Monthly Archives: September 2010

Microshit, WordPress, Charlie Brooker, George Orwell and Electricity

Some stuff:

  • After spending far too much time trying to get some perfectly correct CSS to work in IE8 this afternoon, it’s nice to know that Microsoft is abandoning its lame blog-hosting service so that it can concentrate on The Kin The Tablet…something or other. Instead, they will be migrating their user-base to the free, open-source, everything-they-stand-against-but-works-better-than-any-of-their-shit: WordPress.
  • Charlie Brooker has written a lovely description of why sport sucks which is satisfyingly reminiscent of George Orwell’s discussion of “The Sporting Spirit”.
  • Matt Taibbi, the disproportionately high quality journalist for Rolling Stone, has written a description of how the astroturf “Tea Party Movement” came to be. Read to the end.
  • Walking from the bus-stop on Ridge down to our home is a surprisingly pleasurable experience. Not only because it is downhill, but because it gives a lovely perspective on our life: we live on a friendly street.
    On reaching our home tonight, I was surprised to see how many people were on their porches/stoops; our neighbour, Denise, told me why:the power was out. So after shouting some swearwords, I stumbled into our dark house and tried to find the Megatorch [flashlight]. The Megatorch had evidently run out of batteries, because that is what they do, but I managed to get enough light to find the wine, and a glass, and rejoin our neighbours on the porch.
    It was a lovely evening, and I was really enjoying the outside air when the lights came back on. The cheer from the surrounding area was more impressive than anything provoked by any sporting event I can remember. We are all slaves to electricity.

But the Internet is awesome, isn’t it?

An instant solution to the problems of the DNS

This afternoon a few workmates and I discussed domain names and whether the internationalization of them was a good thing or a bad thing. Through a convoluted series of arguments I found myself defending a ridiculous point of view: that domain names should be restricted to fewer characters than currently, rather than more.
As stupid as this sounds, it was based on some reasonable arguments, which I won’t go into because they’re clearly ridiculous; but still fun to argue. Also, it’s because I’ve found a much better solution.
During the bus-ride home, I came up with a way to fix many of the problems of the DNS, together with the ubiquitous problems inherent in domain-name registration in one go: get rid of domain names altogether.

Hear me out before you scoff.

While I was mulling this over, it became apparent that not only was this the correct next step, but it was already starting to happen.

It’s probably easier to explain what I’m trying to express by giving real-world examples of how domain names are already being rendered pointless.

  • You need to visit “My Big Assed Bank” – how would you get to their site without domain names?
    Well, how do you do it now? Do you type their “correct” URL into your browser? Or do you type their name into Google and click on the link? Maybe you click a bookmark? Either way, you don’t need to know their “real” domain name – especially as most of these hopeless organisations will bounce you to third-party “verification” systems en route to your final destination where you part with your cash. Domain names are currently ignored during this process. Even TLS (SSL) has been abused at this point with the use of iframes. “Verified by Visa” is one of the worst ideas ever produced – and it undermines the vast majority of sensible, effective, and cheap authentication mechanisms available today.
  • How would someone be able to send you a link to an interesting site without a domain name?
    Well, how do you do it now? Do you send someone a link and rely on them copying the text of the link and pasting into their browser? Or do you send them a blob of opaque stuff that they click on? Maybe you drag the link to the email? Why need an address when you can send an opaque “web site link object” (which could mean anything from an .lnk file, to a shortened URL) that they click on?
  • What about advertising? How will companies promote their website without a URL people can use?
    People don’t need a URL! They type the company name into Google! The technology to prove that someone has connected to the correct website is already available. It’s called TLS – and if banks understood it well enough to use it properly we would all be much better off.
  • But URLs (URIs) are memorable! What would we do without them?
    Do you know your friends’ cellphone numbers by heart? If so then you are in the minority. Most people rely on their phone’s contact-book – to connect them to the correct party. Why need the details of the address? Opaque addresses are not only feasible in this day and age, but widely used! If you’ve ever clicked on a link, or scanned a URI from a QR code, you’ll understand what I mean.

