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This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.

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Sending news to Mum and the world since last week

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Sourcery
Hogfather
Moving Pictures
Pyramids
Soul Music
Mort
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Jingo
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Maskerade
Lords and Ladies
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Guards! Guards!
Interesting Times
Equal Rites
The Last Continent
Wyrd Sisters
The Eighth Colour
The Light Fantastic
Dark Side of The Sun
Strata
Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and The Dead
The Discworld Companion (with S.Briggs)
- Terry Pratchett
A Child Across The Sky
The Wooden Sea
The Land of Laughs
From the Teeth of Angels
A Marriage of Sticks
- Jonathan Carroll
Northern Lights
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
I was a Rat!
Clockwork
Count Karlstein
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
- Philip Pullman
Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Witch Week
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Magicians of Caprona
- Diana Wynne Jones
What a Carve Up!
The Rotter’s Club
A Touch of Love
The Dwarves of Death
The House of Sleep
- Jonathan Coe
The Empty Sleeve
Smith
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
Ilium
- Dan Simmons
The Black Book
Set In Darkness
The Hanging Garden
Hide And Seek
Black And Blue
Bleeding Hearts (Jack Harvey)
Witch Hunt (Jack Harvey)
- Ian Rankin
The Wish List
Artemis Fowl [2]
- Eoin Colfer
Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling
The Shining, Stephen King
Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorov
Free for All, Peter Wayner
Desolation Point, Dan Brown
Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson

2003’s reads can be found here.
life
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make yourselves at home

OK, so you may think that it’s nothing, but I’m pretty sure that because of all this I have gained at least two wrinkles—you know those ain’t pretty—and it’s not because my eye-mask slipped during my beauty sleep.

First of all, I read my logs this morning, my extra-special, super-duper unique IP counter that I carved out for myself in some beautiful vegetable ivory—‘cos I felt like being nice to heffalumps this week—and just as this morning I was flirting with the 280 unique visitors since when I put the code online this month, and going ‘wow’, and ‘wee’, and speeding around the house like the little kid hyped up on Smarties that I secretly am… it disappeared. Yep. Like that. And reset itself to 2. What sort of revisionist score is that?

I am died.

Then I realised that the comment form on this site, this site lovingly crafted from choice balsa and hand-made japanese paper, this life’s work, this love-child of mine… didn’t function in Safari. Quick, stay your trembling heart! That wasn’t the last cry of a dinosaur you heard, that anguish did not mean that it knew that from this point on, its noble species was extinct, and that its children’s dreams would remain undreamed… No, that was my pain. What is going on?

So, I have spent all day tidying up the messes. And as a result have got nowhere. The worst is that I have been getting lots of traffic because, first of all david_f mentioned my site on his blog, and then La Blogothèque too—which was kind for both. And I’d have prefered to be all dressed-up and ready, and on my best behaviour… Instead I’m greeting people up to the elbows in HTML and PHP and JavaScript, with little bits of the site hanging around to dry all over the place. Come on in, make yourselves at home. Just forget about the mess. Wonderful, wonderful. Yes, second door on the right. Fine, fine.

Well, all I can say is that, tomorrow, surely, tomorrow can’t be worse.

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So what is going on?

My new project—a music webblog provisionally called green and available only in French—has been taking up more time than I thought. Is it worth it? I ask myself. Here is a provisional analysis. Using, currently, the friends and family network I have received 135 unique visitors since I added a ‘unique IP counter’ Sept 15th. Along with that the home page has been called a total of 2110 times in the past month, and I have 6728 requests for anything from the folder ‘green’.

What does all this mean?

6728 requests. The simplest page on my site, with the ‘Neige’ [Snow] style sheet, has 1 HTML file, 2 javascript files, 1 image file and 1 stylesheet. So, to view a page requires at least 5 requests. If the browser is intelligent, it will cache [stock] this material on the local computer, and, at the next connection, try to use those stored files instead. This means that the second view of a page by the same computer could result in just one request. So, 6278 requests doesn’t mean much all by itself.

I have 2110 visits to the ‘green’ directory, then. This implies that each person, on average, made 3 requests to the server. From the complexity of my pages, and my understanding how browser caches work, this seems likely. So can I say that I had 2110 visiters?

Simply put, no.

For a start, I will—for convenience’s sake—suppose that a quarter of those visits are me. I connect in to upload pages and material, to check, test, correct, update etc. Each of those operations counts as a visit. In a day I can quite easily have 10-20 ‘visits’ to the directory, for me alone. Over a month, it all adds up.

So perhaps, 1500 visiters?

Well, 1500 visits, probably, but how many of those are people coming back, and how many are people seeking something else but who found me from a bizarre request in Google? [Well, none, actually, as I log referrers. While Google scans me—I can see the Googlebot—and is thus counted as a visitor, no-one has found me following a search there.] I am getting bots comming from Google, MSN and Inktomi at the moment. I am not getting probes from script kiddies however. These tend to be at the ‘root’ directory, not a sub-directory like ‘green’. For small miracles, thank you.

