Monday, November 24, 2014

Don’t do the things

This TL;DR of the Bible is funny but implies that – even in the Bible – God gave anyone a choice about whether or not to do the things.  God comes across as the injured party.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nugent, the Internet isn’t about you

I’m not very interested in Michael Nugent, but he keeps on writing stupid shit so I guess I’ll have a punt at it.

I don’t believe that PZ Myers is sexist. I believe that PZ supports equality for women, and that in his own mind he is trying to advance that aim, using methods that I believe are unjust and hurtful and counterproductive to feminism, equality and social justice.

But what would happen if PZ and his colleagues applied the same level of judgment about sexism to PZ’s own behaviour over the years, as they do to behaviour by other people, the most recent example being the shirt worn by Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor?

Oh Michael. I think you already know the answer. I used to think you were a decent human. You are sure as shit not.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Go compare

Brianna Wu talks about being forced from her home due to sustained, horrific attacks by gamergate-affiliated bullies. Zero comments.

Michael Nugent might be wrong. 72 comments and counting (over 2 posts)

Credit fraud being used as a form of domestic abuse. Zero comments.

To be honest, everything else I’ve ever written. Zero comments.

People aren’t coming here for my writing (can’t blame them for that) and they aren’t coming here for any agreement or complaint with the sorts of thing I tend to say. They’re coming because they’re outraged that I criticised Michael Nugent.

They’re outraged that I criticised Michael Nugent because they are idiots. People who disagree with me aren’t necessarily idiots but people who attack me because they are outraged that I criticised Michael Nugent necessarily are. I’ve written things about sexism in various places which nobody has ever paid the slightest attention to. I’m not complaining about that, there’s no reason anyone should. But criticise someone who thinks he’s a leader of the atheism movement and the hits roll in.  I could have made nearly a penny if I’d had adverts.

So you people hell-bent on telling me off for saying your hero isn’t very nice: why not make such earnest comments on other things I’ve said on the same subject?

Some of my best peaches are in the freezer

I know I’m going to get comments about free speech (well, probably only if I call Michael Nugent a poopyhead again) but I don’t think this is the kind of ‘work’ we should allow people to do here. He can come and visit. He can talk all he wants about more or less whatever he wants and if I don’t like it I can fuck off.  But we don’t have to let him do it on a professional basis. I don’t think we should.

So I signed this. You can sign it too!

Also, Michael Nugent is a poopyhead if that gets more people to sign.

Saturday, November 08, 2014


Hopefully the last thing I’ll have to say to Michael Nugent.

I’d like to say that I understand Michael Nugent’s claims that he’s been misrepresented. But I don’t. He’s been represented.

I don’t know why you need to keep posting your CV. We get it, Michael, you’ve done all kinds of good. Nobody ever said otherwise. But we still get to criticise you if we want. We want. We want because you are failing to take a stand on horrible behaviour. Bewilderingly, you insist on claiming that our criticisms are about you, your past and your achievements rather than about your blind – and repeatedly pointed out to you – ignorance. You deliberately and repeatedly fail to see that we don’t need or want heroes; that we admire the good things people do and deplore the bad.

That seems to me the essence of what it means to be an atheist. Christopher Hitchens was admirable in many ways and I mourn the fact that he is dead. But let’s be clear, he was a dick about some things. Richard Dawkins was responsible for my becoming a scientist. I devoured The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype. The enthusiasm with which Richard communicates science is infectious. He’s always been one of the biggest influences of my life and probably always will be. I’ve met him. He’s utterly charming. But he’s clueless about several important things.

Michael, this is how we do hero worship, if we’re smart: we celebrate the good and deplore the bad. Personally, I celebrate the things Darwin was wrong about. They seem stupid in hindsight, but they were honest and fairly – at the time – reasonable attempts to solve a problem his theory predicted. That is hugely impressive, more than I’ll ever do. There should be a movie about how and why he was wrong about what came to be genetics. It’s one of the most interesting and human stories there is.

And there’s another side to this hero business, isn’t there? We know that great responsibility is a consequence of great power. Geeks like us are only just learning what that means. To be an atheist or to be a skeptic has a social consequence that I don’t think we can ignore. To be a putative leader in the atheist/skeptic movements, moreso.

So, Michael, worship heroes if you like, but recognise their failures and limitations. Worship heroes all you want but don’t be afraid to criticise them when they’re wrong. Don’t tell other people that they’re wrong to criticise your personal heroes.  Don’t let clueless rhetoric blind your otherwise good instincts for social justice.

And for fucks sake stop crying about smears.

Some people – including me – think you’ve done lots of good things for the atheist movement but have utterly disgraced yourself by tacitly endorsing horrible views and insisting that criticisms are smears. Your cluelessness was first evident to me when you insisted that victims of abuse ought to talk genially with their abusers. Lots of people explained why you were wrong but you didn’t listen. In this new case, there are at least two sides. One side constantly reinforces you because it likes what you say, whatever you say since you’re now a champion of horrible people. The other side criticises some of the things you’ve done.

Criticisms are not smears, Michael. I can tell you about smears. I can tell you that some of the people commenting on your blog have made entirely untrue and public accusations about me. Those are smears. Criticisms of you are not.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The extent of this surveillance

Cross-posted at lookatthestateofthat and evilwednesday. Seems to fit with both.

Zoe Williams writes in The Guardian

The first compensation award, of £425,000, has been made to Jacqui, one of the women impregnated in the mid-90s by a police officer pretending to be an activist. She said last year that it felt as though she had been raped by the state

Jacqui says:

“Did he report every contraction back to the police? What use was that for information purposes? That is a moment so intimate, and I shared it with a ghost.”

She said that she felt as though she’d been raped by the state and I can see her point.  Presumably the police officer, Bob Lambert, reported with some regularity to his superiors who saw nothing wrong in beginning and maintaining this relationship through to and beyond childbirth.  As Williams says:

The language doesn’t exist to describe this crime, and that consigns us to imperfect analogies: it is an invasion beyond privacy and beyond sex, into a person’s destiny, holding them hostage forever to the love of a child conceived as the byproduct of state reconnoitre.

How would you feel if your partner – with whom you share a life and a child – turned out to be leading another life, too?  Not ‘just’ something relatively commonplace like an affair but a completely different life, such as having another family with someone else or having lied about their job?  It’s hard to imagine. But to know that the deception was sanctioned and maybe even encouraged by the state in order to catch some criminals who didn’t exist in the first place is a whole new level of unreality. It must be massively dehumanising; the feeling of being used – of being thought of as a tiny cog in a large and futile game – must be devastating. I don’t know what feelings, if any, Lambert had for Jacqui.  But she doesn’t either. All she knows is that the police didn’t. The state that sanctioned their activities didn’t.  She was unwittingly used: and used as part of a surveillance system aimed at the people and ideals she cared most about.The £425k compensation seems meagre at best.

Williams points out something I hadn’t considered:

The impact on Bob Lambert, the police officer, cannot be ignored. His life has been completely denatured by this duplicity. Surveillance, like torture, brutalises the agent as much as it violates the victim

Well, perhaps, but I’m struggling to summon any sympathy. He didn’t have to form a romantic relationship with Jacqui. He sure as shit didn’t have to father her child. He didn’t have to form any kind of intimate relationship – sexual or otherwise with her – in order to do his job. And he didn’t have to do that job.  I feel safe in my assumption that either he thought his actions were justified or even correct, or that he didn’t care whether they were or not.  And he certainly got off lighter than Jacqui in any case.

