Thought, experience and memory from a brain in a jar, one that sometimes has control over a thirty-two-year-old Londonite.

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Location: Herne Hill, London, United Kingdom

31 January, 2008

That NIDS Document In Full

Annotated by those good eggs at No2ID.

25 January, 2008

It Was Always Our Plan to Make Mistakes

A subtlety that I failed to hear about regarding the recently leaked Home Office strategy document outlining the latest push back of the shambling National Identity Register was the plan to insist that students must provide National ID Cards in order to apply for student loans and student bank accounts. As there will be no other reason to have a National ID Card (except maybe to allay fears of subliminal threats, eh, Blunkett?) this will potentially become a £93+ surcharge on attempting to pay for your education. It is also an absolutely transparent attempt to bring the scheme in through the back door. There is very little fraud to be had from setting up a student bank account, and none specific to student bank accounts. Furthermore the level of proof of identity required for getting a student loan is the same as it would be to get a National ID Card, so there is no added level of security for anyone in insisting on a National ID Card. Ah well. The chips on the ten-year NIR cards have a three-year warranty, which is the length of most degrees, so that's some small comfort.

The other measures laid out in the document are equally devoid of benefit. 2010 will see not only the introduction of further financial burdens on students, but the rolling out of cards to government workers who are in contact with the vulnerable. Leaving aside recent embarrassments such as the thousands of people not entitled to work in the UK who were cleared for security work by the Home Office, we are left with the question of who will benefit from this measure. Again the answer is no-one. The idea is that, before granny lets in the stranger claiming to be from Meals on Wheels, she will ask to see the stranger's National ID Card. Bereft of an external door fitted with a chip and PIN, fingerprint or iris scanner, all she will have to go on is the card itself. Cosmetic counterfeit cards are likely to hit the streets within months of the National ID Cards being rolled out, especially if they are to be required by resident foreign nationals (see Japan for details). In fact, whatever "anti-counterfeit" measures that are put in place are less important to duplicate if the card is to convince someone in a vulnerable position - Granny won't be able to read the tiny tiny writing, the kid down the road with Downs Syndrome won't necessarily understand about the threaded gold, or the watermark overlaying the photograph. But you can bet that they both have been told about the cards, that they both know to treat cardholders with a greater degree of trust than they would someone who had just wandered in off the street.

These measures are, of course, to get us used to the idea of the cards, of seeing them around the place. Openly, one of the reasons for rolling out the cards to foreign nationals is to see if the captured data on the foreign nationals goes walk about, which is hardly reassuring. It's a rare bit of open cyncicism, though, to pilot the scheme on people who don't have a vote. And the trouble with piloting it is that most of the issues we have with the registry are matters of scale, with many of the processing issues and issues of false positive and negative identification, are exponential.

Further worrying developments are that, subsequent to the rather wise hushing up of the iris recognition biometric (which is less likely to work correctly if you have brown eyes (you know, like the eyes that black people have) (you know, black people that are more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to be scuritinised by immigration officials...)) (and whereas you might say that the reason the iris recognition has been given a lower profile lately has something to do with the airport piloting of the technology, or the fact that the patent holder somehow found himself on the feasibility focus group tasked with deciding whether or not iris recognition was a feasible technology to use for the NIR scheme, I couldn't possibly comment) the fingerprint recognition has become more important. Which would be fine if that were harder to fool. As it happens, it is perfectly easy to take someone's fingerprint, say from a glass or a piece of paper, and construct a fake fingertip from jelly. As Dr Ben Goldacre pointed out in his Bad Science column, this is akin, then, to writing your PIN on every surface you ever come into contact with. Secure?

But wait! That's not all! Fingerprint data consists of quite a crude map, rather than the swirls we're all familiar with. This doesn't lose much in the way of accuracy, but allows computers to quickly match two prints of (hopefully) the same finger. It transpires that not only can you reproduce a fingertip from a fingerprint, it is now possible to take the "map" and construct a matching fingertip from that too! This, the Home Office will no doubt tell us, matters not, because it will be impossible for criminals to get the information off of the card in the first place. But the Home Office also said that about the passports; two hours and a brute force attack later, and the passport opened up its secrets.