Down to 1000 visits.

OK, but from 135 unique IP numbers. What does this mean?

The IP number, a quad, or number of the form ‘XX.XX.XX.XX’ is a unique identifier for every computer connected to, and making up, the internet. Unless you have a static IP number, everytime you connect in to the Internet, your access provider attributes you an available IP number from the available range. This means that, if you connect in on different days, you will probably have a different IP number, and so count as a new unique IP number—this will falsely increase my unique IP counter. In fact, it is even possible for a lot of people connecting in from the same area, and using the same access provider [I get a lot of traffic from free.fr, for example] that they will over a month get to share IP numbers—this will falsely decrease my unique IP counter. But, people in a company, connecting in from behind a firewall with NAT translation and a static IP on the line, will all appear, to me, to have the same IP number—again, thus decreasing my unique IP number count.

So while IP numbers are unique, there are only a rough estimate of unique visitors. But this does give me an approximate idea that people are probably coming back about 7 to 8 times. As I have been counting for fifteen days, this seems to fit: I have probably unique visitors and regulars.

Now I could use cookies to count visitors, no? I already use them for the style sheets. In that way, even if the IP number changed, I’d have a unique marker, no?

Not necessarily. More and more people are setting their browser to refuse cookies, or to erase them at the end of a session. This would send counting way off. And what of people who connect in both at work and at home. Am I counting people or machines?

I already set a cookie for the site style [it can be changed between three different appearances], I don’t think that adding more cookies is necessarily a good idea. Keeping site preferences is pretty innocent, and so I don’t imagine that many people will want to erase the cookie. If I start tracking visits, some people might worry about privacy [even though I can’t track that person across sites, nor know who she is], and thus become more motivated to refuse or erase the cookie. [Of course, I could, for example, send the style name as ‘Neige’ if it is the first visit, and as ‘neige’ if it is a repeat visit—the visitor would think that it was still just style information without realising that the change from upper- to lowercase was hiding some information… Hmm, idea.] Anyway, like unique IP numbers, cookies are good indicators but should not be relied upon.

You can, as some people do, require registration to visit your website. Besides the privacy issues that this begs, you are putting a very strong barrier to visiting in place. Some visitors will refuse to pass that barrier, some will use services like BugMeNot and share passwords… thus defeating the object.

All this leads up to the big question: but how on earth do you measure visitors on a website [and what about all those companies, selling tools and publishing visitor statistics?—Perhaps it’s all snake oil like those people who sell Referencing, and will boost your ranking in Search Engines… hmmm.]. The simple answer remains, you can’t. You can get a good idea of tendancies, and you can estimate audience from the raw figures—like above—with a decent [and public] method that people can look at, study, agree and disagree over, but you can never know to the exact last digit, the exact number of visitors.

Curious, no, considering all the privacy concerns, and the calculating power of computers.

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darkness

I have just finished another novel by Ian Rankin, Set In Darkness, and I am probably ready to curse the fellow; this being so unputdownable, I probably read for about 48 hours non-stop.

What is the attraction? Of course, it is well-written. It is part of a great romantic [from romance, not romantic] tradition. But it is 19th century prose seen through contemporary eyes, with just enough cutting, dry asides to keep us in the flow.

And Rankin plays his cards close to his chest. Not that it’s a whodunnit; like the previous one I read [The Black Book], it finishes but it doesn’t really end. You have more the impression that someone has dumped a bin containing diaries, and a couple of months worth of a local paper on your doorstep, as you follow the story from day to day. And what is terrible is the weight of the past that all the characters seem to be carrying around with them. At times it is something palpable, heavy and sticky.

Give me more!

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Exhausting and exhilarating at the same time...

Today I saw the connections on my music blog rise up from 55 to 86. That is the biggest increase in any one day that I have seen so far. I have a personnalised unique-IP counter. I could have 50 people coming back every hour—I hope not because of bandwidth charges! but I just count the unique IP numbers. Having looked at stats, what advertisers are interested in is the number of unique visitors per month. WIth 1000 as a minimum. I’d like to get there by the end of the year… Of course it is nothing if you are Google, or Yahoo, or even a decent-sized blog. But as this is just going around the friends and family network, an increase of 30 newcomers in the same day is wonderful.

I have spent the day hunting material down on the net. It’s there but I have to find it, download and look at the times [for example, I found a site in Italy that was so slow, after two hours an mp3 still hadn’t finished], I listen [the quality doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, but it should be decent unless it has real document status]. I have some big groups coming up. Next week will have to be a bit more poppy in order to keep to the path that I have traced out. I really need to get about a week’s worth of entries up and ready in advance, but it has taken me a day to prepare 3 1/2 [the last one is not even finished yet].

So now, back to work.

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there are days you eat the pie...