[…] at some point, it must have been obvious that this woman was not a threat to the state. One day, using average human judgment, of a woman he knew inside out, Lambert must have known that Jacqui was not a terrorist but rather a person of radical views. The thing we will never know is how long after that penny had dropped he continued to spy on her. One year? Three? Five?

I don’t know whether the ‘investigation’ was about Jacqui or her circle of friends and contacts.  But the point is important either way.  How much time, effort and money are the police prepared to spend in investigating a lead that’s leading nowhere? And how many lives are they prepared to ruin in the process?

When, for that matter, did MI5 realise that Eric Hobsbawm had no intention of defecting to Russia, and was simply agitating for radical left possibilities within UK politics? When did it realise that Christopher Hill was not intending to restart the English civil war, with a mind to recreating a Leveller revolution three centuries later? These two men were academics and communists, and last week it emerged that they were trailed by security services for more than three decades. The extent of this surveillance is still considered too incendiary to be released fully into the public domain, with sections still redacted.

Williams suggests two explanations. The first is that – to the police and state – the possession of radical views is tantamount to a crime in itself.  I think that’s almost true.  I think it’s a case of the means justifying the means: circular logic being let out to run riot.  Unlike youths in a town local to me: police are “clamping down” on large gangs of youths gathering in public parks on the grounds that – in their view – no good can come of it. It’s unfortunate for the police that the officer issuing threats against youths and their parents that cannot be legally enforced is called Inspector Button. Aaaaawwww. Anyway, large groups are bound to contain a bad apple and they’re all so close together! If we watch a large group long enough, a crime is certain to occur eventually and we can justify our intolerance of crowds! I’m not sure that the state (at least this state) thinks that activists are automatically evil, but that some of them are likely to be and that catching one justifies enormous taxpayer expense (that’s enormous expense, not necessarily an enormous taxpayer) and the devastation of innocent people’s lives.

I agree more closely with Williams’ second explanation:

Once you start spying on somebody, it is incredibly difficult to stop

This seems about right. We humans love nothing more than to throw money after bad. It’s the basis of the Gambler’s Ruin. We’ve spent so much without results that someone – and it might be me – is going to get in trouble. So we show progress in ever finer detail but rarely have the guts to call it quits. I’ve done it in various roles as an academic, a software engineer, a project manager and a human being. But in addition to that, Williams suggests that the police and other authorities just really love spying on people and don’t want to stop. I think that’s true too. I mean both spying in general and spying on individuals.

Once you’ve started, the piece of evidence that comprehensively proves innocence doesn’t exist. All that exists is absence, the lack of definitive proof of guilt. One more push might be all it takes.

Yes. This is true regardless of whether authorities view dissent itself as guilt. As I said, some people think that the means justifies the means. The means exist in anticipation of an end but they don’t seem to rely on one. Hence surveillance in the wider context, too.

Williams writes a lot of nonsense about Russell Brand, for some reason. He hasn’t been “monstered” as she suggests. He’s been told off in the papers because of his immature and ill-considered views, but has been lionised in about equal measure. He hasn’t been vanished or curtailed, he’s been granted podia at which to air his views regardless of never having earned it by, for instance, actually having something to say. Let’s not consider him someone who’s been demonised because of his off-centre beliefs. If anything, the opposite is true.

But I liked some of the things Williams said that were not about Russell Brand.  Every time we allow our government to spy on us a little bit more… Well, you know the rest.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Credit fraud as a tactic of domestic abuse

One of the problems faced by victims of domestic abuse is that they lack the finances to leave their abusive partner.  In many cases, the abuser sabotages their partner’s career.  Ophelia reports on this, quoting Lucy Green:

There are a number of ways an abuser can prevent a victim from holding a job. He may cause physical injuries to her face or body, so that she’s embarrassed to go to work. He may keep her from getting enough sleep, or show up at the workplace and harass the victim, disrupting her duties. He may refuse to provide child care, forcing the woman to stay home with the kids, or he might not allow the victim to have a car, depriving her of reliable transportation.

There’s a particular kind of terror in this type of abuse. Imagine knowing that your partner’s actions are aimed at blocking every chance you have to escape a their abuse.  Imagine seeing your options disappearing one by one. It’s a distressing thought and disturbingly common.  As Green notes, abusers are prepared to go to more chilling lengths still:

Another tactic that is becoming more common is identity fraud. The abuser may take out a credit card account in the victim’s name and pile up debt, destroying her credit rating.

So there’s no way for the victim to regain control of her finances.  No way for her to escape a lifetime of abuse.  Not even a way for her to have any sort of life outside the abuse.  I can only imagine the sense of helplessness. 

And yet there’s no shortage of helpful men lining up to ask women why they don’t just leave their abusers.

Ophelia again, quoting herself this time:

Dominance. Such a deep need for dominance. So destructive.

Destructive is right. These abusers are destroying people.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A reply to Michael Nugent’s extraordinarily long post about why I am wrong

In response to this masterpiece:

I said on Twitter that Michael Nugent defends rapists. I didn’t say he defends rape.  I said that he defends (some) people who are rapists, I meant something fairly specific by this: Michael Nugent continues to provide a safe haven for people who perpetuate rape culture. People who trivialise rape. People who use the threat of rape as an instrument for silencing women. People who vociferously claim that sex with someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or youth is not rape. Nugent does not condemn people who espouse such opinions in the comments on his blog. He equivocates, pretending this means he isn’t taking a position.

I expect Nugent despises some or all of these opinions. But he doesn’t condemn them. This is not an issue on which one can be apolitical. Refusing to comment or pick a side; refusing to condemn hateful comments; calling for the abused to engage in dialog with their abusers… These are political statements and failure to condemn them is tacit endorsement of a deeply unfair and horrible status quo.  This is what I mean when I say that Michael Nugent defends rapists. It’s what I always meant. I stand by it. I didn’t apologise for that and I don’t apologise for it now.

I’ll get to what I did apologise for later, First, I’ll address a tiny portion of Nugent’s ~3000 words of self-indulgent claptrap.

I’ll begin by saying that nothing I said was in any way representative of anything PZ Myers said, Michael can’t understand this. He used his conversation with me - and his misunderstanding of what I was apologising for - in an attempt to somehow shame PZ into apologising for something he said. We don’t speak for each other and my apology for one thing shouldn’t be seen as a reason for PZ to apologise for something else.

Latsot, a pseudonymous occasional guest blogger at FreeThought Blogs, has withdrawn and apologised for their repeated allegation that I defend rapists, saying that they had intended to convey something else.

I didn’t say that I intended to convey something else. See above for what I intended to convey. See below for what I apologised for.

This might be a positive first step in trying to reverse the demonisation of some atheists by PZ Myers and others, which has resulted in increasingly serious allegations being casually made as if they were an acceptable part of normal discourse.

Michael, you may not use an apology I made to imply a change in stance of anyone other than me.  As you’ll see, you shouldn’t use it to imply a change in my stance, either. If you think other people are making serious allegations against you, take it up with them. It has nothing to do with me and what I say has nothing to do with them.

There’s a long part of Michael's post where he quotes some things I said interspersed with calls to “[some time later]” in which he removes things that were said, for some reason. The reason certainly can’t be edits for brevity. He says it’s difficult to reconstruct Twitter conversations into a linear thread. He’s right. Others might call it cherry picking but I’m more generous.