But there is a fly in the ointment: HTTP currently gives a great deal of credence to domain-names when identifying websites. For example, a single IP(v4) address may host a thousand websites; the only way the web server knows which site you actually wanted is by the domain name you requested. But, like NAT, this is a workaround for the inadequacies of IPv4. When IPv6 actually comes into play, this need is obliterated. There will be no need for people to know the address of the server to which they are connecting. Already, when you go to, you have no idea, nor any reason to care, which IP address you are connecting to. And why should you care?

The DNS is tightly tied to IPv4, which is on its way out. Let’s ditch it once IPv6 becomes as ubiquitous as it bloody-well should be by now.

People don’t need domain names, they need “links” which can be abstracted as much as you like. URI’s need to stick around, obviously – but they work perfectly well without DNS.

Recent fings an that innit

Here is a list of recent things that a decent blogger would have made into something interesting and worthwhile to read:

  • Part of M’s job is to perform in front of strangers – her only props being a bizarrely random selection of wildlife including a snake, a raccoonpossum, assorted turtles, a screech owl, baby birds and a black vulture. This is for the purposes of education. I know she’s a great teacher, but I’d never seen her perform until last week, when we both attended a 7 year-old’s birthday party. They had decided to host it within the wildlife center and had requested a turn. I was so impressed, and the kids were captivated.
  • The Roku has provided me with a seemingly endless collection of classic films and so I’ve been on a mission to watch all of the spy films that have eluded me thus far. There are so many spy films worth watching. No time for a list now. Later, later.
  • Together with classic spy films, I’ve been indulging in Sci-Fi. And the problems in that genre seem to be a constant from the beginning. For example, in 1968 Stanley Kubrick directed a film version of an Arthur C Clarke classic, and produced a beautiful, moving, thought-provoking yet baffling film called “2001: A Space Odyssey”. A few years later, the Soviets attempted to rival it by producing a film version of another classic Sci-Fi book: Solaris. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about Solaris heralds the movie as a true classic of cinema. It scores highly on all of the Internet Movie sites worth considering and finding dissenters is not easy. So I have tried to watch it on Netflix, and repeatedly failed. Thus far I’m around 2 hours in, out of 2 hours 40, and the thought of going back depresses me. It’s awful. Really, really awful. It’s the sort of film that would come about by giving a great big talentless ponce a bunch of cash and telling him to make a film better than 2001. And that seems to be what happened. One comment on the IMDB message board said that “it was a film I’d watch when I was bored. ‘Maybe I’ll watch another 20 minutes of Solaris'”. At the time this struck a chord, but now I dread leaving it on for a few minutes. If there’s another still shot of something that doesn’t move for more than 50 seconds, I’m going to set fire to the TV. If you’ve seen the film, then you will empathise with me when I say “the car ride”. If anyone knows why this is popular with anyone outside the USSR in the 1970’s, please get in touch. I need to know what I’m missing.
  • Can you spot David Brent?
  • A week or so ago I bought a garden hoe – it’s my new favorite thing. The dude from “You bet your garden” (on NPR) is always on about hoes being the original way of dealing with weeds, and whether it works in the long-run or not, I’m enjoying slicing the little buggers into pieces with mighty-hoe. What a cool thing.
  • What’s more irritating than a dude on the bus jawing on and on into his mobile for the whole journey?
    A dude with a diabolical stutter on the bus jawing on and on into his mobile for the whole journey. I was so stressed it nearly caused a coronary.
  • A recent thought: people frequently poo-poo (huhuh) ideological ideas by claiming “human nature” will stop them from working. This concept has always struck me as utter bullshit, and this week the true culprit became apparent: ignorance. America’s current problems seem to stem from a (significant) minority of people who believe in fairies. Obviously, most of them don’t call them “fairies”, they use euphemisms like “Astrology” or “God” or “The Free Market”, but in reality, it’s all about fairies. So it’s gratifying to see that the sane majority is mobilising at last.
  • We’ve booked flights back to London! This is massively exciting. I still haven’t met my new niece Lily!

