfect lecturer, outgoing, helpful, engaging and full of readily available knowledge. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that ever part of the university is wonderful, so I've got to ask why, why am I not enjoying it?

It's been something that's on my mind almost continuously for the past five out of the seven weeks I've been there. I don't feel that it's anything to do with the university itself, like I said it's a great place. There are a few potential reasons. The first would be that most of the people I know have some aim, they know what they want out of their degree and they know what they want to do with what they get. In my case, I don't particularly have any set idea about what I'd like to do - sure I could teach, sure I could go into journalism, I could write books or heaven forbid, poetry. I'd probably enjoy some of them, but I don't want to do them. In some ways I feel like I picked the degree (creative writing) based on the idea that I liked writing, which I stand by as a completely valid reason for picking something, but when I picked it I hadn't given any thought to what I'd like to do after it. I did the opposite of my mistake at sixth form, rather than pick on necessity for the future I picked on want for the current, and in some ways I regret that.

Then there's the course itself. I'm not about to proclaim that I'm Wordsworth reborn and can with any level of credibility state what should and shouldn't be on the course, I'm not going to say there's no link between literature and creative writing - basically I'm not mentally handicapped. I can see the overwhelming significance of literature in creative writing, but the fact is I don't want to. At A-Level I took literature in place of another subject in the "grace period" at the start of term where you could change subjects freely. It was somewhat of an accident that I ended up doing it, I needed to change subjects to get rid of psychology, and when I told the college this I was put rather on the spot as to what I'd like to change to, my gut reflex was to say English lit because I did well in it at GCSE. What I quickly became aware of over the coming days, weeks, months and in fact, two years, was that I was well and truly done with literature. Yeah I might have been able to do it but, and I'll commit academic suicide here, it's boring. It sucks the fun out of what is perhaps the greatest creative conduit in the world, reading. I took a creative writing degree without being aware that the ratio of literature to creative writing, at least in the first year, would be 2/3. Suffice to say, having vowed never to do it again, to now be doing it again is quite an issue for me.

Another thing to consider is that originally I was going to go on a gap year to work overseas or try and get a job with good career prospects, the aim being to just 'forget' I was supposed to be going to university in 2015 and thus not go at all, continuing whatever I was doing. From the start of my second year at college I was firmly of the opinion that I would not go to university, because I was quite certain it wasn't for me. But then results day happened, and everyone was so excited about what universities they were and weren't going to, it was great, and I felt left out, it weighed down on me all that day, my results were good in my opinion, but I didn't celebrate them because, like I've said, I felt somewhat outcast. So that day I made the decision to ring the university and see if I could still go in 2014. I could, so I said I would. Then three weeks later the excitement wore off, I still didn't have a student loan, the course wasn't what I expected, things were breaking left, right and centre, I missed my friends, and the way I saw it there were a million and one things I was missing out on. That's just a small segment from a series of miniature disasters that plagued my first three weeks. I regretted going, and somewhat still do.

I think what it boils down to though is that I'm just tired of education. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, I'm not saying I don't want to learn because I do. I'm also not saying I'm not saying again, don't worry. I just think that after however many years it was in formal education, I needed a break, and I didn't take my chance to have it. I would much rather be out working or doing something more skills based at this point. I spent half my A2 year applying for horti/agriculture apprenticeships, if only I'd gotten onto one. I want to do something else now.

It's reading week now, I'm home all week. I still don't know how I feel about university. It's like I'm doing it to say I've done it, I don't really have an aim, and generally every day is a struggle because I'm simply not enjoying it. Then again there are good times, and I've made lots of friends, some of the work is interesting and fun, it's sort of an internal tug-of-war. Will I stay there or will I go to 'find myself' in Eastern Asia? I, of all people, don't know.

I have got to finish by reiterating that the university and the course are brilliant, this is purely a personal issue and does not reflect on the university whatsoever.


Tags: University, Life, Academia, Degree, Creative Writing | Click here to join the mailing list →

 

University: Writing Short Fiction

Tuesday the 21st of October, 2014 | Category: University | Comment

 

I've spent a while now thinking about what I might start putting up on my blog, and I decided one thing that might be fun is every time I have to write a creative piece for my creative writing course at university, I'll publish it here too, that way I can get some good critical feedback from a broad audience and hopefully have some fun too!