This part ends with me explaining my point, which was the point I was making all along:

Because the point is a little more subtle than you’ll admit. Being complicit in rape culture is making a haven for rapists. I think you are defending people who happen (probably) to be rapists. If that sounds like I’m backtracking, I’m not. I think – and no doubt I could have been clearer – that you defend the actions of people who either rape or apologise for rape when you dismiss evidence of rape and when you encourage people who do the same. I think that it is a moral imperative to take a stand on this issue and hyperskepticism is at best a cop out. This is what I’ve been trying to say. Most of the time I’ve been replying to what other people have said, so the message will be fragmented at best. I hope this is a little clearer.

I daresay Michael didn’t see much of my earlier conversation with others and indeed believed that this was a new argument. But as you can see, I made it clear that this is what I meant all along, even if I was unclear earlier even though the discussion spanned several conversations, not all of which Michael was necessarily privy to. I thought this would clear the matter up. I wasn’t making the simplistic and wrong claim that Michael advocates rape and I told him so.

But this wasn’t good enough for Michael. He was only concerned with trying to intimidate me into withdrawing statements he misinterpreted in the first place. 

I did withdraw them. Not because I was intimidated but because I didn’t mean what he continued to think and claim that I meant.  In that sense, it was a not-pology: sorry you thought that’s what I what I said. Sorry if I came across that way.  But what I said stands. 

Michael, I didn’t apologise for what you seem to think I apologised for.  I apologised for being unclear. I don’t think I implied that you endorse rape but if I did, I’m sorry. But what I didn’t apologise for still stands.

Then Michael included a conversation we had about his cat. It was dying and I felt sorry for it and for Michael. I still do. I’m appalled that he included this exchange in his post. It had nothing to do with what we were talking about and he presumably only included it to make me seem contrite for whatever it is he mistakenly thinks I apologised for.

The second part of Michaels post was about what he considers my ‘new’ argument. Which was actually what I was saying all along. I’ll skip the passive-aggressive parts where possible (it’s not easy):

I will now address your rephrased intended allegation, which is not that I defend rapists, but that in your opinion, my actions seem to perpetuate rape culture and are very problematic.

This allegation is vague and impossible to respond to in its current format.

I daresay that a statement made in chunks of 140 characters was indeed vague.  I’d have thought the appropriate response would be to seek clarification rather than to write a long blog post about what you assumed I was saying.  But as we’ll all see, I apparently don’t know what I’m talking about.

I will assume that it is related to your previous opinions that I don’t take a stand against rape culture, that I clearly don’t understand how much rape hurts people, that I dismiss evidence of rape, that I have defended someone you strongly suspect is a rapist, and that I am defending people who happen (probably) to be rapists.

I said those things. There’s quite a lot of context missing, but I stand by them. Let’s get to Michael’s measured response:

To put them in perspective, the most common advice that I am getting from people who actually know me, including women and including rape victims and including lifelong social justice activists, is that I am out of my mind to be even giving you the credibility of responding to you.

Some of my best friends….

Michael, it’s an astounding piece of arrogance to think your responding to me somehow lends me credibility. Authority is not a very good basis for an argument.

Seriously, Latsot, I really have to emphasise this. You have no idea how bizarre your allegations seem to people who actually know me, who actively campaign for social justice, and who do not share the particular worldview that has shaped your public allegations about me.

I’m sure that many of my opinions seem bizarre to people who don’t share them. I’ve been told that my opinion that women ought to be treated with respect are bizarre. I’ve been bewilderingly called racist and threatened with death for celebrating Christmas while being atheist. I’ve been threatened with death for suggesting that the terms ’Muslim’ and ‘Islamist’ referred to different sorts of people. None of these opinions make any sense at all. What was your point again?

I’ll start with your general opinion that I don’t take a stand against rape culture.

You provide a long quote, which is pretty reasonable. But you’ve also stressed (which seems at odds with what you’ve said here) that allegations of rape ought to be handled by the police with the clear implication that if the victim didn’t go to the police, the credibility of the argument is reduced.

Firstly, you say that I clearly don’t understand how much rape hurts people. The only response I will give to that is that you don’t know what you are talking about.

A brilliant argument.  Of course, that statement of mine was not made out of the blue but as part of an ongoing argument with someone who wasn’t you. But why listen to me?  Apparently I don’t know what I’m talking about. And you know what? I’ve never been raped. I know people who have been, but I certainly don’t understand how much rape can hurt people.

Secondly, you say that I dismiss evidence of rape. Actually, I don’t dismiss evidence of rape. I take evidence of rape very seriously.

Providing evidence is defined the way you choose. You seem to wilfully make the mistake that evidence of rape is necessarily how a police force would reckon it. If so, which police force? One in Ireland? In England? In Pakistan?  Credibility of a rape allegation is not increased by reporting it to the authorities. Evidence of a rape is not more credible if authorities endorse it or less so if they dismiss it. Evidence is still evidence outside a police investigation or court of law.


See above. I don’t think my suspicions are more important than due process and I have never said so.  We’re not talking about convicting anyone here, we’re talking about whether we believe a rape happened.  I strongly expect it did, but I have no case to bring to court. I don’t think anyone should be imprisoned without appropriate due process but I wouldn’t want to leave a vulnerable person alone with someone I suspected of being a predator.  This point has been made to you many times: there are different standards of evidence for different situations. Like many others, you choose to hide behind legal definitions when nobody has even suggested invoking a legal system. I find that stance sickening and you should be ashamed of yourself for holding it.

Who are these people?

Example: people who have sex with others who are impaired by alcohol. That’s rape.  Lots of people commenting at your place have argued otherwise and claimed to have had sex with people with impaired judgement. Those people are rapists. In any case, it’s not up to me to tell the police. It’s not my decision.  But I certainly don’t have to tolerate those people or their views in a space I own and police.  I consider such tolerance tacit endorsement.

Latsot’s withdrawal and apology is a positive first step in trying to reverse the demonisation of some atheists by PZ Myers and others, which has resulted in increasingly serious allegations being casually made as if they were an acceptable part of normal discourse.

I hope you now understand that I didn’t apologise for what you thought I apologised for.  I didn’t mean to suggest that you endorse rape and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear about that. But I still wholeheartedly think that you provide something of a safe haven for rapists and misogynists; that you insist on sometimes inappropriate standards of evidence regarding the credibility of rape allegations; and especially that you are determined above all to tell everyone else how they should think.

What PZ chooses to say and do has absolutely nothing to do with me and vice versa.  Stroppily using our argument as a bat to hit him with is rather pathetic. Not quite as pathetic as using our conversation about your poorly cat to make me appear humbled and contrite, though.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Do I look like a terrorist?

Confirmed bellend Richard Littlejohn writes things on the Daily Mail, for some reason. That’s already a bad beginning but needless to say it gets worse.

It begins charmingly:

As the old whore complained: ‘It’s not the sex, it’s the stairs.’ Same goes for air travel. It’s not the flight, it’s all the aggravation that goes with it.

I’m not sure he thought this analogy through. Aggravation as stairs, I get. But he seems to cast air travel as (presumably unwanted and laborious) sex and himself as the aging prostitute.  I doubt this is what he was trying to say.

He’s complaining about his bag being searched when he flew to Glasgow last weekend.

I’ve written before about middle-aged Howards and Hildas being given the third degree at airports while women in burkas and young men of Asian descent are waved through security — so terrified are the authorities of being accused of ‘profiling’.

What else could Littlejohn be saying other than he’s white, middle-aged and middle-class so couldn’t possibly be a threat, unlike those shifty-looking brown people in funny clothes?  He claims he was stopped because the plastic bag containing his fluids (I mean his shaving cream and so on, not his bodily fluids, presumably) was slightly too big.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt about that*, although I don’t really buy it.