Labor Day (without a ‘u’)

Last Monday we Americans were off work. Well most of us anyway. In the UK this would have been regarded as a “Bank Holiday”, but over here it’s just called a “holiday”. Yeah, a day off work in the USA is called a “Holiday” and is distinct from a “Vacation” which is what we would call a Holiday. This particular holiday results from “a celebration of the Labor movement.”

Obviously, the rest of the world has a day that celebrates the Labour movement, but it’s in May, and called “May Day”. Any idea why it’s in May? How about some idea why the USA uniquely celebrates the Labour movement in September?

Well, thanks to Mr Fritz, I have learned the answers to these questions, and they’re quite intriguing.

To most Americans, “Labor Day” signifies the official end of summer. If you ask them what Labor day is all about, at best you’ll get some shit about the mythical “Labor Movement”, but more often you’ll hear about barbecues on the beach and the end of summer. There is an added irony to this we’ll discuss later.

In reality the history is a lot simpler, more understandable, and therefore prone to revisionism. It’s also pretty bloody fascinating.
The first recognition of the Labor Movement in the USA is frequently cited as occurring in 1882, in New York. But it didn’t become a national Holiday in the USA until 1894 when President Grover Cleveland declared it as such. Any quick research on Google will yield this. For example, see what the US department of Labor has to say on the topic of Labor Day.

But there are two astonishing occurrences underpinning these events that are suspiciously absent from not only the standard government documentation, but also from the general American Psyche:

  1. The wonderfully understated, Haymarket Affair
  2. The Pullman Strike

The Pullman Strike

Many people will be familiar with the name “Pullman”, especially in relation to luxurious trains, and this is why: Pullman built trains. Obviously he didn’t build them himself, he hired a bunch of little men to do it for him, but they were his trains. Being a philanthropist, he built an entire town for his workers to inhabit. This was a show town that would prove to the cynical masses how Capitalism was the only way to utopia. Furthermore he insisted that all of his workers live there, because they were worth it.
All went well until 1894 when the company started to notice decreased profits, at which point they had to take drastic measures to keep their philanthropic organisation going. The only possible option was to reduce the number of workers, and then reduce the wages of the remaining workers.

Now, these ungrateful workers started to get the hump. The ones without jobs had no way to pay the rent, and the ones with jobs couldn’t afford the rent (the utopian houses they were obliged to live in carried massively high rents). Their reaction was strange; rather than work much harder to pay for their rent and living, they decided to strike! Talk about ungrateful!

Pullman was rightly angry about this abuse of his good will and wrote to the President: Grover Cleveland. Being a shrewd man with a full understanding of industrial relations, Cleveland sent in the troops. Thousands of them. That would surely sort out the strikers. There was no way this could go wrong. Who could have imagined fatalities occurring?

The perceived leader of the rebellion, Eugene V. Debs, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to custody. However, after such a blatant abuse of the working people in the US, Cleveland stood to take a battering in the election. So, he did what every brave man would have done to maintain his position of power and influence: he awarded the working people of America with a single day off a year.

The upshot of the whole incident can be summarised as

  • The strikers lost.
  • Debs was imprisoned.
  • The workers in the US get a day off each year.

There was another interesting side effect: Debs was not a Socialist when he entered prison; he was simply angered by the injustices of his society. However, during his incarceration he read Marx and became a thorn in the side of the government, and governments to come.