So the first piece I'm going to publish is short fiction, we spent a while reading various stories by George Saunders, and were then tasked with writing our own using three randomly generated points, a goal, an obstacle and a sentence from which to develop a character - these can be found at the bottom - so, here goes.

--

I stood tucked behind a small fern at the end of the garden, there was no moon tonight, no stars, I was cloaked in the world's shadow. The only light was from the house, two windows casting a warm glow into the midwinter night. The garden itself was well kept, a small vegetable patch down here at the bottom, a quirky path snaking along on the right hand side passing between an old woodshed and a lawn littered with children's toys. It terminated at a patio which wrapped around the back side of the house. None of it was particularly large, just modest, the house was ex-council, now privately owned by the Johnsons. In the year they'd been there already they'd done quite some work, refitting some windows, having the pipes changed and the whole house rewired, now it was being rented out to the one of the Johnsons' widowed mothers.

A siren sounded somewhere in the distance, a police car by the sounds of it, maybe I was lucky and the other had been caught, haha, it'd make victory all the more easy. No, that'd be too good to be true, plus putting two of us in the same village? Unlikely. Even for them that'd be skating too close to the edge. Either way the siren was fading into the pressing silence of Helmsley and my vigil endured.

The light in the living room flicked out, the one in the bedroom soon after, leaving the entirety of the garden a pool of black, the house barely distinguishable from the night sky. I really couldn't have asked for a better task. You'd expect a sort of rush about now, I'd imagine, a sudden influx of adrenaline, or excitement, would that I could. Seven hours watching this house, seven hours without food or drink, just waiting, and now it was finally time it was just another day, just another night, just another task, it was really nothing more than another day at the office. I made my move up the path placing each step as though I was walking on a frozen lake, holding the sides of my jacket close to me, timing every inhale and exhale to fall between my steps.

Buying a house for your lonely old mother might be a lovely gesture, especially when you're fitting it out with all the mod cons, but there's always one thing that's left out of this grand schemes, the alarm. Sure, have shiny plug sockets, but what good is it if the thing you put in it is stolen in the night? This one was particularly poor, people see the brand names, "Yale", "Tate", and assume it'll be fine. The Yale HSA6200 on this house was fitted when it was first built, the backup batteries inside it long expired and never replaced. I reached inside my coat and pulled out a key, opening the electric box I quickly located the emergency fuse and shorted it out with the aid of a little water. It'd take them weeks to realise it hadn't rained for a few days.

Now the door. You're kidding yourself if you think a lock is going to keep the scary monsters out, it only took two thin strips of metal and a little twist and I was inside. The kitchen was where I entered, I couldn't enter via the front door for fear of the cats alerting the old woman to my presence. She liked to let them sleep in her room with her. She also liked to keep fresh fish in the fridge for them. I took it out and placed it on the floor, wiping the oily residue from my gloves onto my coat. Must be clean. I pulled back the hallway door and sure enough there they were, both the cats the woman owned, I might as well have not been there, they were entranced by the scent; dashing past to take their fill. I'd be gone before the fish was.

The hallway ran parallel to the stairs all carpeted and painted in varying degrees of beige. Along the walls and up the sides of the stairs were various photos, focussing on them I could make them out, one an older man and presumably the husband of the old woman. Another framed two younger adults, I could see now the old woman was the mother of Mr. Johnson, he was the spitting image of his father. Further down a larger photo in much plainer frame held a family portrait, a proud pair of grandparents, and a brimming mother and father holding their new-born. This one wasn't as old as the others, maybe a few years. The other articles were a mixed bag, school portraits, selected landscapes, pets - cat's photographed from every conceivable angle.

Even if there had been a light on in the house it had gone with the electricity, the inside was no different to the outside now, a home? No, a shell. At the top of the stairs there were four doors, one to the right, one in front and two to the left. Only the one in front stood ajar. I smirked a little at the simplicity of it all. How was this a final? There was no challenge, not even any real requirement for skill. The whole competition had been like this, the first round was easy, the second a child could've done, the third was a little harder, but only because the man was grossly overweight. The semi-final did require a little work, only logistically though, and now the finals, an old woman in a backwater village? Please, I could do it blindfolded.