Much of Littlejohn’s article is about the security theatre in airports, and I’ll get back to that. But the rest is high-grade, refined, starship-fuel grade racism. First, he establishes why he can’t possibly pose a threat to aircraft:

We were forced to wait while my miniature can of shaving gel was whisked away for an anti-explosives swab and the assistant filled in a special form, noting time and action taken.

While all this was going on, I was chatting away merrily to a supervisor who’d recognised me and wanted a natter about something he’d read in my column.

Clearly he knew perfectly well that neither my wife nor I were terrorists or had any intention of blowing up the Glasgow shuttle. So what was the point of holding us up?

I think the answer to that question is pretty clear. The security staff recognised him and wanted to give him – him personally – the hardest time they possibly could. I certainly would. Who wouldn’t? But he slaps his prejudices on the slab for all to see, so let’s poke at it gingerly with a stick and a horrified expression. It’s clear that he thinks he’s above suspicion. He’s not brown and his clothes are normal instead of funny so how could he possibly be a threat to a plane? I’ll come back to this, too.

Hundreds of wannabe jihadists seem to have had no difficulty passing through British airports en route to joining IS in Syria.

Even if there were hundreds of emigrating jihadists, what does Littlejohn propose? They’d be unlikely to carry explosives or to have any intention of blowing up a plane, so what would be the point of searching them? If they were going to blow up a plane, they’d need to have explosives. Where did they get them?  And why would they target flights to Syria? Surely that would be counter-productive if the supposed mass exodus of jihadists to Syria is to be facilitated. Littlejohn is proposing either searching of muslim-looking people for no reason or their prior surveillance, also for no reason.  Apparently just so he – who is clearly above suspicion – doesn’t have to go through the mild inconvenience of having his bag searched.  No matter that the ‘shoe bomber’ was white. And the ‘white widow’. And the ‘unabomber’. There are many threats to air travel. Excluding brown people from travel will not eliminate those threats.

The most recent [‘wannabe jihadist’] was a 15-year-old Somalian girl from Bristol, travelling via Turkey unaccompanied by an adult. Didn’t that ring any alarm bells?

I don’t know why it should. There are reasons to go to Syria other than jihad. Littlejohn doesn’t know whether or not she was treated with suspicion and her luggage searched, just like his was. If it was – as in his case – they didn’t find anything. So what reason would anyone have to stop her travelling? Littlejohn doesn’t seem to mind non-Somalians with the same travel plans. Not that Yusra Hussien is from Somalia, of course, she’s from Bristol. And nobody knows whether she travelled for the purposes of jihad. Perhaps she did, but preventing brown people from travelling is hardly going to help.

Wouldn’t all this money be better spent targeting them, instead of wasting time and effort treating respectable, middle-class Middle Englanders as potential shoe bombers?

By “them”, Littlejohn is referring to people who have travelled with false passports. Of course, no respectable, middle-class Middle Englander could be worthy of suspicion. I’m an entirely disrespectful lower-class northerner. Is there a Littlejohn Scale of Trustworthiness? I’d be interested to know how I scored.

And at this rate it can only be a matter of time before the aviation security ‘experts’ work out that the only way to guarantee our ‘safety’ is simply to abolish air travel altogether?

Well yes. That’s exactly what a security expert would say. Bruce Schneier has said exactly that and if he’s not a security expert I don’t know who is.  Security is always about trade-off. It’s easy and convenient to use the same password for everything but it’s roaringly insecure.  It’s easy and convenient to allow the public to visit public spaces, but one of them might have a gun or a bomb. The Internet and other telecommunications set us free, but they also chain us.

The only way to secure air travel entirely is to prevent it altogether. We’re not going to do that. But Littlejohn’s assertion is that there’s nothing to be gained from airport security theatre.  I agree to some extent.

There’s no denying that the security theatre at airports is mostly that. The vast majority of fluids on planes will not explode them. Most people just want to get to wherever they wish to be. Hardly anyone has exploding shoes. But that doesn’t mean there are no threats, risks or attacks. A threat is a potential vulnerability. A risk is a judgement about how seriously to regard a threat and how much – money, effort, fear, whatever – to spend on it. Attacks are attempts to exploit threats in order to make assets vulnerable. Assets are things that can be hurt. They might be data, objects, people or systems.

There’s also no denying that there are threats relating to air travel. There are assets with vulnerabilities which might be attacked. So our job is to understand the risks and to deploy countermeasures that result in some sort of security of those assets.

It would be nice to think that actual real-world countermeasures make threats benign and thereby protect our assets, but it doesn’t work that way for about a thousand reasons.  For example: if a neighbour’s burglar alarm goes off once, you’ll probably look out the window to see what’s up. If it goes off all day every day for a month, you’re likely to crash through the the neighbour’s house and rip the fucking thing off their wall with your teeth. Does any of this have any bearing on the risk of burglary?

A big part of security is about finding out what it is you want to protect and what you want to do with those things. Part of that involves recognising who is  the attacker and how they mean to attack. Sometimes the attackers we consider aren’t real, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering the attack. But sometimes attacks aren’t real and we have to wonder whether preventing them is worth the cost. The 9/11 attacks were certainly real and committed by people who want to hurt us. Littlejohn is right to suppose that confiscating our liquids and our tweezers will do nothing for plane security. But theatre has it’s place. It makes people feel safer even if they’re not.  It’s vital that people keep using air travel services even if the security surrounding them doesn’t make us safer. Placebos work even though they’re not medicine, even for people who know placebos are placebos. Security theatre might be worthwhile in some ways even though it’s bullshit; even though it doesn’t increase security.

In the case of security theatre at airports, I think it does have a place ,more good for airports and the air travel industry than it does for passengers. I think the bodies who need to do or be seen to do something are not always those in a position to do it. I think that many, many players are involved in airline security have conflicting agenda and that if they sat down at a table to decide how to secure airlines, they’d only be able to agree on stupid, trivial measures like taking away your tweesers and complaining that you have too much shaving cream.

Littlejohn’s complaint isn’t valid on any level. The security trade-off isn’t about the people he fears because they look and dress different to he. It’s about corporations and government together making travel difficult for various reasons. Or internet access. Or freedom of speech. Or access to information. Depending on where you are. The proper response to authoritarian bullshit isn’t to demand that minorities are prevented from travel or other freedoms and majorities are not. The correct response is to disobey. To protest. To disobey and protest even if – and especially because – you are not a minority,

Littlejohn is an idiot and he writes stupid shit. But his shit splatters a lot of people who never wanted to have to wipe it off.


* I flew from Newcastle to London to Amsterdam to New York to Chicago not long after 9/11. I got all the way to New York before security decided my deodorant was unacceptable for air travel. As the guard was confiscating it, I noticed a sign behind her saying that it was perfectly acceptable to carry a gun on the plane providing you inform the crew before you board.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Taking harassment seriously

The local paper has a story about a man whose wife left him after he slapped her.  He then engaged in a campaign of sustained harassment, sending her dozens of texts a day, mixing threats of violence with pleas to get back together. He also kicked her door down and threatened to slit her throat.  And then sent her flowers.  It was a sinister and frightening attempt to manipulate her and he was jailed for 18 months (reduced to 16 on appeal).

So what headline did The Northern Echo go with?

Darlington 'kebab attack' man has sentence cut on appeal

Because at one point he threw a kebab at his estranged wife’s friend.  That’s the thing they focused on.  Like it’s all a bit of a laugh.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Latsot, what is it you actually *do*?

Someone asked me this the other day.  It’s always a difficult question for me to answer but in case anyone’s interested, this is what I’m doing at the moment.