...and there are days that the pie eats you!

Yesterday, I didn’t see time happen. At about nine o’clock in the morning, I sat down at my iBook [this one’s called kaa, the other one is mowgli, and the old G3 powerbook is called bagheera... There’s an external hard drive hanging around called rikki-tiki-tavi—notice a pattern?]. I looked up at twenty past one, saw the time, and grabbed a nibble. Then I settled back down to the screen, when I looked up it was twenty past six, so I did the washing up, and had just sat down again when Ludivine arrived.

I was working on finishing the templates for my music project green. This now allows users to switch between skins [the appearance that the site takes in the browser], providing, of course, that the visitors have a modern browser. My current favourite is Firefox—It’s not as, ahem, ‘shiny’ as Safari but it does the job well, and even with Pith Helmet installed on Safari, Firefox’s ad blocking and cookie management is much better. It does have some problems, not the least of which is occasionally going into the spinning pizza ball of deathTM and needing to be kicked out of the system. [Aside: Thank heavens for Mac OS X in that case… under 9 this would have meant a reboot. As it stands, I don’t think the iBook has been rebooted for over a month!] My favourite appearance is ‘POP’ [Warning: Doesn’t work in IE Mac/PC, not enough CSS2 standards compliance]. But the most fun was having exactly the same HTML underneath and rendering it in such different ways.

Today is a whole different coal scuttle of fish. Almost as if I was paying for yesterday: first of all I slept real badly—a hungry mosquito nibbling at my ears woke me about every hour… Then the neighbours below had their radio alarm come on real loud at about half-past six. At seven Ludivine could stand it no more, and went down to ask them to do something. They didn’t answer the door but the noise stopped shortly after, but by then we were so awake that all I could do was prepare coffee, and yawn into the grey day outside. Then, just after Ludivine left for work at nine, I couldn’t stay awake any longer; I put my head on the pillow and woke with a start at half past eleven!

Since them, I’ve been trying to channel the same determination as yesterday, to no avail.

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September 11

I was working on the computer, flicking onto the net from time to time to research when I saw a newsflash: pending confirmation, it appeared that a airplane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. I ran upstairs and switched on the TV, channel-hopped until I came on pictures. At that point I didn’t need confirmation, it was happening right in front of me.

New York, New York is a myth. It is a place that I have always wanted to visit, because of that mythical quality. To walk the canyons of Manhattan, to wander Central Park, I want to feel the Honky-Tonk of the streets, and hundreds of other things. I have never visited, but it has always been there, pulling like some lighthouse, just over the horizon. I want to see the Statue of Liberty looming on the horizon, I want to walk Ellis Island, to stand outside the Chelsea Hotel and the Dakota Building, to queue for the Moma and the Guggenheim. To wander through malls and coffee bars and galleries and bookshops.

Europe has always had a love/hate relationship with the Americas, and New York sums that those extremes: the poverty and the riches; the amazing architecture, the crime and the violence; the literature, the art, and the slums.

And then surely the unglamourous reality: millions of ordinary people, just living their lives, living with their hopes and dreams and fears. WIth their friends and families.

But that was before the sky fell.

I telephoned Alain. His first reaction was; Yeah, Yeah, you’re not going to catch me out with that. Alain, I said, for crissakes just switch on your TV.

So, on either end of the silent telephone we both watched as the second plane tore into the remaining tower. Omygod, omygod, omygod…

Eventually we hung up, but we were numb.

I watched for the next four hours or so, seeing the fire, the billowing smoke, the cinders, seeing the towers fall. They plunged down, into themselves, eating theselves up, devouring the city and the inhabitants. Black cloud washed over Manhattan. The worse was understanding that those white specks that I had seen falling were not debris, but desperate people pushed to jump.

When I was glued to the televsion, I spent the day sending e-mail to friends in the States, chatting, arguing, being supportive, and saying pretty much what I have been saying ever since; whatever, as Europeans, we think of America, the political state, we are all in support of the Americans, the people. That has not changed, will not change. To steal from Kennedy in Berlin: that day, we were all New Yorkers.

Nadia and I talked things over, and let Kim watch extracts on the news. We didn’t want her to have nightmares, and so were inclined to protect her as much as possible, but it was also important that she knew and understood a little of what was happening. Her daily paper, a small 4-page publication especially for kids of her age also did a very good job—as they always seemed to do—of explaining in clear and understandable terms.

Shall I talk about the scares after? When the chemical factory blew up in Toulouse, just four days after… When a plane came down on Queen’s about two weeks later, when Emma was in New York with one of her groups—we were terrified something had happened to her. About all the terrorist alerts and the rumours. And I remembered the time, in the past, shortly after I moved to Paris, when bombs were exploding in the métro and elsewhere, and I was terrified for the girls, but at the same time, the only way to resist was to let life go on with all its ordinaryness.

And then America—the state—fluffed it.

