MonthFebruary 2005

Christian Voice? Only via a strange definition of “Christian”

I listened amazed the other day to the Today show, on which someone from the religious nutters’ group Christian Voice admitted having strong-armed a cancer charity to persuade it not to take any money donated by the cast of the Jerry Springer – The Opera.

In how many ways is this screwed up? Let’s count.

1) JSTO depicts the eternal split between Satan and those heavenly bunch in Jerry Springer terms. I watched the show (on TV) – more, I suspect, than many of the CV bunch have. I wasn’t outraged, though then again I don’t have any Christian sensibilities to outrage. The swearing seemed slightly out of line, but then again, in character with the context.

2) I quite like the precepts of Christianity, or at least New Testament Christianity: treat people as equals, forgive, help. They seem like good rules for a society that will rub along OK. Nothing that CV is advocating – hating JSTO, threatening the charity – fits those precepts. It’s Old Testament Christianity, which isn’t Christian, it’s pre-medieval. It’s neolithic.

3) Threatening to cut off funds to a charity is, as David Soul quite rightly said, blackmail of the nastiest sort. “Nice little charity you got here… be a shame if something happened to your funding. Oops, I knocked over your coffee pot. Well, accidents happen, uh?”

Hey, I could even claim some animus against David Soul – this is the guy who serenaded my wife during the 1997 election. (Read John Sweeney’s book on the Knutsford constituency – it’s all in there.). But I don’t; I thought his appearance (is that the right word?) on Today was excellent: reasoned, calm, but making the point. He looked good in the TV showing of JSTO, too.

As for JSTO itself, the (idiotic) grumbles saying “You wouldn’t do this about Islam” are dim. No, you wouldn’t in the UK, because we don’t have the cultural reference points to understand them. You’d have to have arranged marriages, early-teen brides, and the audience would be going “I dunno, have you read the Koran?” Whereas in this country most people have vaguely heard about Lucifer being thrown out of heaven.

I’ve got a side interest in the way that religions infect people; they do seem to me to be something which is evolutionarily almost inevitable as you become more intelligent, like an emergent system of intelligence. I once put the idea to Richard Dawkins. Andrew won’t be surprised to hear he dismissed it.

Oh, and now Christian Voice is hinting at targeting abortion clinics. Interesting that the link there, from Christian Today, calls CV “a widely condemned extreme Christian group”. They really need to go away and re-read the New Testament.

Eudora “Not enough disk space for that” answer, and Postfix woes

OK, in moving from one computer to another, and doing the same for the wife, here’s what I’ve learned:

1) when Eudora tries to check mail and says “Not enough disk space to do that”, it means that you’ve got a conflict between the Eudora settings and the file from which you launched Eudora. Rename the old file to “Eudora settings” and you should be away. Or perhaps you locked the settings file.

ORr maybe you really don’t have enough disk space, but that’s really unlikely.

2) Postfix, once configured, is great. However, when it’s not working (and giving you “name service errors”) it’s a pig to get working.

I’m getting mail error messages from the Postfix output log saying (in part) “relay=none, delay=82, status=deferred (Name service error for type=MX: Host not found, try again)“. That’s what I’m getting, and I’m perplexed. I wish I knew what magic I’m missing in the settings. As far as I know, I’ve got the same setup as before, and it’s not working.

Update 11:10pm: OK, sorted it. The problem was that I didn’t have any DNS entries in my Network Prefs, so the poor mailer couldn’t look up any addresses. Now those are entered, it’s sending out a flood of previously queued messages. Let’s hope this helps other people.

Daring Fireball on the iPod Shuffle: why = and ; are “special”

Very good piece by John Gruber over at Daring Fireball about the new iPods’ lack of Firewire (not too important) and more importantly the iPod shuffle’s file formatting (which is Windows-style FAT32, not Apple’s HFS+, and can’t be formatted to the latter), which concludes:

The “it just works” factor has been one of the hallmarks of the Mac user experience since day one; using an iPod Shuffle as a disk drive forces you to be aware of arcane and bizarre file naming restrictions, and thus is utterly un-Mac-like. I’m not pointing this out to claim it’s cause for alarm, that the sky is falling, or that the iPod Shuffle “sucks”. I’m just saying it’s a little sad when Apple Computer, of all companies, tells us that punctuation such as ‘=’ and ‘;’ are “special characters”.

Good point.

PowerBook reviewed, Google hacking and spam summits lacking spammers

Hey, I’ve been busy.

Looky here: a review of the new Apple 15″ PowerBook (it’s amazingly quiet, it’s not so hot, but….) over at The Register.

At The Independent, a piece on hacking via Google.

And finally, at Netimperative, a quizzical look at the latest spam summits, asking: if you want to stop spam, why don’t you have any spammers speaking?

(Why also categorised under “Advice for PRs”? Because this is the sort of things I write about, folks. That’s what I want to read PR stuff about..)

So, ITsafe, do you have an advisory for us or not?

Hurrah! ITSafe was launched by Hazel Blears, MP and minister, to save the UK from the Evils of ..Things!

It shall tell us of evil awful things that h3ck3rz and d00dz are trying to do to us through Bulletins. Oyez, oyez. This web thing is wonderful, minister.

So anyway, there on the front page is a link called “Bulletins”, and also something called “Latest Bulletin”. When I dropped by, “Latest Bulletin” linked to ITsafe: Advisory 2005-ADV-001.

However the “Bulletins” link goes to… “Most Recent Alerts” which says “No Alerts have been identified since the ITsafe launch”.

So is it bulletins or alerts you’re doing at “Bulletins”? Given that the whole site looks like it was done by a not-very-experienced 13-year-old (including the crap clip art of a crown and a safe), I guess I’m not that surprised. But it would be nice for it to be slightly useful.