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24 January, 2008


Last November, as avid readers will know, I won NaNoWriMo. It was my intention, however, to have at the manuscript throughout December and do great and wonderful things to it, before unveiling it on an unsuspecting world. Avid readers will know this has not happened. This is in part due to my taking of a break after completing the 50,000 words "to give myself distance" before I started working on the edit. Heck of a lot of distance, I had.

The project will involve me taking the manuscript and cutting it up into 102 pieces. I'd hoped, though this may prove impossible for me, that each piece would be a stand-alone section. I have several extended bits of narrative that may prove impossible to fiddle with enough to fit, though I am willing to try, and the process of actually taking these bits of story and reducing and restructuring them will hopefully be An Interesting Learning Experience.

It's also an opportunity to get in and rejig the various bits that are terribly terribly wrong with the story. I have an underpopulated Britain courtesy of an economic collapse and a state-scale embrace of mumbo-jumbo. All well and good, but I go on about how well-maintained (at least superficially) everything is, when really it ought to be a bit more rundown. I've fudged a couple of important plot elements too; they're there, but covered in a line or two as though patching over holes in the plot using brevity. Hem hem. I also have some lovely but totally bizarre behaviour going on in the ending which really ought to come somewhere before the ending. And as for the ending itself, I still haven't got anything really satisfying. We shall see.

But most of this work has been put on hold because of Half Life 2. I just need to get to the end of episode 2 and I'll be fine. I promise.

14 January, 2008

Why the internets ex; fur a curate's sea

01 January, 2008

Fat-Tongued Review of the Year

Just to prove to myself that I can still do it, here is the facts, the fictions and the funnies from the last twelvemonth.


I started temping at the RadioCentre.


Nothing happens in February.


I'm taken on permanently! Proper employ at last! And a media-related job, too. It only took me eleven years.


Kurt Vonnegut closed his peephole. He'll be up in Heaven now, looking down at us all.


Labour's National Identity Register Cost Estimate, delivered illegally late, rises by about £1 billion. Full steam ahead for the database state!


Gordon Brown, on taking power, decides to scrap the ID scheme as it is now seriously over-budget and the behind schedule.

I happened to be apartying in London on the night of the 28th near where the bombs failed to go off. Each year we have an RACC anniversary party - clients and nibbles - and after it had finished we repaired to a nearby karaoke bar and then on to home. Getting in the next day, which was no mean feat, I was asked by someone how I was after the night's wassailing. I told them I couldn't quite recall how I got home; "something about driving into a bin outside Tiger Tiger."


Simon goes to the beach.


Moulin Rouge! Off with the RC to Paris for an away day and a night out at the red windmill, which was rather like watching a sex scene with your parents. It was a fun night nevertheless, and the French take their kitsch very very seriously indeed. Highlights included Josh deciding to read some manga halfway through the performance, and a couple of the waiters. Lowlights included the talking dog and the snake nappies.

I took my first proper holiday in years, heading off to the Edinburgh festival with the good lady husband. Having seen little stand-up for the previous twelve months save for the bastard byblows available on TV panel games, it was refreshing to see acts both new and established that were still capable of funny.


The Bank of England decides to underwrite the Northern Rock collapse - a victory for counter-intuition! Having declared they would finance the panicking withdrawals, people stopped withdrawing money in a panic. The threat remains, however, of the level of debt that has been raised against property that has been overvalued. The property market is a bit of a misnomer these days as it seems to have little to do with the value of property and everything to do with the ease of acquiring a mortgage. There's a big old pudding filled with negative equity just waiting to be served.


The dawn of the time of the Lumix DMC-FZ50. A new camera at last!


Carol Vordeman is arrested for attending a political march in London. European leaders condemn Mr Brown's actions, citing fears for the future of British democracy.

Government's National Identity Register Scheme estimate cut by £150 million. "Savings" highlighted in altered estimations of number of passport renewals (which ought not be part of the scheme), and production and delivery of cards and passports. Outside of these cuts, the scheme has increased in cost by another £71 million.

HMRC loses a total of 8 unencrypted discs containing personal details of 25 million people.

I take on NaNoWriMo again and complete my 50,000 words a few days before the 30th. I fail, however, to redraft the piece through December. Something for the new year then?