I’m writing some software.  Mostly for mobiles and wearables.  I can’t say very much about it at the moment, but things I’m working on include:

  • Smart notifications.  Your mobile runs off and finds stuff you’re interested in and then tells you about it.  The smart part is that it uses context generated by your devices to work out what you’re doing so it can decide what you need to know so that the notifications don’t annoy you.  For example, your phone knows when you’re driving to work so it can decide whether to tell you about travel problems along your route and whether not to tell you about who won some reality show. That should definitely wait until you’re at work and someone else is paying for your time.  It knows when you’re running for a bus, so maybe it’ll tell you when the next bus is.  The idea is that notifications can be used to help you make decisions. If it’s raining outside, maybe you want to leave early.  Stuff like that.  Ambient information, I suppose. The other idea is that this should all be really easy to customise to your specific needs and to keep up to date as your needs and circumstances change.  I can’t say too much about how that’s done just yet.
  • Various Bluetooth shenanigans. This is fairly early stage work, but I’m playing around with tracking the movement of people’s BT devices around an environment and triggering events (including notifications) accordingly.  For example, my watch might vibrate when my wife pulls into the drive, alerting me to stop rolling around in my own filth and look like I’m working.  Or maybe it can remind me what I went into the kitchen for. Maybe the tech I’m wearing can understand gestures so when I walk into the kitchen making a movement like scissors, it can politely remind me that it was scissors I went in there for and what I wanted to cut was the Amazon parcel I just signed for.  I’m also looking at things like ibeacons, again mostly for use in the home and at work, rather than the typical application (retail, travel etc.)  And I’m quite interested in snooping BT traffic, just from a privacy point of view. Our devices leak more than you probably think and I want to know how we can better protect ourselves.
  • Wearables.  I’m particularly interested in what can be done with inexpensive wearables, such as NFC tags.  Context is again key.  Bumping an NFC tag can act as a context-dependent switch. It can do different things depending on what you’re doing. And your devices know a lot about what you’re doing.  If I bump an NFC bracelet when I’m walking home from work, it might do something different to when I bump it when I’m on a plane.  My phone knows which context is current. Fun fact: if you stick an NFC sticker on the back of a Surlyramic, bumping your phone on the ‘ramic will activate the tag.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m wearing my Surlyramics, lots of people ask me about them. You don’t need to ask me now, you can just bump your phone.  Wearables like smartbands and smartwatches are getting cheaper these days too and I’m working on what I might do with those.  Currently I’m wearing a Gear Fit, which I’m using to receive notifications (see above) and for tracking movement within environments. I’m extending the platform that manages all this to deal with the data and context devices generate. Gestures, heartbeats, whatever, together with the smart notifications I talked about way up there.
  • Civil disobedience. I want people to be disobedient when it’s needed.  I want to encourage disobedience.  I want people to be able to organise protests without an oppressive regime picking them off, driving tanks on them, targeting their families, smearing them, arresting them, threatening them or otherwise harming them.  This is a big project.  I have some ideas and some software, but it’s clear to me that it’s a thing that ought to be open sourced.  I’ll be working on opening that source in the next few months.

So I basically play with toys.  In my defence, I make toys do what they weren’t meant to do and to do things that nobody in their right mind would expect. I also, perhaps perversely, use the worst (or at least, the least capable) toys I can get. This might or might not be a commercially successful strategy.

I have a limited alpha coming out in a week or so. It’ll be the first time anyone else will really understand what I’m planning to sell and I’m quite excited.

So that’s what I do, if you’re interested.  And especially if you want to give me money.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

I made a Bene Gesserit pain box!

In the book (and movie) Dune, The Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim tests the young Paul Atreides with a box that induces pain.


Paul puts in his hand and the Reverent Mother holds a poison needle to his neck. She tells him that if he removes his hand, she’ll stab him with the needle.  The box induces excruciating pain in Paul’s hand, but doesn’t do any damage.

There’s no way you wouldn’t want one of those, right?

So I made one.  It wasn’t my idea, I got it from an article linked to by – I think – Boing Boing.  The article explained that if you line up cylindrical objects which are alternately pleasantly warm and pleasantly cool then put your hand on it, you’ll experience excruciating pain.

And it works!

For some reason, your nervous system is fooled into sending you a pain signal.  Even with a low temperature differential (warmish and coolish bars) the pain was barely tolerable.  My proof of concept used an especially high-tech approach: hotdogs.  I put half of them in the freezer for a few minutes and warmed the others.  Then I just laid them on the kitchen worktop, hot cold, hot cold.

The proof of concept was so successful that I’m thinking of making an electric version in a proper box. I don’t know why, it just seems like a cool thing to do.

Then you’ll have even less reason to come to my house.

As a bonus, Fortran enjoyed eating hotdog afterwards nearly as much as I enjoyed making a pain machine.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Read this, do what they ask

Women in tech just want to work on what they love, a manifesto :

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Travel essentials

I don’t travel as much as I used to.  I used to think of distances purely in terms of battery life.  At one point, I was regularly turning up at the airport with only a vague idea of where I was going; my secretary had booked the trip, arranged all the details and even checked me in.  All I needed to do was drop off my luggage at the right desk.  The routine was pretty slick.  I knew what to wear and carry to get through the airport as quickly as possible and automatically fell into the zombie-shuffling demeanour that makes airports (barely) bearable.  I had a kit of essential items so I didn’t need to think about what to pack.

I don’t travel so much now, but I’ve been thinking about what I’d put in my travel kit these days, since there’s so much cooler stuff around these days.  Any other suggestions?

  • Chargeable power supply for my various devices.  There are a lot of these on the market.  I’d be happy with one that could handle 2 or 3 USB devices at a time and charge from both mains abd USB.
  • Universal power adaptors.
  • Travel power strip.  I find that most hotels have only one (if any) socket at each side of the bed.  I usually want my phone (for listening to audiobooks) and my kindle next to the bed and night is usually the only convenient time to charge them.  I usually end up with my laptop on the floor next to the bed with USB cables trailing all over.  This greatly annoys me.  I want a small, light power strip which has maybe a couple of UK mains sockets and 2 or 3 USB sockets.  It would be great if this had a battery in it so it could double as item 1.
  • Pocket wireless router.  Some hotels have only a wired broadband connection.  A pocket router could convert it to wifi.  It could also be used as a wifi extender and to foil those hotels that charge for wifi per device.  It would save having to use my laptop as an access point.
  • Phone.  Mine is a Galaxy Note II, which I love.
  • Tablet. Mine, like my phone, is a Galaxy Note.  I use it mostly for taking handwritten notes, which I do every day.
  • Laptop. Size, weight and battery life are obviously the most important things here.  Mine is a really small and light Toshiba one which fits in my hand luggage and gets about 8 hours of battery life.
  • USB stick.
  • Pens, plural.  I always have my Fisher Space Pen with me anyway and would use this to fill in my landing card.  But I’d carry at least one more to lend to other passengers.
  • E-book reader.  Mine’s a Kindle Paperwhite, which I much prefer to the Fire.
  • 2 or 3 retractable USB cables.  Non-retractable ones have a life of their own and no matter how I coil them, they seem to unravel when I’m taking my electronics out of the bag at airport security and get in the way when I’m re-packing.
  • Eye drops
  • Moisturiser
  • Deodorant
  • Mouthwash
  • Clear plastic case for the above four items.
  • Small case for carrying painkillers.
  • Cheap, foldable, disposable reading glasses.
  • Several NFC tags in bracelet and necklace form.  I have several profiles set up for travel ranging from simple things like turning airplane mode on and off to more complicated experimental stuff. Thinking up and implementing new uses for NFC tags is also a good and relaxing way to fill up long flights and layovers.
  • A set of lockpicks, just because I like carrying them around. Wonder if I’d be allowed to take them on the plane?
  • Headphones.  I just use a standard pair of earbuds on the plane.  My usual headphones are these bluetooth ones, which are really good ( but they might be too bulky to carry in my hand luggage.  If I have a long layover, however, I’ll find a way to fit them in.
  • Comfortable, non-metallic clothing, usually tracksuit bottoms, trainers and T shirt,  No jacket. No watch. Wallet, coins, keys in my bag. NFC tags go through airport metal detectors with no problems. I try to do without my walking stick when I travel. It gets in the way and people in airports and stations seem to view it as an invitation to walk in front of me or barge past me.  I don’t know why.  I usually regret not taking it when I don’t and taking it when I do.
  • Nuts, seeds and other snackables.  Anything to avoid airline food if I can.  The food itself is less of a problem than eating it in such a cramped space surrounded by other slobbering passengers.
  • I usually carry all this stuff in a messenger bag,  I use this hand-dyed tentacle one:  I’ve tried bags with lots of pockets, but I find them more annoying than useful.  The messenger bag has pockets for my phone, travel documents and headphones and that’s enough for me.  I might consider something like this though, so I can stow my bag and have my phone, kindle and headphones to hand:

So that’s my ideal travel kit.  What do you carry when you travel?  What things don’t but should exist to make travel less horrible?

When I was your age

I’ve been thinking lately about how times have changed. It’s not just that I’m getting old, it’s also that we’re living in the twenty first fucking century, a fact that still occasionally freaks me out.  But there’s a particular thing I’ve been trying to tease out and it’s something like this:

It was worse when technology didn’t do what we wanted it to, but it was more exciting.

Anyone remember the Psion Organiser 2? Man oh man that was an incredible machine. It came almost out of nowhere and was a machine made for geeks like me.  I was head over heels in love the moment I saw it.  It represented, above all, potential. It didn’t do much out of the box, but you could program it.  You could just go ahead and make it do what you wanted.  It already looked like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I doubt I was the first person to write a HHG2G program for it.  In fact, the database I wrote to run the HHG2G was the first software I ever sold, aged about 15.  The second was a word processor I wrote for the same machine a few months later.  It turns out that I didn’t make enough money to retire, but it paid my rent for a couple of months.  But the point was that this was an exciting machine; a thing that was obviously going to transform everyone’s lives.  And its successors did that. A couple of decades later, everyone had smartphones.  


I love my smartphone.  Technically I could live without it but practically I’m not sure I’d want to.  My phone does everything I dreamed of making my Psion 2 (and later 2LX, various versions of 3, 5 and 7) do right out of the box.  And considerably more. And it’s enormously upgradable; there are apps for everything.  The more esoteric and bewildering your requirements, the more likely there is to be an app that does exactly it.

I tend to be a glass full kind of person (I’ve only got half a glass of water, but I’ve got half a glass of this awesome air too) but in the case of portable computers I can’t help but feel that more is sometimes less.  The software on phones is so awesome that it’s easy to ignore the things that annoy us.  In the old days, we’d just have written software that did exactly what we wanted.  These days, that’s a much bigger investment of time, knowledge and skill.  So despite the fact that my phone does more than I dreamed was possible in 1986 and is totally awesome, I pine a little for the days when I had to make my handheld devices do what I wanted them to.

That’s why I’m taking some time off to make phones do what I want them to and help other people make their phones do whatever it is they want them to do, too.  I’m building a mobile platform that integrates media, social networking and contextual aspects such as where we are and what we’re doing, based on the principle of doing awesome things while remaining in control of our privacy.  People will be able to use this platform to build apps that integrate their phone more closely into their everyday lives.  I’ll be building some apps to demonstrate the platform.  The first will be an app to support the organisation and management of civil protests, particularly in places where such protests are dangerous.  I’ll be using low-cost and throw-away wearable computing such as NFC bracelets and necklaces as contextual switches for apps, doing different things depending on whatever it is your phone thinks you’re doing at the time. I’ll be kickstarting projects to improve the platform and build other apps, probably on or around the general topic of disobedience. 

Fun, isn’t it?  Let’s make use of the vast potential of our phones and online services.  Let’s pick up our phones every day and think “you know what, I’m going to change the world a little bit.” Let’s protest. Let’s crowdsource ideas then crowdfund them.  Let’s build apps on the spur of the moment, over the course of maybe a weekend, even if it’s to do something we only want to do once.  Let’s make our phones things we can make stuff with.  For the hell of it.  For the fun of it.  Let’s make awesome technology exciting again.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Crowdsourcing civil protest app requirements

I’m building a privacy-based platform for managing access to social networks.  It’s designed from the ground up to put privacy first and to be a platform on top of which privacy-centric applications can be built.

I can’t give away too many details about the platform yet, but I want to start building the first application alongside the platform.  That first application will be a tool for organising and conducting civil protests while protecting the privacy of those involved.  It’s intended particularly for locations where civil protest is especially dangerous, but I want it to be as tweakable as possible for different environments and requirements.  Features will include:

  • Invitation: advertising protests; distributing locations, plans, goals, guidelines, supporting material etc. This might require anonymity, secure access, the laying down of false trails and other means to protect sensitive information and the identity of organisers and participants.  In some environments, it is dangerous to distribute certain materials or to arrange for protestors to congregate.  I want people to be able to get the message out about acts of civil disobedience in as safe a way as possible for all concerned.
  • Meeting and greeting: In environments where civil protest is likely to be dealt with harshly by authorities, it’s difficult to act unless you know that plenty of others are on your side.  If the tool could show those within the planned protest area how many other potential protestors are present, along with an evaluation of the other protestors’ bona fides (perhaps they are all invented by an oppressive regime to bring actual protestors into the open) then individuals could have more confidence that they are acting as a group. Anonymity must be preserved, as must secrecy about each individual’s connection to the protest.  Protestors might not want authorities to know that they are interested in a potentially dangerous act of civil disobedience.
  • Social networking: protestors who meet at an event might wish to share contact information, messages, alerts, materials etc.  In many cases, this must happen anonymously or at least pseudonymously.  Protected forums in which people can receive communications – even personal communications – without any party revealing their identities to the others are essential.  People must be able to reveal as much or as little as they like about themselves, their roles in protests, their beliefs and interests and yet still – if they wish it – be contactable.   Decisions to share contact information might be made on the spur of the moment in a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation.  Protestors must be able to easily and rapidly tailor their profiles in realtime, understand the consequences of their decisions and – as far as possible – retract them if they change their minds later.
  • Coordination: it might be that an act of civil protest requires that a group assemble from different locations or that a crowd not be perceived as a crowd until the protest begins.  With the most careful planning in the world, tactics change as the situation develops and decisions must be made in realtime.  Protestors need to be able to decide whether or not to act on instructions or carry on doing whatever they’re already doing.  This will depend on how much they trust the coordination messages which might well be anonymous.  Mileage – and danger – will vary.

I have some other ideas.  I want to incorporate throwaway wearable technologies such as NFC tags to aid the sharing of anonymous contact details.  I want to think about how information about individuals and events should decay over time.

And above all, I do not advocate and will always strongly resist violence of any kind at any civil protest, no matter how otherwise disobedient.

