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.