Spam bots

Apparently Bill Gates said that by 2006 we wouldn't have to worry about spam anymore.

Well, in a way he's right, since the amount of spam I am receiving is actually quite small compared to the vast numbers of idiotic phishing attempts, 419 messages, mailing lists that I never signed up to and the like. Not that him being right helps much.


Comedy Review

Apparently last week was "send me stuff to review" week.

Sun 19th Paper arrives from a database journal
Mon 20th Paper from algorithms conference
Wed 22nd Paper from same alg conference but a different PC member
Thu 23rd Grant proposal to review
Fri 24th Another journal paper shows up.

Folks, please stop sending me stuff to review (or at least send me something other than papers and grant proposals to review). I might have to start saying 'no' soon.


Whoops apocalypse

Interesting new error on the resurrected huchanchor: when I plug in a USB device, it reboots. Is this normal? It's happened twice now, so I'll see if it happens every time.

Meantime, am very confused (as usual). What's all this about the new character from the creator of Ali G managing to fool the world and win a medal for ice dancing?

If you weren't expecting me to make a similar comment, I'd be disappointed.


Lost Camera

All this talk of lost cameras reminds me of my lost camera. It's also a story without any particular ending.

Back in 2000, I lost a camera.

Ah well, not much of a story really is it? I went down to London to see some friends before Christmas, and we met up in a pub. Fans of the Beast of Enfield (DC to its friends) will be pleased to hear that this was the Stag. I took the camera along to snap a few pictures (although I don't think I did in the end), and when I came to leave, I couldn't find it anywhere, so I must have lost it.

Yes, it's still a rubbish story.

But, I sometimes wonder if someone found the camera and, either in an attempt to identify the owner, or just out of curiousity, they got the pictures developed. I like to imagine them looking through the prints to see who was in them: "Hmm... drunk students... more drunk students... Tony Blair? Bill Clinton? Wha...?"

You see, I'd managed to get a few snaps of the great TB and (possibly) BC when they came to visit my university for an afternoon. So it's something of a shame that I never got to see these pictures, but I console myself with the notion that maybe, just maybe, someone who found my camera is now utterly baffled at what the Prime Minister was doing on the same roll of film as a bunch of stupid drunk students.


Boom Selection 2

(recovered from Blogger's database deletion mishap)
This week, I have mostly been listening to "Cars with The Boom" by L'Trimm. This is a US-only hit from the late eighties from a pair of Miami teenage girls.

The reason for this is the excellent "Best Booty of 2005" collection, which included this infectious sample of two clearly amateur rappers singing about how much they liked "the cwars with the bwoom" (think the way that people in the UK imitate people in the US saying "cwoffee").

I started trying to track this song down. Initially, it was very confusing, since a large number of websites attributed this track to Le Tigre. Somehow, this didn't sounds quite like the riot grrl stylings of former Bikini Kill with the lyrics "we like the cars! the cars that go boom!". However, the explanation is in the next line: "we're tigra, and bunny, and we like the boom". Somehow "tigra and bunny" from L'Trimm had morphed in someone's head into "Le Tigre". Thank you for the confusion, anonymous internet idiot.

After much searching, I finally managed to find a copy of the original. Well worth seeking out if you can spare the time. Sadly, there seems to be little of their contribution to culture easily available. While searching for more information on them, I found many "if you like this, you might also like..." pages which pointed me in the direction of 21st century Brooklyn-based girl rap trio, Fanny Pack (another example of something that sounds much ruder in the UK). I was very hopeful for any band who can name their second album "See You Next Tuesday" (think about it, or urbandictionary it), but so far I have not been impressed. The only stand out track is their breakout single "Camel Toe". ("um hmm thats right uh huh, oh no, fix yourself girl, you got a Camel Toe"). Which you should track down a copy of and play over and over till you think it's quite good. In alternation with L'Trimm's "Cars with the boom".

Radio Goo Goo 2

(recovered from Blogger database mess up, see here for more details).
This latest screed from Mountain View has caught my attention:

Google users trust that when they enter a search query into Google search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results, but that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent compelling reason.

And I think to myself, this is somewhat misleading, if not very far from the case.

Firstly, whatever users happen to "trust", the fact is, the big G (and anyone else in the search biz) is going to data mine the hell out of the queries that they get. And there's no reason to expect that they'll have any concern for your privacy. They often have your google email address or IP address to tie together all your past searches, and there's no reason to expect that they will have any respect for your privacy. If a Google employee feels like finding out what you've been searching for, I'm sure that they can very easily indeed.

Now, remember that the issue in question is about something relatively innocuous sounding: whether Google should release a random sample of queries to the government. And, this release makes it sound like GOOG really care for the privacy of these queries, and won't release them to just anyone. But, here's the thing: they've been doing exactly this for years.

All you have to do is to hang around their main visitor entrance in Mountain View. This NYT article explains more: "Live Query [...] shows updated samples of what people around the world are typing into Google's search engine."

And is this a private internal tool that only Google employees can access? No, they project it onto a wall so anyone walking past can see. And apparently it was still running as recently as January. I wonder if they've switched it off?

According to Google again, "Perhaps the Government can be forgiven its glib rejection of this point because it is unfamiliar with Google's system architecture. If the Government had that familiarity, it would know that its request will take over week of engineer time to complete."

Now, there's no need to be snarky. And further, there's no need to pretend that this task is so difficult. Given that LiveQuery is already up and operational, it would only take a few minutes to pipe it to a file, then zip it up and mail it out if they chose to do so.

There are still many good reasons why Google shouldn't roll over and give up user search queries to the US Government, principal amongst these being that there's no particular reason why they should do so. But this response seems extremely at odds with reality, and definitely highlights some irrelevant or misleading points.

