Tossing a bitcoin

I’ve just taken delivery of my first physical bitcoin.  I hadn’t realised it was topologically single-sided: you think of more complex shapes like the Möbius Strip or Klein Bottle as being interesting, but seeing it in this simply-connected coin came as a surprise to me.

Tom Stoppard was ahead of his time.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern didn’t need an Infinite Improbability Drive to toss 92 consecutive Heads (or whatever it was): it was a single-sided bitcoin, and every toss is heads.  Impressive to have written about that 50 years ago.

And so much for all the hype around the new British pound coin!

 


 

Enough of that.  The genre of April 1st jokes has gone distinctly stale in our times, as the mass of weak and contrived stories fail to fool anyone.  Especially online, where most readers of anything I write will be seeing it outside today’s time window.  Even those who get it by live feed or aggregator.

This morning in my feed I saw a particularly feeble line in my El Reg feed.  Reg now behind invisible bitcoin paywall.  They’re now running bitcoin-mining Javascript in readers’ browsers.  I clicked it over breakfast, because I thought it might have collected some amusing comments.  The comments failed to amuse, but they lead on to an audacious and imaginative joke, for which kudos to El Reg even if it’s not entirely intentional.

Every comment bears the grinning troll icon!

This is clearly just for today or this morning, depending on how they interpret the tradition (maybe it’s really elaborate, and sniffs your timezone for a best guess of when to display them)?  But the ingenious thing is that this applies not just to the feeble joke article, but every article, through the history of El Reg.  Suddenly the Reg every day is April 1st tradition really comes into its own, as tall stories like yesterday’s one about World Backup Day display all grinning trolls.

And suddenly the seeds of doubt are sown over all the serious stories.  This is surreal, and turns it into a brilliant new twist on an old tradition!

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The right weapon

Today’s terrorist attack in London seems to have been in the worst tradition of slaughtering the innocent, but pretty feeble in its token attempt on the more noble target of Parliament.  This won’t become a Grand Tradition like Catesby’s papists’ attack.

But if we accept that the goal was slaughter of the innocent, then today’s perpetrator made a better job of it than most have done, at least since the days of the IRA, with their deep-pocketed US backers and organised paramilitary structure.  His weapon of choice was the obvious one for the purpose, having far more destructive power than many that are subject to heavy security theatre and sometimes utterly ridiculous restrictions.  Even some of those labelled “weapons of mass destruction”.

The car.  The weapon that is available freely to everyone, no questions asked.  The weapon no government dare restrict.  The weapon that kills more than all others, yet where it’s so rare as to be newsworthy for any perpetrator to be meaningfully punished.  Would the 5/11 plotters have gone to such lengths with explosives if they’d had such effective weapons to hand?

With this weapon, the only limit on terrorist attacks is the number of terrorists.  No need for preparation and planning – the kind of thing that might attract the attention of police or spooks – just go ahead.

And next time we get a display of security theatre – like banning laptops on flights – we can point to the massive double-standards.

Equinox

Just noticed:  Sunrise 06:25 Sunset 18:26.  Starting today, we are into the season of daylight!

We’ve had some spring weather too, though nothing dramatic.  What is looking impressive is the wide range of spring flowers and blossom all around.  Not just the Usual Suspects like daffodils and primroses, but even later flowers like the tulips in the front garden are peeping through.  And we have the appearance of other spring wildlife, like the bumblebees servicing the flowers in the garden.

Also mildly bemused by the white heather at the bottom of the garden.  I’ve seen heather ranging from red/pink through to blueish, but pure white is new to me.

Under attack

Yesterday morning I woke up to several hundred (or was it thousand?) messages from the online contact form on my website.  They came from what was clearly an automated dumb probe: all within a few minutes just before 4 a.m.  The probe had tried filling different fields with all kinds of payloads: fishing Unix paths, fishing Windows paths, escaped and unescaped commandline sequences including shellshock, SQL injection attacks, Javascript/XSS fragments, attempts to send mail or proxy HTTP.  Oh, and some fragments whose potential purpose eludes me.

OK, no big deal: just a few minutes of my time.  Dumb bots attack websites all the time.  Whatever vulnerabilities my server has (and I’m sure there are some), that kind of bot probing my contact form is no threat – except insofar as it could become a DoS.

This morning, another 740 messages.  From an even briefer probe: all at 03:59 and 04:00.  Checked the IP they all came from, and firewalled it off.  With a DROP rule, of course.  If it recurs from elsewhere, I’ll have to take a view on whether this approach can be extended or is useless.

If I can be arsed, maybe I’ll stay up and tail the log tonight, starting 03:50 or so.  Wonder if the perpetrator can be pwned while in action?  On second thoughts, maybe not at that hour, doubly not after the couple of pints I regularly enjoy on a Thursday evening.

Pratocracy Article

Some months ago, Apache PR (aka Sally) launched a monthly series under the generic title “Success at Apache”, and solicited volunteers to write articles on topics of relevance to the Apache Way and how things work.  I was one of many to reply, and she put me down for this month’s piece.  A few days ago it went live, here.

The original proposal was to discuss the Just Do It and Scratch Your Own Itch aspects of Apache projects and how, with the checks and balances provided by the meritocratic and democratic elements of project governance, that Just Works.  Some (linguistically) very ugly words for this have been floating around, so I’ve made an attempt to improve on them with a new coinage to avoid muddling English and Greek.  Pratocracy: the Rule of the Makers.

Sometime before I started writing, a question came up on the Apache Members list about any guidelines for companies looking to get involved with an Apache project.  It appears most of what’s been written is on the negative side: things not to do!  This seems to be a question that dovetails well with my original plan, so I decided to try and tackle it in my article.  This became the longest section of the article, and may hopefully prove useful to someone out there!