So here’s the crowdsourcing part. Any ideas will be considered and attributed.  Any technological, practical or legal concerns are especially welcome and will most certainly be noted.  Any offers of help, financially and especially in-kind will be gratefully accepted.  I’m not being paid to develop this application and I can’t see myself making much if any money from it in the future.  Any good programmers, web designers or people with lots of money can and will be put to good use on an interesting project. And anyone with good ideas can contribute at any stage.

If you’d like to be involved somehow, let me know.  At the moment I’m especially interested in requirements.  What would this tool have to do to make your civil protest safer and more effective?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My autism answer

You scored slightly higher than average on this test, but are still below the threshold of 32 points that would likely indicate an autistic spectrum disorder. Just because you have scored higher than average, it does not mean that you are likely to be autistic - many people who score highly have no problems functioning in their day-to-day lives. This can be because of a good match with their chosen career (anecdotally, mathematicians and computer scientists score higher in this AQ test) or because they have a supportive family/social network that prevents any secondary problems occurring. If you feel that you are not able to function normally in day-to-day life, it may be worth talking to your GP about these test results.

Or perhaps because the test is absolute bullshit.

Autism can be mild, in which case the impact on daily life is minimal - or it can be so severe that sufferers struggle to function in their day-to-day lives, where the world seems a strange and scary place. There is currently no cure for ASD, but there are a range of treatments that can improve/manage the symptoms.

Autistic Spectrum Disorders have a wide range of symptoms, grouped into three broad categories:

  • Problems and difficulties with social interaction, such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people's emotions/feelings.
  • Difficulty with language and communication skills, such an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly (often resulting in interrupting others inappropriately).
  • Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour – such as making repetitive physical

Or perhaps because the test is absolute bullshit.

Fuck it, I’m taking the autism test

The Daily Mail showed the true colours of its journalistic integrity by publishing a test for autism. Check out the URL, by the way, what’s that all about?

The DM summarises the test in its usual one-sentence paragraphs:

Do you struggle in social situations, hate making small talk and changes in routine?

These are all key questions in a quiz designed to identify symptoms autism and its milder form, Asperger syndrome.

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults.

This quiz below contains 50 simple multiple choice questions about your outlook on life - judged by how much you agree with certain statements.

The Daily Mail certainly has its eye on the ball.  Baron-Cohen proposed his ideas (and the quiz) in 2001 so there has been ample time for criticism of the test and some of Baron-Cohen’s later work, which the DM seems to have ignored.  One criticism of the test is from Neroacientist Francesca HappĂ©, who doubts that self-evaluation via questionnaire is a sound basis for diagnosis [1]. This seems rather like asking putative psychopaths to fill in a questionnaire based on Bob Hare’s psychopath test.  The outcome would rather depend on the intent and potential consequences of the test, wouldn’t it?  It’s also been argued that “rigorous studies are still missing.” [1]

I’m not qualified to judge but my arsehole-sense is tingling.  A 50 question test for a complex, dynamic, highly varying condition of unknown cause is automatically dubious and sure as shit better be backed by high quality evidence.  As far as I can tell, this test isn’t.  Nobody takes it seriously as a diagnostic test.  Perhaps it was never intended as a diagnostic test.

But the DM seems to think it’s important, so who am I to argue?  Ima take the test:

Time required: 7 minutes(!)

First, I’m supposed to tell the quiz things about my location, age, gender and occupation.  This has nothing to do with the quiz, I’m told.  It’s to calculate ‘national totals’.  O….kay…. National totals of what?  For whom?  How else is this data going to be used?  Is paranoia like this going to be the subject of one of the questions on the quiz?  Either way, I’m going with ‘prefer not to say’.

Question 1: Do you believe that Autism is more common now than in previous generations?

  • I do think it’s more common
  • I believe it’s more well known rather than more common
  • I think it’s about the same as in the past
  • Prefer not to answer

I’m already suspicious.  Unless this test is a lot more subtle than I’d expect from 50 questions (which can be answered in 7 minutes) then I’m not sure what this has to do with my being diagnosed as autistic.

My actual answer is that I don’t know.  There isn’t a box for that.  On balance, I think I have to go with option 2, even though that doesn’t accurately express my views.  I’m already wondering whether agonising about such apparently banal questions is itself a marker for autism.


Oh wait… Apparently that wasn’t question 1.  It was question zero. Designed to harvest information for reasons we’re not told by people we do not know.  Good job I lied about all the personal information. All they know is that someone 984 years old chose option 2.


Actual question 1: I prefer to do things with others rather than on my own.

  • Definitely agree
  • Slightly agree
  • Slightly disagree
  • Definitely disagree

I’m stuck again.  I prefer reading and thinking by myself but prefer having sex with other people present.  I prefer telling people off on the Internet, but praising people in person. I understand that I’m supposed to somehow pick my typical response to varied situations, but there isn’t one.  As much as I love reading alone, I’d usually rather be having sex with someone else. Unless I’m tired or really interested in what I’m reading.  Depends.

I’ll go with option 2.  I enjoy being alone for longish periods of time.  But none of the responses accurately describe my answer to the question.

Question 2: I prefer to do things the same way over and over again.

I prefer to do things the same way if that way works.  I tend to leave my house by the door rather than tunnelling out under next door’s garden with a spoon.  I tend to stop stroking my cat when she starts twitching her tail in that particular way. But I change my definition of what ‘works’ means according to the situation.  There’s a particular parking spot in our local supermarket. It is the ideal distance between the supermarket door and the trolley park and nobody ever parks in it or the adjacent space because there’s a lamp post between the two. But if someone were parked in ‘my’ spot I’d park somewhere else without worry or complaint.

I suspect the question is poorly phrased.  I’m going to assume it means “I prefer to do things the same way over and over again regardless of evidence that there’s a better way or that my way is shit.”  Or perhaps “I suffer fairly severe anxiety when I’m prevented from doing things the same way.”

In which case I’m going to answer Definitely Disagree,

Question 3: If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind.

Definitely agree although the answer is again inaccurate.  I don’t feel like I choose to make the picture, the picture is part of the way that I understand.,,whatever apparently vague hypothetical thing the question is asking. While someone is asking me a question, my mind is building a representation of it, often somewhat or highly visual.  Sometimes it’s a collection of different visual images with more or less fuzzy connections between them, which are themselves sometimes but not always visual.

I suppose I have to go with Definitely Agree,

Question 4: I frequently get so strongly absorbed in one thing that I lose sight of other things.

I think I do the opposite. I try to understand everything in a wider context, sometimes including occasions where there is none. 

So I’m going to answer the question literally and say defo disagree even though it seems to me that absorption in a wider context sounds similar to that in detail.  Also, I’m obsessed with detail.  Not in particular details, but in the concept of detail,  People should care about details!  So… 4 then. Definitely disagree, I guess,]

Question 5: I often notice small sounds when others do not.

I have no idea.  I neither agree nor disagree.  How would I know?  But I need to put an answer so Slightly Disagree it is.

Question 6: I usually notice car number plates or similar strings of information.

I… notice information.  Some of the information I notice is similar to car number plates. Experience tells me that I notice more things about visual scenes and displays of behaviour than most but that I’m almost blind in other ways.  My notice is very much guided by experience and training.  I can look at a big piece of code and predict where bugs are likely to be.

So I don’t understand the question. I notice number plates and especially unusual ones. I find them tedious but slightly more interesting than the car they are nailed to, in most cases.

I think I’m going for definitely agree even though the only thing I really agree on is that the question is stupid.

Question 7: Other people frequently tell me that what I've said is impolite, even though I think it is polite.

Definitely agree but ‘other people’ in my case means about two people.  If it were 29 people, the answer would be more significant, wouldn’t it?