Here's a new motto for those page rankers to try out: Don't Be So Lame.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Google Inc (ticker symbol: GOOG) owns Blogger, this blogging service, this post, and by extension me and you. They retain the right to take these words and rearrange them to spell out anything they damn well like.

Additional disclosures: I am not an employee of Google Corp, but some of my friends are. Other people I know are no longer employees of Google Corp but got out early with a lot of shares and so are now very comfortably well off.

Public disclaimer: On the one occasion that I went to their CA office, I did indeed see Live Query in action. The rude query filter is really not very good, since some of the queries that I saw scrolling past were far from family-friendly; the young lady named in them would have quite a dry cleaning bill to pay if the events searched for ever came to pass.


You will need:

4 Oz (100g) Golden Syrup
4 Oz (100g) Brown Sugar
5 1/2 Oz (140g) Margarine
11 Oz (275g) Oats
10 Oz (250g) Rice Crispies
1 handful raisins.

Preheat oven to 150C/275F.
Heat the margarine over a low heat, and stir in the golden syrup and brown sugar till well mixed. Add the oats, raisins and rice crispies and stir in until everything is all mixed together. Spread into a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and cook for 25-30 minutes in the oven. Remove, cut into 18 - 24 strips, and allow to cool.

(1) This being the relatively uncivilised United States of America, you can't get Golden Syrup. At least, I've never seen it. They do have something here called "molasses" which may be the same thing, but I didn't have any. I improvised with some melted marshmallows, a staple of American cookery. I used about 10 Oz, but it seemed to do the job.
(2) As I've learned in the past, don't worry if the mixture still looks quite soft after 25minutes or so, it will cool down and solidify after you take it out the oven. If you wait until it looks cooked in the oven, it will be too dry / crunchy when you are done.


It's not just us

A few of my posts seem to have gone awol since being posted on Friday. I can't stand the idea of you missing out on my deep and searing insights into 80s girly rap or google's apologism, so I'm linking to them again.

I did wonder if I was being victimized, but a quick scan indicates that many other blogger hosted sites seemed to lose out on posts from Friday also.

From the mouths of sprogs

Since an early age, I've been acutely aware of the way in which we are lied to by the media. In particular, how special effects are achieved by the method of CSO, Colour Separation Overlay, Chromakey, more commonly known as "green screen" (or occasionally 'blue screen'). Possibly aided by editions of "Tomorrow's World", my child eagle eyes watched special effects sequences intently, and I would often be able to identify unreal images thanks to awkward outlines or lighting mismatches between foreground and background.

Being a small child, and thus still developing a suitably capacious vocabulary, I didn't know that this was CSO. Instead, I would squeak out excitedly "That's not real -- it's put on." Thus, 'put on' was the way me and my siblings would describe instances of chromakey when we saw them.

Now, here's my question: did anyone else say "put on" for this very specific meaning? Or was it something that we invented a name for, not knowing any better?

Your message for the day: whenever someone makes a bald assertion, and then follows it up with "and that's a fact", you can know for sure that it's compelte garbage. And that's a fact!


Travel Plans

Take note folks: I'm hitting up the UK for some righteous indignation in April. I've booked the tickets, and am working out an outline itinerary to get me where I need to be. Let me know if you are interested in fitting yourself into this schedule via the usual media:

April 11 -- Land at London's fantastic Gatwick Airport. Scuttle over to Maidstone.
April 14 -- Head up to Britain's trandy Manchester District (possible via London). Hang around there for a couple of days.
April 16 -- Move further north to the Lake District to see the extended family.
April 19/20 -- Head back south. Possibly stop over in London.
April 21 -- Smack down in South Central UK (comin' straight outta Surrey).
April 22 -- Fly back to the glorious US of Eh?

Further details as they emerge, because I'm dope like that.


US Drivers

One problem with many Americans is that they are really bad at driving. Take these images, captured from CCTV recordings.

First, note the scene: a small child rushes out in front of traffic. Note that the policeman is standing in front of a stop sign.

Now here comes a typical bad driver, failing to indicate or slow down while making a
left turn...

...and now she fails to stop or even slow down for the stop sign! And the policeman makes no attempt to stop her or warn her of her dangerous driving. Something should be done, what kind of example is this mother setting for her children?



A lot of media coverage of GWB's annoying habit of listening in to people when they phone their family has started referring to it as the "warrantless wiretapping program". This is somewhat ambiguous, surely? Doesn't warrantless usually mean "without any good reason or purpose"?

It's well known that if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time, then they will surely produce the complete works of Shakespeare, provided they can stop hurling their excrement at each other for long enough. But what do you get if you take a solo monkey and give him a typewriter for six months? The answer is apparently the next Dan Brown novel. And a smaller but still considerable amount of monkey do-do (as in, "Monkey see monkey do-do").



Exciting news for Numb3rs fans -- in a recent episode, perennial grad student Amita won the Milton prize, and it is revealed that her surname is Ramanujan. This is of course a nod to the famous mathematician and collaborator of Hardy, who died young after suffering in England.

I remember a favourite anecdote about Ramanujan. Hardy came over to visit him in his sick bed, and commented that the taxi that had brought him over had the number 1729, which didn't seem like a very interesting number.

To which Ramanujan, quick as a flash replied, "What the f*** are you talking about, you utter c***-muncher? I'm f***ing dying here in this godforesaken p***ant country, and you march in here like a f***ing elf, giving it all this about c***flapping taxi numbers? Why don't you just p*** off back to Cambridge you f***ing apology for a mathematician?"

Other accounts of this encounter may vary slightly in minor details, but I am convinced that my version is the most accurate retelling.