Using the tragic events to advance a political agenda that had nothing to do with anything, in pure opportunism. Both internally with those ‘Patriot Acts’, and the general censoring of civil liberties that continues even today. The hysteria, the xenophobia, the ignorance, and the hurt. And the bloody battlefields elsewhere where other innocent people—both American and foreign—are being killed, even today.

And the terrible accusation that all who are not with us are playing into the hands of those who plunged those dark, burning knives into the heart of America.

No.

I can still feel for all my American friends, both near and far, both known and unknown. ANd I can hate with all my strength that evil that has breed from evil. There is no contradiction there.

And I can hope. I can hope that America will find the path and, nonetheless, learn to heal itself; and in healing itself, learn to heal others too.

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I’ve gone beta!

I feel that this is, pretty quickly, going to develop into a rant. If you have a low boredom threshold then I ‘d advise you to jump directly to the last paragraph and just get the news.

OK? So we’re all alone now? Now where’s the coffee buzz when I need it. Great, I can continue…

I have this thing about respecting copyright. I don’t necessarily think that it is right, this goes deeper that that. Let’s gearshift back and start from a different perspective, OK?

I think and I believe, that public transport in Paris should be free. I believe that not only would that improve the situation for all, but that this is the only way to manage public transport in metropoles. While people will say that public transport should be a money-making corporation, I personally believe that so much of what they do is intangible, to reduce them down to just the price of a ticket, and the subsequent return on that price, is to miss the point completely. A good, free, system will encourage people to get out of cars and onto underground trains, onto trams and busses. By removing the brake that payment builds up, it becomes a quick, spontaneous hop. Fewer cars in the street also mean that it is easier for people to skate and bike around the place. Eventually, you can even think about driving cars completely out of the centre of Paris.

I will even go so far as to say that making people pay for public transport in metropoles goes against the final objective of having such a system; you have to waste money prosecuting non-payers, effectively criminalising the poor and the young; you have to pay for staff to be repressive, and often aggressive; you have to pay for machines and gates, and their installation, development, upkeep, etc.; you have to pay for advertising, for printing, for marketing, for study groups into fraud… You have to calculate and program ticket prices, discounts, subscription scenes; you need the technology to get those schemes to work; you have to provide special social clauses, and allow schools and social services to get cheap discount tickets… You have to protect staff against theft and aggression. But a good [that is, cheap, easy, punctual, convenient and perceivably-safe] public transport system [PTS] is the lifeblood of a city. They say that advertising in the métro is 2% of the revenue, and 98% of the available space. Even though I think that advertising is a horrible invasion of space, I’d even be willing to trade advertising for cost-free transport.

Currently [and very approximately], the métro system gets half of its funding as grants from local and central government, the other half, it generates itself. I propose that if the grant were increased to correspond to the real needs of a good PTS, that the economies that going ticket-free would brings about, would more than make up the difference. And that if the 50% contribution that companies in Paris already have to pay for transport [reimbursed to their employees] is maintained, but instead passed directly on to the PTS. After all, the public pays through the national and regional grants, the companies can pay through this scheme. And as they already pay this, it changes nothing. Except I would make one minor difference. Currently, the company only pays if the staff use public transport. I’d include it for everyone. It would then be a ‘tax’ on those who continue to use cars.

I have made my argument against paying for tickets on the métro, yet I continue to buy them, and refuse to fraud.

Why?

Because this is part of a social contract, and without that social contract there is no society. It is only fitting to change the law from inside the law—with the proviso that the law remains ‘morally right’, a cursor that each person can only place for herself.

Let me suppose that I was part of an association that sought to persuade society at large about what I have just said concerning the PTS in Paris; and suppose that this association decided to organise a day of protest when members would not pay tickets, but would instead leave a tract as they passed through the ticket barriers, indicating what, and why, they were doing what they were doing; and that we would encourage all users to do the same that day. Then I would probably participate, but accept that, while I was engaged in a peaceful protest, society still had the right to arrest me for infringing the current social contract as it was written. And I think that this would be fair as I knew what I was doing before engaging in the protest.

But I do not think that my philosophical, or political, standpoint on transport in Paris means that I can fraud, be that everyday or from time to time; even if I am not caught.

Not being caught is not the important point. It is why you are doing something.

So I can believe that copyright, which started out as being a means to protect the creators and the artists, has, overtime, become weighted towards the big corporations [70 years after death is completely unjustified, 14-20 is amply sufficient]. Even so, I do not think that the cost-free downloading of copyrighted music through the internet is justified, and nor do I seek to encourage that. [And the same goes for software and other stuff].

Another quick aside: I don’t believe in the use of the term ‘piracy’ for copyright abuse on software, music and film. Piracy is the act of depriving a person of physical goods, usually through a means that has devastating effects on their well-being, sometimes even resulting in death. No software developer, musician, film director or company has ever suffered those effects from copyright abuse. Yes, there are certainly criminal organisations involved in large-scale counterfeiting of software, music and film, but this is not what is meant when people talk about ‘piracy’. They are talking about you, or the kid next door, copying a CD, a DVD or a program.

