Monthly Archives: November 2015


Our next concert is Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, which we’re performing at the Guildhall, Plymouth on Sunday, December 6th.

This work tells the biblical story of the prophet Elijah, a tale of extreme violence, opening with a genocide and featuring a classic massacre in the middle, as well as a euphemistically-violent ending.  Elijah himself is surely the greatest of all role models for, among others, the bloodiest of modern Islamic terrorists  (indeed, everything we know about Bin Laden echoes Elijah’s story).  For added cognitive dissonance, the bloody tales are interlaced with gentle and serene proclamations of God’s goodness and boundless mercy: war was peace long before Orwell and Newspeak!

As for the music, Mendelssohn was of course one of the master tunesmiths of all time.  There’s a lot that’s lovely, scenes that are quite exciting, and a fair few tunes that listeners will find familiar.  Set for soloists, a substantial chorus and middling-sized orchestra.  I think I can recommend it to readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.

Identity and Trust

Folks who know me will know that I’ve been taking an interest for some time in the problems of online identity and trust:

  • Passwords (as we know them today) are a sick joke.
  • Monolithic certificate authorities (and browser trust lists) are a serious weakness in web trust.
  • PGP and the Web of Trust remain the preserve of geekdom.
  • People distrust and even fear centralised databases.  At issue are both the motivations of those who run them, and security against intruders.
  • Complexity and poor practice opens doors for phishing and identity theft.
  • Establishing identity and trust can be a nightmare, to the extent that a competent fraudster might find it easier than the real person to establish an identity.

I’m not a cryptographer.  But as mathematician, software developer, and old cynic, I have the essential ingredients.  I can see that things are wrong and could so easily be a whole lot better at many levels.  It’s not even a hard problem: merely a more rational deployment of existing technology!  Some time back I thought about setting myself up in the business of making it happen, but was put off by the ghost of what happened last time I tried (and failed) to launch an innovative startup.

Recently – starting this summer – I’ve embarked on another mission towards improving the status quo.  Instead of trying to run my own business, I’ve sought out an existing business doing good work in the field, to which I can hope to make a significant contribution.  So the project’s fortunes tap into my strengths as techie rather than my weaknesses as a Suit.

I should add that the project does rather more than just improve the deployment of existing technology, as it significantly advances the underlying cryptographic framework.  Most importantly it introduces a Distributed Trust Authority model, as an alternative to the flawed monolithic Certificate Authority and its single point of failure.  The distributed model also makes it particularly well-suited to “cloud” applications and to securing the “Internet of Things”.

And it turns out, I arrived at an opportune moment.  The project has been single-company open source for some time and generated some interest at github.  Now it’s expanding beyond that: a second corporate team is joining development and I understand there are further prospects.  So it could really use a higher-level development model than github: one that will actively foster the community and offer mutual assurance and protection to all participants.  So we’ve put it forward as a candidate for incubation at Apache.  The proposal is here.

If all goes well, this could be the core of my work for some time to come.  Here’s hoping for a big success and a better, safer online world.

Sweet and Earthy

Since getting the juicer, I’ve made a few interesting discoveries.  New flavours – some better than others – and some interesting rules of thumb.  Perhaps the most interesting revelation is what it can do with roots.  Both the general-purpose mixer (the carrot), and the strong flavours (like ginger, radishes, turmeric).  Why do we not see more roots in the range of juices sold by our supermarkets?

I have observed when shopping for juice that apple is treated as a pretty-universal mixer.  Both when explicitly named (apple-and-[pear|mango|elderflower|etc] and in the blends with labels like “exotic”, “garden”, or “tropical” (hmm, bit of a mismatch there).  Basically it just works with everything.  The only substantial exception is citrus fruits, which rarely blend much with anything non-citrus.

But trying it at home, I find the carrot to be pretty-much just as good and universal a mixer.  For example, I was sure apple-pear-ginger would be delicious, and now I find carrot-pear-ginger works just as well.  It’s a little less sweet, but the pears bring ample sweetness, and the main flavours are still the pear and ginger.  The only time I wouldn’t want to use carrots in place of apples is when I really want the extra sweetness: for example, while apple-cucumber-mint work nicely, I’ve no burning desire to try that with carrot.

Another case was today’s brew, when I tried another root in there for the first time.  Taking the view that the earthiness of turmeric would want to be offset by something sweet, I blended it into apples and grapes.  It worked nicely, but I suspect would be an acquired taste with less sweetness.

One more flavoursome root that works nicely in small amounts is radishes.  And though I have yet to try them, I expect I might get something interesting with horseradish or wasabi.

Actually, the one strong flavour that has disappointed is chillies.  As with today’s turmeric, I thought they’d need to go in something sweet, so I tried back in the summer in an apple/strawberry blend.  The heat of the chilli didn’t really make it into the drink: I guess it must’ve ended up in the pulp and gone to waste.

One other minor revelation: things one doesn’t much like in their normal form can work well in a drink.  Specifically celery: some time back I had some spare after using it in a tomato-and-basil soup, so I tried blending it into a drink.  Given that I’ve never much liked it raw, I was pleasantly surprised by that flavour.

Alas, washing up is quite a chore.  Now the novelty has worn off, I’m not using the machine more than once or twice a week, and drinking supermarket juices the rest of the time.

Walking and Working vs Living, Learning, Breathing

Since my change of principal job, my use of the treadmill desk has changed, and not in a good way.

Having acquired the desk at a time when I’d been a couple of years in the job already, my work was development and maintenance, without having to tackle the steeper parts of any new learning curve.  Regular development work worked well at the treadmill.

When the job ended, I had to return the less-than-fully-functional Macbook to my ex-employer, and after a brief spell hooking up the ultrabook there, I bought a cheapo new desktop to use at the treadmill.  Unfortunately I’m now finding I rarely use it, and when I do I often feel the need to sit down with the problem at hand.  At first that was due to getting the new box up to speed sometimes standing in the way of a task, so doing it on the ultrabook became a line of least resistance.  But now I think I see another issue: struggling on the steep part of the learning curve for a new project is hard, and I don’t seem to give it adequate concentration while walking.

Or it might just be that the evenings, when I walk/work best, are blighted by wood smoke coming from a neighbour.  In the interest of not unnecessarily raising my carcinogen intake (not to mention inducing heavy coughing) I have to avoid any kind of (physical) exercise in the evenings.

I need another house move, and while I’m here I need to rearrange my computers to have a dev machine I can sit at.