Sadly I was recovering from a nasty lurgy at the time I was writing it, and I can’t help feeling that the prose falls short of my most inspired efforts.  I’ve avoided repeating Apache Way orthodoxy that’s been spoken and written before by many of my colleagues, but in doing so I may have left too much unsaid for a more general readership.  At times I may have done the opposite and blathered on about the perfectly obvious.  Ho, hum.

No FOSDEM

I didn’t make it to FOSDEM last weekend.

This time I could perfectly well have done so: there was nowhere else I had to be, no deadline I was pressed to meet, no travel difficulties.  No such excuse.  I just didn’t go.

My loss.  Certainly in terms of who I didn’t meet (old friends and new), what I didn’t learn, how my mind didn’t get stimulated, what projects and ideas haven’t excited me.  Damn.

So what kept me away?  Obviously it’s that bit harder work than higher-budget conferences.  The venue is a bit hit-and-miss, with some of the rooms being quite an ordeal.  On the other hand, the big lecture theatre with the keynotes and the smaller ones where most talks happen are perfectly good, the room with the “lightning talks” (always a good default place if there’s a time when you have nothing scheduled) likewise, and the better project rooms are good for a session – at least when there’s something in that limited space of interesting but not too overcrowded and stuffy.

No, what really put me off was the prospect of once again running the gamut of the smokers.  The stench of it in the lobby and corridors, exhibition space and coffee area, coupled with the crowds that prevent getting from A to B on a single breath.  The good reasons to go to FOSDEM are at an intellectual level, but the feeling of a descent into filth when I think about going is overwhelming at a basic, Proustian level.

On that analysis, I may never go again.  That’s sad.

Echoes

Now transcriptions of Trump’s inaugural speech are available, I can confirm the historic echo I thought I heard.

We are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.

Wow!  That is surely too close to be pure coincidence.  His own words, or a speechwriter?

One people, one nation, one leader.

But will he do as well as his role model in rebuilding his country’s infrastructure and industries?  History tells us where that eventually leads.

Travel made easy

Back from Brighton a couple of days ago.

That’s kind-of more newsworthy than a simple journey should be.  Travel to Brighton has been disrupted, first by a lot of general disruption on Southern Railways, and more recently by strikes adding to travel problems.  Brighton’s commuters have a lot of horror stories about their troubles.

By planning my journey at specific times of day, I can travel from here to Brighton on just two trains, both operated by First Group, and changing at Westbury.  So I can easily avoid the disrupted trains.  However, that puts me on a short train of just three coaches for the Westbury-Brighton journey.  And from Southampton, it’s a stretch served also by much longer Southern trains, many of them eight coaches.  So the worry was that my train might be overwhelmed with refugees from disrupted Southern services.

So I took a few precautions.  I booked in advance, and avoided not just any Southern services, but also their strike days.  Booking in advance still seems to be a nightmare, but I eventually managed.  Phew!

Come the actual travel, everything is far better than I’d dared hope.  Not only are the trains running smoothly and on-time, but I find I have ample space to spread out.  Indeed, a double-seat to myself throughout both outward and return journeys.  Even in January low season, that’s unusual!

I can only infer that the news of disruption has driven potential passengers away.  People with a choice about it are avoiding travel, not merely in the regions affected by disruption, but also on the mainline service from London to southwest England, well clear of the disruption.  All the better for those of us who do travel!

The Power of Denial

Someone from the Red Cross describes our NHS as a humanitarian crisis.  Oh dear.  OK, bit of commentary in the media, politicians spin it.  No big deal.

But then someone from the NHS denies it, thus invoking the Power of Denial to make it a much more serious story, less likely to be relegated to a footnote in Current Affairs by next week.  And it’s not even an unqualified denial.  Whoops!

My first reaction: how silly to rise to the bait.  But was it deliberate?  One shouldn’t attribute to Conspiracy what can be explained by Cockup, but in this case I’m not at all sure.

Trump’s first triumph

One of the many thoughts I composed in my head but never got around to posting was a reaction to the election of Donald Trump.  An optimistic reaction, mixing tongue-in-cheek (to wind up some – probably most – readers), benefit of the doubt, and a few realistic hopes for how his presidency might lead, intentionally or otherwise, to real improvement in the world.

It’s too late for that now.  He’s made so many appointments I’d have to dig into them before taking a Panglossian view on his rhetoric about surrounding himself with the best people.  He still has the outsider’s potential advantage that, if he chooses, he can better afford to stand up to Vested Interests – including those who control purse-strings for US politicians of both parties – than his predecessors in modern times.

On one matter of foreign policy he’s sent a message which is both clear and constructive.  He is not in favour of warmongering around the world where his country has no business.  Like provoking civil war and supporting terrorist and rebel groups on a my enemy’s enemy basis.  The most obvious potential beneficiary of that is Syria, where the hope and expectation of Western intervention launched and subsequently fuelled a devastating civil war.

Trump gets elected, and after just a couple of weeks the rebels in Aleppo finally cut their losses.  Another couple of weeks and we get a ceasefire backed by Russia and Turkey, and for the first time the Western-backed rebels seem to have dropped their show-stopper precondition that Assad and his government be booted out.

Coincidence?  Even if we attribute Aleppo to pure military victory, the change in the rebels’ stance is surely not unconnected with Trump’s election.  Trump has sent them a clear signal that the leading warmongers in the West – like John McCain in the US or Andrew Mitchell in the UK – won’t persuade our governments to step up military involvement.

Of course that doesn’t mean peace: it remains to be seen to what extent that can happen, and indeed whether Russia and Turkey can make a better job of it than the West’s interventions in other countries (above all Iraq).  The key point right now is that the US – and by extension the West – no longer stands in the way of peace.