There are strong arguments that the cost-free downloading of copyrighted material—that I will call freeloading [” To take advantage of the charity, generosity, or hospitality of others”], or leeching [” To drain the essence or exhaust the resources of (someone/something)”]—is not as harmful as proclaimed, that it is even justifiable. Fine. But, referring again to that social contract, it is just not what is accepted today.

I hope that there will come a time when copyright will again protect the creator, and that the internet can be an effective tool to provide a good distribution model that will allow creative folk involved in music, software and film to earn a decent living. And, I’d like to be part of that process. But I can’t be by encouraging freeloading and leeching.

Nuf said?

I have, for some time, pointed out to people that, thanks to the Internet, there is a lot of good music out there, I point to resources like archive.org or better propaganda that provide legal free downloads. When people say Kazaa or bit.torrent, I list off a bunch of artist sites, music blogs and other places where I have found good music to download and listen to, legally.

And it doesn’t sink in. For a variety of reasons. Oh, it’s always easier to listen to the same old mush that you always listen to; the sites are in English; I can’t remember the address that you gave me…

So, I have spent the last few weeks building the beginning of a music blog that can, ‘x’ times a week, propose free, legal, and recommended downloads. And today, I got it to such a state that I can mail a group of friends and ask them what they think.

I’m a little tired, and a little proud. And I’ll post a bit more when I have more to say about the project, about where it should go, and why, and how, and whatever.

. . . . .

green is the name of my latest project, you can find it at thepowerfactory.com/green/ Oh, and beware, it’s in French.

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no beatles on apple music store

There is a longsmouldering dispute between Apple, the computer people, and Apple, the Beatles people. This is currently up in front of judges in London and California. And while Apple, the computer people, have been signing up musicians by the bucket load for the iTunes Music Store, or iTMS as the sexy beast is known, Apple, the Beatles people, have, it is rumoured, gone to Microsoft’s own—no, we never ever heard of iTunes, honest, this is all Bill’s own idea—iMSN music store.

So, no Beatles on Apple.

Just a thought? But why call it the iTunes Music Store in the first place, and not Apple. I mean, this is a brand with all the hip needed to regularly battle the likes of Sony and Nike for first place for brand of the year, century, millenium in the hearts of the all-consuming masses, no?

Yes, but suppose that tomorrow some judge says that Apple, the computer people, must stop selling [and otherwise ‘doing’] music under the Apple name as Apple, the Beatles people, don’t like that. In that case, Apple, the computer people, have built up a new and powerful brand that can take over. A brand that can then, now the court case is out of the way, negociate with John, Paul, Ringo and George about getting music from Apple, the Beatles people, on the iTMS.

Not that I care, eitherway. I preferred the Clash…

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bankers

About the only good thing with my bank is the possibility that it offers me the possibility to manage my accounts with them through the internet. I would be tempted to say that this is a free service, but my more cynical [read realistic] half says that the expense is just hidden in the general account charges. Anyway, the opportunity is there. And now you can connect in with other than IE6 PC, it has finally become useful. [As an aside: the reason that Mac users may be more inclined to code accessible and standards-conforming web sites may be related to the idea that they understand better what it’s like to belong to a minority…]

It should be noted that I don’t need the means to manage my accounts because of a profusion of stocks, shares, options, alternate credit cards and cash reserves, all calling out for constant tendering and optimisation, but rather, by juggling between my paltry savings account [2% interest per annum anyone?], and my rather stretched cheque account, I can keep the latter from slipping into the red, while optimising my savings to such a degree that the monies I put aside monthly as provisions for income and local taxes bring in enough to buy two first-class postage stamps, instead of just one. I joke not.

So, the other night, around half-past eleven, I remembered I needed to wire some money the next day. I connected in and proceeded to the tab where I could enter in the information for the other account. But I was greeted by a a message that said that in order to use this service I should call a taxed number [0,20 eurocents/minute] and an operator would set up the account for me. And please note that the service is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The next morning when I got through [after 2 minutes wait] I asked what was the point of a 24/7 service that made you jump through hoops during quasi-office hours, in order to use it.
“Well Sir, said the Bright Young Thing at the other end of the line, naughty people have been calling up our customers and asking them for their passwords and then using that information to wire the money to their bank accounts.”
Please note that this is what is usually called Social Engineering—persuading people to give up personal information over the telephone.
“But how, I ask the BYT, does making me go through an operator change anything? If I was one of those naughty people and could wheedle that information out of a client, then surely I could also persuade you to create the account for me, and wire away the victim’s life savings? You have just inserted an inconvenience, in order to give the illusion that you are doing something, and in the process, you are not only not doing anything, but through this inconvenience masquerading as a solution, you are actually making a workable service worse.”
“This is just a temporary measure, Sir” he replies, probably cribbing from the script that the bank gave him, precisely to deal with idiot-callers like myself.
“Suppose, I said, starting to froth at the mouth now that I was getting into my stride, that I was abroad. Using the ‘net, I can, quite effectively, manage my accounts from any place where I can get access; but your special [taxed] number can only be called from inside France. What do I do then?”
“This is just a temporary measure, Sir” he repeated.