I twisted and edged through the door to find her fast asleep in a double bed. It was the classic setup, floral bed sheets, a bottle of pills next to an open copy of 'Death on the Nile'. Ten past eleven, the bus wasn't until twenty-five past. I was well ahead of time, ten minutes too early in fact. I walked around to the front of the bed and peered through the window. The patio dining table still had teacups on it. I turned and face the woman again, so peaceful.

This is the part where I digress into a stream of thoughts, talk about the significance, or should I say the insignificance of life. The fact is, whether or not I would be on the other side of it one day, or whether I believed in an afterlife or the various gods really didn't matter to me. I could die tomorrow a happy man because this is what I loved, this moment, this serene, almost clinical moment. I was my own god, and in this moment I was this woman's god too.

I sat beside her and brushed the hair from the front of her face behind her ear, a little wet spot of drool had formed on the pillow beneath her head. I watched her chest rise and fall slowly beneath the duvet. In. Out. In. Out. What was that? A click? No. Just my imagination. Focus. In. Out. In. Out. I placed a hand swiftly over her mouth as she released her breath and gave a sharp nip to her upper arm. Her eyes opened, first only partially, then realisation hit, she saw me, my face, all at once her mind raced, who, what, why, how, but none of it was given voice, not even a scream escaped her lips, she hadn't the breath to do it. Footsteps? No, no one had come or gone all day. It was too much to resist, I leaned forwards and whispered in her ear, "What, has the cat got your tongue?" All the while slipping the hunting knife down from my sleeve to my hand behind her back.

"Shh. I have a gift for you." I slipped my other hand into my coat and took out one, thin, tulip. I placed it upon the pillow directly in front of her wide eyes. She didn't understand and for that brief millisecond she forgot about me as she processed the flower. The same brief millisecond that the knife pierced down into her jugular, through her trachea, right to the bone at the back. Godís miracle wasn't giving us life, it was giving us the capacity to take it.

I smiled down at her as I drew the knife out, a fountain of blood pulsating from her neck, it came in distinct jets, after the first her eyes began to roll backwards, by the second her face began to slip, by the third she was gone. People might use wild and obscure similes to describe this moment, there aren't any that can do it justice, there is only it itself, the sublime beauty that is death, nothing else comes close to being like it.

The eruptions from her throat continued a little while longer, each squirt a little less powerful until eventually only a gentle stream trickled down onto the bed. I stood up and took out my lighter. I held it to the plastic plug socket, the plastic bubbled and burst into flames. Being a quiet village they wouldn't expect a murder, the room and body would be so burnt that it'd take a full autopsy to detect any sign of foul play. They'd burn the electrician who rewired the house for a shoddy job not sealing the electrical box properly. I'd be long gone before the truth was discovered - if it was at all.

I turned to the door, the fire now gaining pace it was time to leave. I pulled it open and was met with a young girl of about six. She was clutching a teddy bear, the orange glow behind me was illuminating the tears on her cheeks. The granddaughter, she must've had a nightmare or something. Her eyes bounced from my mine to my hand dripping with blood to the fiery glow behind me.

The challenge.

I understand now, the old woman was never really a part of it, it was her. I stepped forwards sizing up the situation but she was faster, she ran to the right into the bathroom, bolting the door behind her, I was fast to respond, throwing my full weight against it and shattering part of the wood, a shriek coming from the other side when I collided. This wasn't good. I stepped back and gave it a strong kick. The door flew open. I dashed in to find her huddled in the corner, the teddy bear held tight to her chest and her eyes clenched. I lifted my knife and regained my cool.

Crack. I span to see the fire had spread faster than I expected, it was snaking out onto the landing; I didn't have time for this bitch. I looked down on her once more, surely the flames could do it just as well as I could. I ran, fleeing the house through the kitchen, the garden, the neighbour's garden, the street, the next street, the bus stop, the bus. I slipped the bloody gloves into my inside pocket before I boarded. Once seated I took out my phone and rang them, "It's done, they're both dead." A pause followed, a long pause, had I won or not, was the other guy caught? A raspy voice filled the speaker, "Congratulations, the contracts and money will be dispatched immediately." With a crack the line fell dead and I breathed a sigh of relief, I've won.

I could hear sirens in the distance, fire engines, ambulances, they were too late, they were dead, weren't they? At least one of them was anyway.