Ah no, who am I fooling.

NTL, hell? Yes they are at the moment

Still on dialup at home, I’m using NTL’s Freedom service, whereby you pay £15 per month and get unlimited internet use on an 0800 number, but have to make your phone calls through them. If you make less than £15 of calls per month, the bill is rounded up to £15; make more, and the internet effectively comes free.

For the past two days the wife and I have been unable to check our mail – even though the NTL status page insists email is now fine.

Nope, it isn’t.

telnet 110
Connected to
Escape character is '^]'.
+OK InterMail POP3 server ready.
user XXX
+OK please send PASS command
pass YYY
-ERR mail storage services unavailable, wait a few minutes and try again.
Connection closed by foreign host.

Of course most people can’t use the terminal, so their email program will say “Incorrect user or password!” which will throw them into fits. “The status page says email’s OK.. what have I done wrong?”

And no, I’m not about to dial a premium-rate line to speak to India to find out that they don’t know when the email problem in the UK will be fixed.

This may be temporary. But a friend in the nearby town had an NTL broadband contract. She was moving and wanted to transfer it to the new house. After an infuriatingly fruitless few days spent trying to get through to a person, she rang the disconnection line instead. Result: NTL lost a broadband customer, who has moved to BT.

I’m not sure it’s going to keep this one either for long after May, to be honest.

Update 4.30pm: pretty much as soon as I posted, email came back. Hmm, tolerable, but I’ve already abandoned using the NTLWorld SMTP server in favour of Postfix on my own machine. Some email gets bounced as spam (because it’s from a dialup) but you’d be surprised how much ain’t. Quick and free.

The potato PC scam

It’s been too long since I had a good scam here. The Register has the excellent Potato PC scam – basically a variation on the White Speaker Van Scam, but neatly updated.

‘Everyone’s very busy’: or why the Press Association doesn’t want tech stories

The latest edition of the emailed Fullrunner makes fascinating reading pretty much all the way through, notably for IDG’s assertion that on present trends it will earn more from online advertising than print.

But far more enjoyable is what happened when Peter Kirwan of Fullrunner (a former editor of Computing, so he knows what it’s like) rang the Press Association with a modest proposal.

The Fullrunner recently called up the Press Association newsdesk to ask if they’d like to send along a representative to Talking Shop. En passant, we explained one of the benefits of speaking at this event: namely, the subsequent increase in the number of suitably-crafted story pitches received from PRs.

nswered our call shall remain nameless for reasons which will become clear in a moment. He said (and I’m typing from written notes): “Sorry, mate, but we’re a bit cynical round here. We get so much rubbish from the f******. If you can get PRs to start sending decent pitches, I’ll show my arse in Burton’s window.”

We’re unlikely to witness this presumably magnificent spectacle. Pressed further, the hack in question told us that “everyone” was “very busy” and had “no time for going around speaking to people”.

I’ve done one of the Talking Shops, which I thought was well worthwhile. OK, so only a few of the pitches I received afterward were better, but any number is a start, right? And I met some people who had interesting stories to pitch; their problem had just been that they didn’t know who or how to tell them.

The next one will be David Smith, the Observer’s technology correspondent (who I’ve not met) some time in March. Sunday papers are probably the best place to be seen with tech stories… as long as they’re the right ones.

A side note: I don’t think PA has anyone who handles technology stories, as such. John von Radovitz does science and a fair chunk of medical science, but tech – I know – leaves him cold. For the sake of his sanity and your own, probably safer not to call. Which does leave the big question of whether PA needs that, and if so, what would they cover precisely?

Guardian reviews X-Factor Live at Wembley.. and gives it no stars

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a review give something *no* stars out of five in The Guardian. Until now. Helen Pidd, clearly a soulmate, gets stuck in:

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when it becomes clear that all hope is lost. It could be spotting H from Steps posing with one rejected contestant, “the chicken man”, during the interval. Or perhaps it is when the timid girl from Two to Go attempts to act less like a newly qualified primary school teacher by letting out a mid-chorus whoop. Probably, though, it is the moment operatic manband G4 launch into Radiohead’s Creep and several thousand off-duty mums in pink cowboy hats and glittery ponchos yell along as the band change the words to: “What the hell am I doing here/Singing at Wembley.” Tears of impotent despair are the only sensible reaction.

Yes, I think that’s probably true. And you should see what she says about the bloke who was the winner.

I think I’d just really like a column along the lines of Ben Goldacre’s fantastic Bad Science column. Perhaps “Bad Music”?

Slashdot gets sniffy: doesn’t like its RSS feed getting slashdotted

Found this in the headline queue of my RSS newsreader:

Your Headline Reader Has Been Banned

Your RSS reader is abusing the Slashdot server. You are requesting pages more often than our terms of service allow. Please see the FAQ link for more information, and if you email us, include your IPID MD5

Er? Downloads set to every 30 minutes, max 5 concurrent (else it swallows the dialup bandwidth). Everyone else seems to manage it OK.

Over at it explains that this is because of “the absolutely ridiculous amount of abuse we get on a daily basis from poorly implemented headline readers”.

Um. NNW, one of the most popular RSSreaders, poorly implemented? Oh well, I’ve set my Slashdot sub to “do not refresh”.

But, the irony – Slashdot getting slashdotted by RSS readers. Yup, Alanis Morrisette should have had that one, rather than… well, pretty much any of the non-ironic things she included in that song. Someone once said to her “Is the ironic thing about the song that none of the things in it is ironic?” Apparently she sort of goggled at them.

(Bonus link for those not familiar with the meaning of “slashdotted”.)