Question 8: When I'm reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like.

I can but I don’t. I couldn’t care less what they look like unless it is relevant to the story.

Definitely agree.

Question 9: I am fascinated by dates.

The fruits are fascinating. The space-time coordinates not at all. Definitely disagree.

Question 10: In a social group, I can easily keep track of several different people's conversations.

Def agree, But I rarely want to.

Question 11: I find social situations easy.

All situations are social.  Some are easier than others. I *hate* going to certain events – regardless of whether I enjoyed them last time,

But I am the life and soul of other events.

I don’t find that easy, so I’m saying def disagree

Question 12; I tend to notice details that others do not.

Yes, but they tend to be things nobody else cares about. Def yes.

Question 13: I would rather go to a library than to a party

Stupid question. I never go anywhere without my library and if I get bored of a party I read.   I’d rather go to the party but I reserve the right to find a place to read. I won’t be alone. Let’s say slightly disagree.

Question 14: I find making up stories easy

Def agree.

Question 15: I find myself drawn more strongly to people than to things.

Drawn? I’m attracted toward things when and because I can DO things with them. I’m attracted to people for completely different reasons. I’m drawn to build things because they might help people.

My immediate interest is in what i can do to help people but my expertise is in things. So lets say slightly agree with the things category.

Question 16: I tend to have very strong interests, which I get upset about if I can't pursue.



Right, I’m done. I’m going to answer the rest of the questions honestly and without comment and post the answer:




[1] Buchen, Lizzie (November 2011). "Scientists and autism: When geeks meet". Nature 479 (7371): 25–7.doi:10.1038/479025a. PMID 22051657.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Looks like a duck

It was a devastating diagnosis. In less than 10 minutes, the Harley Street specialist had taken a pinprick of Wendy Roberts’s blood, examined it under a powerful microscope and concluded that she probably had cancer.

Naturally, she was terrified. And vulnerable.  Vulnerable to exploitation.

Because that’s what this guy – Errol Denton – does.  He uses a technique to diagnose cancer which – needless to say – cannot diagnose cancer, sells them a cue, then announces that they are cured.  Charming.

Miss Roberts, 40, was distraught: she had been feeling unwell and Errol Denton’s apparently expert opinion confirmed her worst fears.

“He told me my blood was dirty; he said it was toxic and said there was mould in it. He said I have markers for diabetes and he had only ever seen blood like mine in a cancer patient,” Miss Roberts said.

“I could hardly breathe. I was shaking all over and I began crying.”

This cost her £195.  Now I’m not a medical man but I’m fairly sure that blood can’t be ‘dirty’, let alone ‘mouldy’.  It looks to me like emotive language designed to make people scared.

Denton was a smooth talker and Miss Roberts did not doubt his credibility. Operating out of No 1 Harley Street, he promised that if she signed up to his treatment plan, he could cure her “toxic” blood.

I wonder how many of his patients he ‘diagnoses’ with cancer.  Denton has been found guilty of breaching ASA rules and (separately) fined £9k with £10k costs over claims that he can cure cancer. But he continues to practice, basically because he’s a quack and therefore not regulated.  This appears to mean that he can;t be shut down.  He hasn’t removed the claims from his various websites.  The plaque on his office door reads “Errol Denton BMC, CNM, Dip LSI, MSHN.”

Dr Archie Prentice, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, said last week that he did not recognise any of Denton’s qualifications.

He also said that there was no evidence at all for the claims Denton makes.

Fortunately, Miss Roberts had already been to a proper doctor and was awaiting the results of a biopsy when she went to see Denton.  She’s fine.

There are some legitimate diagnostic techniques which can be achieved through microscopic analysis of blood.  For example, the blood count House always seems to want is done that way. With a microscope of sufficient quality, doctors can glean a lot of detail about the shape, size and number of blood cells and whether platelets are present in the sample.  This is evidence that can aid diagnosis.  A different variety of microscopy can identify spirochetes. But it cannot be used to diagnose cancer.  If it could, why would doctors use invasive procedures such as biopsy?  

The quack keyterm to look out for is “live blood analysis”.  Practitioners advertising this are quacks offering diagnoses and other services which cannot be achieved in that way.  Needless to say, Denton’s sites are riddled with the term.




.  It’s based on a technique called darkfield microscopy, which is

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A poem what I wrote. Don’t judge me

I woke up this morning remembering a poem I wrote decades ago. I couldn’t have been more than 10, I suppose.  It is woefully self-indulgent and embarrassing but now I’ve thought of it, I can’t get it our of my head so ima inflict it on you too.

I had to read it out in front of the class which was far from a reward. I hate speaking in front of people to this day, even though it’s a big part of what I do, possibly because of this one incident.

I’m not sure what caused me to remember it, I suppose I might have been dreaming about horribleness.  Anyway, here it is for your amusement:


A brazier stood next to it,

A ruler never heard of it,

And that is how a life became a ‘for’.


The torturer found what he sought,

He made an is out of an ought,

And suddenly a torment was a war.


And that is our enduring bluff,

We think of people just as stuff,

We think of use instead of love,

And wonder why it’s not enough.


So now you know why I never became a poet.  I was quite proud of it at the time.


Thursday, January 09, 2014

It’s unforgvable to pander to fears

Cory Doctorow writes about Britain’s idiotic firewall.  Here’s one of the things he says:

It's not evil to want to help parents with this hard job. But it's unforgivable to pander to their fears, offer false hope, and impose a regime of unaccountable censorship upon the nation's internet in order to score votes from frightened parents.

He’s right.  He’s also right when he says that the filter already is and always will block good stuff and fail to block bad stuff.  It’s an inevitable own goal and a shining tribute to politically expedient point-scoring.

But there’s another problem that Cory doesn’t mention in this article.  The filter is opt-out.  This means that it’s on by default and households need to instruct their ISP to turn it off. So there’s a list of households who choose to opt into porn and ‘esoteric content’.  If I want uncensored access to the Internet, I have no choice but to be on this list.

I cannot imagine a world where this list is not eventually put to sinister use.  Lists like this can be used to manufacture ‘evidence’ and negatively influence juries. If I were accused of a sex crime or act of terrorism, police could use my opting into ‘esoteric content’ as a vehicle to bring charges and lawyers could use the fact to shock and manipulate a jury.  All regardless of whether or not I’ve looked at illegal stuff. 

And, what is worse, other members of my household will be tarred by my brush without even necessarily knowing that I’ve opted out of a censored Internet. 

All of this violates every basic principle of privacy.  We’re all complicit in allowing it to happen.  We’re all responsible for the consequences.  We’ve all agreed to live in the world the Daily Mail wants so desperately to exist.

Friday, January 03, 2014

That’s what I should have said

There’s a difference between a business that refuses to serve pork and one that refuses to serve homosexuals.

That’s what I should have said.  i should have said it when all those infuriating people defended B&B owners who wouldn’t let a gay couple sleep in the same bad under their apparently judgemental roof.  I should have said it when people defended M&S employees who took it upon themselves not to sell things the shop sells because religion

Kosher delis shouldn’t have to sell bacon if they don’t want to. Your expectation upon entering a kosher deli is that bacon isn’t on the menu. If you want to dine on pork, there are plenty of other options.  But when you enter a shop that does sell pork, it’s insulting and discriminatory for employees to refuse to sell it to you.  It’s entirely contrary to the customers’ expectations. It’s just plain bullying, isn’t it?

I should have said it when people defended the supposed right of pharmacists to not sell people morning after pills on foolish and entirely unsubstantiated religious grounds.