For me, this is not a temporary measure, it is a typical botch job; this is a sleight-of-hand trick hoping that people won’t see the rabbit eating through the electrical wires hidden under the table, that they will just see the empty hat, forget about the real problem, and enjoy the show. Until their life savings go on a holiday to Nigeria.

OK, clever, what is the real problem?

There is no chain of trust.

As a victim of a fraud, I have no way of knowing that the caller does not, need not, and should not get my account details—even though I have been informed in very small letters on page 52 on the contracts that I signed years ago, not to ever, ever give this information to anyone. All the while, the French still have an authoritarian reflex that includes banks and causes them to do whatever is asked of them by someone whom they believe is in a position of authority, even when that person has no right not basis to ask that. And they will look at me in horrified surprise when I point out that the tax guy, the headmaster, the bank-manager, the policeman, the annoying person behind the counter at the city office, has no right to make these unreasonable and unfounded demands.

In the same way, the BYT I have on the end of the line has no idea who is really calling him—Caller ID, suppose that they are using it, can be faked and all the rubbish [date and place of birth] that he asks can either be obtained, or social-engineered out of the person I’m pretending to be. Even supposing that I was talking to my counsellor at the bank, someone who is supposed to know me and to take into account that personal knowledge when I ask for an overdraft or whatever, would not help in the slightest as they change every six months. I have never met the last three, and the one I did meet about two years ago made a botch job of closing the account like I asked him to, so that over a year later I was still having problems [and receiving bills for] an account that, in theory, no longer existed.

The bank and I need a trusted third party who is sure that I am me, and also that the bank is what it pretends to be in person of the bloke on the end of the phone. Or we need a very strong chain of trust that stretches from me to him, and back again. Until that time, technological solutions [read ‘botches’] will not work.

And French banks, deep in denial, in the same way that they were [and probably still are, about Credit Card tricksters as well as crypto, for example] will continue to pile inconvenience upon inconvenience in a foolhardy and misleading attempt to keep up with the cunningness of tricksters, and to the eternal annoyance of the ordinary Joes [and Janes].

Prediction: as more and more things go online, things will only get worse.

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apple expo | follow up

I read today that Eriksson is to stop developing and licensing new Bluetooth handware. I say this because Alain also bought a new keyboard. [Did I mention that overwhelming need to consume that seemed to submerge him, sending him, with eyes glazed and credit card extended, careening down the alleys of Apple Expo?]. This indulgencenecessity cost 55 euros on the Apple Store stand.

Of course, in one of the inevitable Duh moments that just followed, we found that he could pick up an Apple Bluetooth keyboard for 19 euros, and a USB Bluettoth connector for about the same price. No wires and cheaper than USB!

The main drawback for these things is the need for power. Perhaps someone could develop a keyboard and mouse that you dock into chargers when you’re not using them, thus doing away with the need for a spare pack of AA batteries in the drawer, just in case the power fails midway through a might-time power-coding session.

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apple expo | 2004

For years Apple Expo has had streamlined online registration. Even before the internet age, when the French monopoly telco deployed a subsidised videotex system on dedicated terminals, called Minitel, you could use that to register. Then you’d wait and your little plastic badge would arrive through the door a week and a half later. When you got to the Expo you slipped the badge through a reader, and in you were. There was a barcode [later a magnetic strip] on the badge that, supposedly, contained your details, the idea being that when you were interested in something on a stand, they would ‘read’ your badge and no business cards need change hands. Needless to say, this either, never worked, or was never used…

This year was there was an innovation. No plastic badges. Instead you received a mail containing details. As I’m very bolshy about both spam and bandwidth, I have my mail client set to display only text, and never, ever to call in an image, nevermind display it. In my mail was a handful of numbers, only one of which was for entering the show. I still don’t know about the others.

It wasn’t until Alain unfolded his printout [I’d just written my number on the palm of my hand] that I saw the mail contained a barcode. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back to the registration process. There was a form to fill out with address, telephone number, I left these fields blank; after all, if they weren’t planning to send me a badge, they didn’t need this information did they? Beep! Please complete the form correctly. I couldn’t pass onto the next page without filling these out. I obligingly gave false information. Next page made everything clear. How many Macs do I own, how much do I earn, how much do I intend to spend on at Apple Expo? In other words, please give us all the information we need to sell you details to tele-marketeers [that’s why we want your phone number], to direct marketing shots [your address], and spammers both real and virtual in general. I filled out ‘Other’ in all categories and the form validated.