NHS loses personal details of "hundreds of thousands" of individuals. HMRC loses a disc containing 6,500 people's details. DSA loses disc containing details of 3 million individuals. Gordon Brown says the data loss crises "will be forgotten" in the new year. Don't look around the eyes, look into the eyes, don't look around the eyes, look into the eyes.

11,000 illegal immigrants cleared by Home Office to work in security. An illegal immigrant was identified as working as a security guard at the Home Office. Government launch advertising campaign warning employers against employing illegal immigrants.

I get a pseudonymous thank you in the QI Annual along with a variety of other posters. I have mixed feelings about it, but keep them to myself.

2008 Predictions

In the new year PM Brown will tell us that the crises concerning the loss of personal data have indeed been forgotten. Azoozazah! Then they lose some more data.
Madonna will win that battle of the lookalike show. No, your actual Madonna.
The collapse of the property market(sic) will finally happen.

07 December, 2007

The Importance of Incredulity

I received the following recently:

Do you remember February 1993 in England , when a young boy of 3 was taken from a Liverpool shopping centre by two 10-year-old boys? Jamie Bulger walked away from his mother for only a second, Jon Venables took his hand and led him out of the mall with his friend Robert Thompson. They took Jamie on a walk for over 2 and a half miles, along the way stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his mummy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him, threw stones at him, rubbed paint in his eyes, pushed batteries up his anus and cut his fingers off with scissors. Other mutilations were inflicted but not reported in the press.

N.B. :- Remember, a 3year old cannot possibly defend themselves against a 10 year old, let alone of 2 them.

What these two boys did was so horrendous that Jamie's mother was forbidden to identify his body. They then left his beaten small body on railway tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created. These two boys, even being boys, understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident.

This week Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys ( now men ), anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new
identities. They will also leave custody early only serving just over half of their sentence. They are being relocated to Australia to live out the rest of their lives. They disgustingly and violently took Jamie's life away and in return they each get a new life!

Please.... . If you feel as strongly as we do, (and if you haven't already signed this petition ) that this is a grave Miscarriage of justice - Hit the forward button and add your name at the end, and send it to everyone you can !

If you are the 700th person to sign, please forward this e-mail to:

Now, whatever you may think about the anonymity that was granted to the two killers on their release, this kind of chain-letter is not the way in which to voice your protest.


If each person sends this message to only two people, then by the 700th chain there will be 2^700, or 5.2601359015483735072409898828801e+210. More people than in the history of the Earth. More atoms than on Earth. And that's just the number of lists, not the number of people on the lists. And what a surprise those 5.2601359015483735072409898828801e+210 people will have when they attempt to email the address given, considering it does not exist.

The body of the text suggests that Venables and Thompson are still in prison and about to be released. Not true. They were released (having served their time) in the summer of 2001.

Please please please, when you receive stuff like this, just try and establish, either by your own judgement, or Googling a choice selection of the text, whether or not the message is genuine, and what the genuine impact of completing the request is. In this case, the impact (other than spreading spam) is slight - a few people who may have written rather tardy letters to their MPs about the 2000 judgement fail to do so, so some deaf ears are spared. Other mails are more vindictive. One such message that does the rounds involves an initiation ceremony for urban gangs that requires its new member to drive around in the dark without their lights on, and on being flashed by another motorist, to fire a round into their car. The terribly important message that the email was trying to put out was that one should advise everyone one knew to *not* warn motorists that they are driving without their headlights on. How responsible!

02 December, 2007

The Eye of the Beholder

Big Eye Am
Originally uploaded by Simon Scott
So on Facebook I have a cropped down version of this image that I use from time to time as my profile picture. The reason I took it was because of a weird perceptual shift I sometimes experience when watching the TV. People generally aren't shown facing the camera, but are in a three-quarter profile, or thereabouts. If I'm tired, or mindful of the illusion, I find that these three-quarter people tend to have their faces dominated by the nearer eye. My depth perception (which is easy to manipulate considering I'm trying to make sense of a two-dimensional image) tends to give me the impression that they have one huge eye, and one small eye. I think this in part has something to do with the Quirk character that I've been drawing since my late teens, whose face was rather similar.

It was only natural, therefore, for me to try and recreate this illusion in a photograph, so a couple of photos and an award-winning Graphics package later and the job was done.