The weirdest twist to this story comes next in the tale of…

The Haymarket “Affair”

Eight years before the Pullman incident, in May 1886, another euphemism took place. Despite its name, it wasn’t an “affair” at all – it has been described more accurately as a “massacre” or “riot” that lead to the rest of the world celebrating the Labour Movement on May 1st. The only country that celebrates its Labor movement on a different day is the USA. Funny old world.

Around the time of the Haymarket Massacre there was a great deal of unrest amongst the workers in the industrial centers of America. There was a movement afoot to limit the working day to eight hours so that workers could be assured of eight hours leisure and eight hours rest. Obviously the employing classes were prepared to do anything to prevent this and used every resource, be it private or public to prevent it. Strikebreakers were shipped in, and tensions flared. The Police, in their traditional role as protectors of the wealthy, were bound to protect the strikebreakers and resorted to gunfire. Two strikers were killed.

The following day a mass protest was called, and the Police attended in large numbers. After the speeches from the leaders of the rally, the Police attempted to disperse the crowd and chaos ensued. A pipe bomb was thrown at the Police which killed one officer and the Police responded with gunfire. Around 60 officers were wounded by the gunfire from their own ranks.

As an indirect result of this event, May 1st became the International workers day. When Grover Cleveland found himself in severe danger of ruining his chances of re-election 8 years later, he decided to create a national holiday in order to appease the workers…but chose September as the month so as to disassociate it from the “other” celebrations in May, which could have evoked unpleasant memories.

What strikes me as the most tragic failure of this movement is that now, despite the typical working day in America being the fair eight hours, fought for by their brave ancestors, the majority of the poor people end up working two eight-hour jobs just to stay alive. These are frequently the same people that vote Employer in the elections. How did this happen?

Home and Away

Sunday is usually the day I spend on the sofa with a laptop and some birds, while M is at work. The day passes surprisingly quickly but I usually end up feeling slightly sad: Sunday sad, combined with a tinge of regret that the weekend has been wasted.

This Sunday I had a day trip to New York City, where East-Anglia-K8 and her sister were on holiday; ostensibly they were there to attend Rock The Bells (which was as spectacularly awesome as it sounds), but they’d never been here before so it was a chance to soak up some juice from the Big Apple.

Now, if you’ve never been to NYC the one thing you need to know is that it is a truly spectacular city. All of the hyperbole and gushing that traditionally accompanies descriptions of the city are utterly and totally justifiable. As a result non-New-Yorkers, most notably Philadelphians, are quick to slag it off. Ignore them. New York is the archetype of canine testes, and the first time you see it in person you want to record every building, person, smell and sound. Like London, the more you get to know it, the more you realise you don’t know and the more bizarre, exciting, and pleasurable it becomes. I love it. Wouldn’t want to live there, but I love it. Apparently it’s a common feeling.

The Megabus has been around in Britain for a few years but I’ve never tried it; it always sounded like a scam. But since it made its way to the colonies, I’ve heard first-hand tales of wonder that imply it’s actually as good as it suggests. And it is! With a single day’s advance booking I got a $22 round-trip from 30th St station to 23rd and 7th in NYC…and each trip was only 2 hours; in a comfortable, air-conditioned, free wi-fi having double-decker bus. The whole trip went like clockwork, including the blissful subway ride, which meant I met K8 and Cass at their hotel at 11am as arranged. And what a hotel! The Hudson. If you want a description, Google it or look at some of the pictures, just know it’s spectacular.

It’s always weird and wonderful to see friends and family from England out-of-context, over here – and always makes me nostalgic. But we had a most excellent day. Even though it was 93 degrees, miraculously the humidity was low and so it was actually bearable! We wandered around, had a row with a bunch of Tottenham-Court-Road-style crooks, went up The Eiffel TowerThe Empire State, had a selection of drinks in SoHo, Greenwich Village and in mid town, and generally had a gay old time.

Despite being a single day, it was so far removed from the normal working life, in retrospect it felt like a week-long holiday.

Nice to be home though. I even got warm homely feelings when I saw Philly on the horizon…weird.