Note: the day after Apple Expo started I received a follow up mail, more or less, shouting me down for not yet having attended! I shot into the system and scrubbed my e-mail address. This is worse than spam, if possible—I really felt as if I was being spied upon.

My first Apple Expo was in the Halle de la Villette, up in the north-east of Paris. The whole Villette area was a gigantic cattle market and abattoir. The only remains of this are in the logo of the park—a stretched and cut-up cow—and in one or two of the bars and cafés around the place. The park is actually a nice place with a free open-air cinema in the summer, lots of free music, a very dynamic music conservatory, an amazing science park in the shell of what was the building for the ultra-modern abattoir that never got used, and the old beautiful victorian-era cast metal hall where the first Apple Expos were held. I don’t remember the year [1985 or 86 perhaps?]. The place isn’t particularly big, but even then it was cut in half so that one had the impression that the stands present filled it. You could bump into Bill Atkinson in the alleyways [he’d hire a river-barge on the Seine, moored at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, for a place to stay in Paris when he came over for Apple Expo—obviously a lad with style], and I recall seeing Laurent Ribaudière of 4D fame, except it was called ABC Base at the time if I remember correctly.

After a few years, the Expo filled out the Halle. But it was a great place, and I miss it a lot. In those ancient times it didn’t seem like a supermarket; the sales were a bonus, not the purpose of the place. Apple still took about half of the space for technology demonstrations, there were piles of free apples [the fruit, not the computers… sigh] up for the grab, food was decent and cheap, lots of T-Shirts were given away, and even the kids came away having had a fun day.

From there, Apple Expo moved to La Défense. This is a long windswept esplanade that cuts through what looks like a mixture of a giant child’s playground and a broken lego kit. Parts of it do have grace and beauty; the Arche de La Défense looking like a paper-thin hollow square as it sits, slightly askew, in the prolongation of the line that flows from the Louvre and the Tuileries’ garden, along the Champs-Élysées, through the Arc de Triomphe, past the Porte Maillot and Neuilly... The Expo centre is underneath, deep underground, and resembles nothing more than a car-park, crushing you under long low ceilings of raw concrete. It was here that the merchants at the temple were hidden away in vast echoing galleries, while Apple kept halls and auditoria for itself. It was here that I saw Apple Speech recognition, OpenDoc and lots of other wonderful new technology for the first time.

Then Apple Expo moved to the exhibition centre at the Porte de Versailles. Like many exhibition centres, this also resembles a car park, albeit a slightly better class of one than La Défense.

Alain and I met up just after 10 am on the platform of the Montparnasse métro station and travelled down the line to our destination, with about half the passengers in the wagon, obviously and excitedly, going to the same place. Alain muttered something about getting some breakfast, and I thought that an expresso would go down fine.

So a little while later, Alain with a croissant in hand, we wandered around the loading yards and car parks of the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre, past the distinctive placarded iPod silhouettes, towards Hall One, and the entrance. Like ant columns investigating a picnic, other stragglers arrowed the same destination, just around the corner.

While I read that the England has been having their wettest summer for aeons, Paris hasn’t been that bad, but it has been alternately wet. The weather here seems to jump from too hot, to wet and stormy were ne’er an in between. Today was blazingly, blindingly hot, even for only 10:20 am.

We rounded that corner then and saw a straggling queue of fellow travellers heading out across the entrance and car park, out onto the pavements, and probably, we imagined, back to the métro exit that we should have taken had we not wanted a quick coffee and a croissant.

‘What the F…’ was our pretty unanimous reaction.

I have never seen a queue to enter Apple Expo. Not because no-one wants to enter, but because, with pre-registration, it is all so well-organised; you just flash your badge and walk in. Visibly, e-mailed code numbers, or barcodes as I finally discovered when Alain retrieved his paper printout from a deep pocket from which I could hear distant muffled cries [more on this later], were much less effective.

In actual fact, like a pony suddenly getting into its stride, as soon as we joined the queue it shot forward at a good walking pace otherwise there would have started to be casualties—the sun was baking hot, and the Expo centre is crushed better the Périphérique and the Maréchaux, another set of roads ringing Paris and filling the air with exhaust fumes, lead pollution, and diesel particules [cough, cough]. We entered the building without the ridiculous and useless security checks that are much too common nowadays, and strolled over to one of the dozens of elegantly black-t-shirted staff holding a barcode reader. Incidentally, we also solved the mystery as why the LuxoJnr iMacs suddenly stopped being available this summer—Apple are using thousands of them here. There were probably a hundred deployed here just to log us in, and Apple rented them out to the stand holders too, as well as having hundreds on their stands. There will probably be a brisk second-hand trade later this year…

I held my palm up towards the black T-shirt in front of me, he turned and typed in the number, and informed ‘mr munn’ that his badge would be printed out by the little machine at the end of the row, just by the door where the two rocks dressed in nice black suits with little black curly things sticking out of their right ear and folding behind their necks [no, these weren’t iPod ear plugs…], and Star Trek-like barcode readers let us through to the inner sanctum.