--

I hope you enjoyed it, even now I'm judging certain aspects of it and questioning what I was thinking, but what I really care about is what you think, feel free to comment here, on Facebook or reply to the Tweet I sent the link to tell me what you thought of it and points for improvement, no matter what it is I want to hear it!

The goal given was, "To be king of the heap." The obstacle, "The cat lady." The character line, "I put a tulip under all the pillows and then I set the house on fire."


Tags: Short Story, Fiction, George Saunders, Writing, University, York St. John | Click here to join the mailing list →

 

Aaaaaaaaaaand we're back live with Joe

Friday the 5th of September, 2014 | Category: Log | Comment

 

You might be thinking my blog looks a bit empty, in doing so you'd have assatained the obvious - it is in fact empty (until I upload this post of course.) I have deleted everything, don't be alarmed, I backed it up first to make sure that I had a record of the dirge that had come before. However, through no fault of my own that backup has now also fallen victim to the recycle bin.

The reason for the sudden purge of three to four years of writing is simple, I'm moving on in my life and my days of teenage angst are sadly over and I'm looking at moving in a more consistent and focussed direction with my blog. Before I had lots of things running in series which I didn't really update at all, and those that I did were rushed and poorly written.

So now I'm starting again, and I'm starting at a turning point in my life. This month I'll be starting my degree in Creative Writing at York St John University, it's a pretty big deal for me, I'd originally planned to spend this year working and go to university next year, but not so long ago I had an interview with South Yorkshire Police for an IT based position, the upshot of which was that whilst I talked well and presented myself better than most, I didn't have the experience in the area and I didn't have a degree to make up for the lack of it. I was, in short, told that if I had a degree, any interview I had would have a much higher chance of a positive outcome.

So there I was, two weeks ago, sat on my sofa wasting a day for the 200th time this year and in a moment that can only be summed up in the juvenile phrase, "yolo" I rang the university to find out if I could go this year, and, when they said I could, I said I would, and that was that.

This comes after A-Level results day in England, and in all honesty my results weren't great in the grand scheme of things, but I achieved what I expected and I'm certainly happy with them. My experience studying for my A-Levels isn't one that I regret but it's not one I'd repeat given the choice, the social aspect is what pulled me through it. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the lessons, but I think it's fair to say I picked out of necessity (where I was allowed) which did not translate well into what I actually wanted to do. The subjects were okay, certainly in respect to some of the teachers, the philosophy department especially was comprised of what I can only describe as the most conscientious and skilled teachers that I've encountered.

Philosophy was definitely the most enjoyable of my subjects, it was just taught better and was more interesting than the rest in my opinion. Of course there's always English Literature, I can't deny it wasn't taught well, but my issues with it were not associated with that particular college, rather, on a curriculum level I felt that English Literature was taught too rigidly and lacked all of the creativity and potential for genuine interest that the subject should inherently posses.

Then there's physics, I'll not say too much, it was fun, it was interesting, but it wasn't for me. Physics where I studied didn't require A-Level maths as a partner subject and I think it should have, because that'd have made it a lot more clear about just how much maths was a part of it, because there wasn't - in my experience - enough of a warning. I took it based on my A* in GCSE physics, but, as with maths, there is no comparison between the GCSE and A-Level versions of the subject.

Before that but after I finished TRC I went to Austria with my best friend, James which was probably the crowning moment of the year so far, I dined like a king - or rather, for the first time I ate properly. We hiked mountains, we swam, we (or James at least) spent an ungodly amount of time in a Sauna. We explored the picturesque towns and the bustling cities and it was just great, I can't think of anyone I'd have rather shared what is in fact my favourite (I've been over eleven times now) country with.

When I write, as I just have, what is essentially a summary of nine months of my life, and it fits into what is basically three points, it seems like I've not done very much at all despite the fact it feels as though I have. But, that's me, the essence of doing nothing and still somehow managing to get stressed because I'm doing too much.

I plan to post a lot more in the coming weeks, but what I'll be posting I cannot say, you'll just have to stay tuned to find out!


Tags: University, Return, Blogging, A-Levels, Rotherham, Philosophy, TRC, York St John | Click here to join the mailing list →

All works are copyright J.Brailsford © 2015 and are probably the work of flasehood and should not be taken seriously. Unless you're a Narwhal.