Although I was anticipating some comment on the image, I was quite surprised at the level of disgust people seem to have felt as a result of the picture. I used it as my Facebook profile throughout November as it was the image that I was using on the NaNoWriMo site, too. Having taken it down I've had three or four messages from friends thanking me for its removal; rather like a family member who confides in you after you've finished a relationship with someone "well I never really liked them any way". I'm kind of glad, in a way, that I've been able to create something that, despite being fairly ordinary, has had such an impact, but I do find it slightly discomfitting knowing that my boundaries are different to those of my friends. It's just a big eye!

Oh, and thanks, but I didn't actually do anything to the ear. That's just my ear.

27 November, 2007

NaNoWriMo 2007 - Day 27

Well, tonight ought to see me complete the first and rough as hell draft of Pieces, and it's been a curious journey. I had started out with a rough idea about a love triangle, and notions about characters being complicit in their own victimhood and to their own ends, and some nebulous stuff about a dangerous mumbo-jumbo taking over the United Kingdom included only to serve as some kind of backdrop to the present day events. By the end of this draft, though, the backdrop has stepped very much into the spotlight (broken metaphor, there) and all sorts of other business is now at work in the narrative - small actions having massive repercussions, the meaninglessness of freedom of will, disconnections between intent and effect, and more and surprising occurences of the jigsaw puzzle motif. Very late in the day I decided that if a weird brain-melting cult had taken over Britain, then there ought to be a resistence group, and given that the disbanded love triangle involved the narrator, who had nothing to do with either, it was pretty obvious where the other two ended up.

I'll be sitting down to chart out what I've written, see how it can be massaged to bring out and emphasise the stronger aspects of the story, and what other parts of the story need telling. So many of the late emergent elements need to be introduced earlier. Also, I'm going to have to cut the thing into 102 pieces that will each make a sort of sense on their own (though I have the beginnings of a strategy for that), and build a hideously bloated bit of JavaScript to put the whole thing together. I was tempted earlier today to devise 100 subtly different endings for the story, but that might be a bit too much. And as if to egg me on, I was in a bookshop the other day and saw Perec's Life: A User's Manual in the bestseller's section. Ah, nice.

Oh, and if the whole mess isn't too ghastly once I'm done, I shall be approaching a certain fictional anthology with a view to getting it published. I envision a box including a jigsaw puzzle and 102 bits of paper. Now that would be something. Oh, and a disc for the disinclined.

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The Today Programme

For some reason the Today programme decided to run an item on NaNoWriMo this morning, but as a debate between a NaNoWriMoer and a publisher. The latter's main thrust seemed to be that she was down on NaNoWriMo because it threatened to make her slush pile larger, as if she wasn't already inundated, and everyone she speaks to seems to be writing a novel, yah boo. And although we have heard writer after writer say that the hardest thing about writing is sitting down and writing terrible stuff when they're really not in the mood, she cautioned against the idea of people using NaNo as a way of turning off their inner-editors. Ironically, it was she and not the NaNoWriMoer who seemed to be confusing a first draft with a finished manuscript. And this just three days (and 1800 words, chiz chiz) before the finish-line!

The NaNoWriMo done us proud, though, standing her ground, explaining it was about writing, not about getting published, and that it was a tool used by some writers to develop early drafts of works they then go on to develop into full novels.

I can't help but bring up Kerouac's On The Road here, and whereas the odds are against NaNo ever producing or discovering a Kerouac, it does demonstrate that NaNo-like writing stints are a valid and important part of, if not the development of literature itself, certainly the development of the writers themselves. The publisher suggested that if people were serious about writing then they wouldn't need NaNo to motivate them, but sadly those people are the people to be found in her slush pile. I suspect that NaNo might serve the world better in giving people who, maybe, you know, can actualy write, the excuse and the motivation to get down to it, and adopt the discipline that will actually allow them to fluorish, with or without publication.

Oh, and you can plan your story all you like, but you never know your story 'til you sit down and write it, and NaNo, again, is a great way of doing that.

But anyhew, for all I know the publisher doesn't really give two figs about NaNo, and was just playing devil's advocate at the behest of the Today Programme. This conflict was probably fiction.


21 November, 2007


Fuckr Messenger Bag
I'm Not a Plastic Surgeon

I create beautiful things for the world like the above fashionable accessories, and do people show an interest? Pah!