As ever, there were nubile T-shirt decked young things thrusting papers, catalogues, and whatevers into our hands as we passed through. The first economy measure was visible here too; in the past, the Expo also thrust a bag into your hands, pre-equipped with useless bumf [Hell, for that first expo back in La Villette, Apple itself gave me a T-Shirt in the bag]. This year, no bag. And no apples. In past years they had become increasingly difficult to find, hidden away in a far corner, but there had always been free apples, and the tonnage consumed was, along with the visitor numbers, part of the vital statistics given away at the end of each assembly. I suspect that this is in line with an iPodisation of the Expo. Not only were they [for the second year running] the predominant decoration theme inside and out, but iPod and Mac are slowly replacing Apple as the predominant brand. The iPodisation of the iMac is also part of this… more later.

At this point I found out what the muffled screams coming from Alain’s pocket were. It was his credit card, calling to be pulled out and used; he need a DVD burner, and a printer and a… Had we had a delivery truck waiting outside, I had the impression that he’d have gladly taken everything in sight. So, in order to build up the tension, the pressure, the desire—if I may suggest thuswards of such a base act as mere commerce—I suggested that we wander around and compare prices first.

Apple Expo has now completed its transformation into a week-long shopping mall, with Apple stuck away in the occasional booth on the edges. There was another difference this year; in the past, the discounters had to have gigantic stands in order to house the vast quantity of stock that they shovel out during the festivities. This year, the whole shebang was smaller, more compact. In fact, vast areas of the hall were curtained off, keeping us neatly tucked into one corner. You went shopping, but to Alain’s frustration, you only rarely walked away with your purchase. This year, free delivery was hot. Yet, I imagine that, given the price for space, this was probably significantly cheaper than keeping the stock in place. Curiously—can you see a trend here—iPods were about the only item that people could actually purchase, and walk away with.

Apple was all out on Tiger. Every fifteen minutes another bright young thing in a black T-shirt with a little white apple discreetly silkscreen on the left breast took the microphone to explain—in a rich English accent—how wonderful Spotlight was, and who, just like me, can’t live without EX-PO-SAY, c’mon, putcha hands up? He was replaced by another sweet young thing, female this time, talking about aLOOmnm enclosures on the new iMac. It took me a while to understand that she was talking about aluminium; something I am more used to hearing talked about on cooking programs, but that is probably just a reflection on my exciting life.

Please let me say it, and get it off of my chest—I have been holding back on it, but I must confess—not only is the new iMac ungainly, but the 20” model is gross. I never liked the original iMacs [nor their successive and psychedelic refinements], they always struck me as something vaguely disquieting from a David Cronenberg film. The rounded Phillips screen was also a nasty bit of work. The current eMac is probably the only successful implementation of that original iMac design. And the screen is at last flat. I loved the Cube and the LuxoJnr iMac. Had I not already been wedded to a very beautiful iBook [first a G3, now a G4], I’d probably have killed a relative in order to bliss down with a 17” model. These were, in my opinion, everything one should expect of a Mac.

When you first see a new iMac from the front, it gives the effect of an eMac hovering in space. Until you see the aLOOmnm foot. As soon as you stop looking straight on you see the gross thickness of the screen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that, technically, it is an achievement to get a G5 into that enclosure, especially considering that they are about the size of an Intel processor nowadays. But it looks like a McDonald’s king-size, with too many layers hanging on in there. And the effect if even worse on the 2O” model. Sorry. This is one model I shall not regret seeing phased out. And in my opinion, the sooner the better. Now if they could get a G5 in a cristal-white cube…

We walked all day, lunched Indian, bought Alain’s DVD burner and printer, said ‘Hello’ to a friend at the Solution Micro stand… I picked up a cheapo Wacom tablet, but couldn’t see a good cheap USB flash memory. Alain picked up a bunch of literature, enough to keep him reading through the long winter nights to come. I thought to ask for a bag on the CLG stand so that he didn’t need to seed it behind him as he walked… A good time, albeit with aching feet, was had by all.

The verdict? Apple is clearly using the notoriety [brand recognition] associated with the iPod in order to leverage that into Mac sales. Will they manage to do that without alienating the Mac public, I don’t know. It didn’t feel like an Apple Expo though. There was no magic, no wonder, no pixiedust in the air. The only moment I got a feeling of something special was when I stumbled on a couple guys in their fifties sitting on a brick wall not far from the healthfood/bio fastfood area [yes, that exists…]; one, dressed in dungarees, was demonstrating something on a Newton to the other. They crouched over the machine like small boys having a torch-lit midnight feast under the blankets.

Excitement, mystery, wonder, and a sniff of forbidden fruit… feelings that I once shared about all things Apple.

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