Sunday, October 26, 2003

Biometric Data 

Having watched minority report last night, I started thinking about biometric data again. In the film, one character has his eyes removed, so he can get past eye readers without being detected. At the same time, he keeps his eyes in a bag so he get access when he requires. OK, it is stretching things a little, in that the authorities would have revoked his access. However, it would ruin the film.

Biometric data is a bad idea. Lets take the scenario of fingerprints. It is proposed that in the UK you have to give this to get an ID card. Now, see about this. Hack in and download people's fingerprints, or get them a more traditional way, from a glass. Now print the print on something where you can etch away the material, such as copper. Now just add some rubber and peal off, and you have a fingerprint from someone. Stick it to your finger, and you can authenticate for them.

Identity theft in this way has one feature that is very different from other forms. You can't revoke your personal data, unless you can do something such as Tom Cruise in Minority report and change parts of your body.

Widespread use of fingerprints in this way has one attraction for the authorities. They would have everyone's fingerprints on file, and will suggest that this helps in crime detection. This is a red herring. If their databases were hacked, as the current ones are, you can get people's finger prints. The trick above, and you can leave fingerprints everywhere if you were so inclined. Lots of innocents would be stitched up for crimes, and the effectiveness of fingerprints would be removed. Any defense lawyer worth their salt would be pointing out repeatedly to juries that fingerprints cannot be trusted.

Friday, October 24, 2003

The Valley 

The Valley

At university I had a professor called Robin Forrest, running the graphics course. With a nice sense of humour, he set a project to draw trees.

It's a little easier than you might at first think. Trees exhibit lots of rules as to how they grow. Do they branch in two or more? At what angle round the tree do the branches come off? How long is a branch compared to the previous branch? These are quite easy to code up, and you can draw the trees afterwards with a rendering package. A couple of displacements, and you can have the trees blowing in the wind. All this was 20 years ago.

Well, it looks like I wasn't the only one with the ideas. This site is a package that does the same. OK, its graphics are much better, but one can expect that in 20 years. It also looks like they have some nice randomisation to introduce some extra features into the system. The trunks are not linear for example.

Darwin Fish 

Darwin Fish

In America some people have been fighting back against the christian right. Instead of the classic fish symbol, people have been putting a Darwin fish on their cars. It's a fish symbol, with Darwin written in the middle of the fish, and the fish has feet.

This particular site is also very funny. It includes a list of how the christian fish symbol has evolved over time.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Morals and Taxation 

Quite often when tax is discussed, moral words are used. Fair taxation is a good example. However, it’s unlikely you hear the word transparent discussed with regards to taxation. This is wrong. There is a basic assumption that a government should be working for its citizens. As such, citizens are the consumers of services that a government provides; they are also the employers of the government, just like a shareholder in a company. Therefore a simple understandable tax system is required. Everyone should know when they are paying tax, and how much tax they are paying.
Now there are some differences. Unlike a commercial relationship, it’s difficult for a citizen to change their brand of government. You can either do this through the ballot box, but if your fellow citizens disagree, then you have the costs of moving to another country. With the EU, this is easier, but your choices are still limited.
The problem with the current set up is this. In a market, you normally pay for a service and receive it at the same time. If the quality of your purchase is not up to scratch, you return it and look for another supplier. With the government, you vote for a collective package of goods, including those that you want and these that you don’t’, and who is going to get what and who has to pay. Only at a future time, do you get told the costs and the consequences of the vote, and it includes the choices of everyone else.
This is the traditional prisoner’s dilemma for those who are familiar with game theory. It’s very tempting for people to free load on those that pay. Receive services and not pay for them, because you can get someone else to pay for them, now, or a future tax payer.
This is all made worse, by the move to stealth taxes. Deliberately obscuring the tax paid to break the link between taxation and services.
As an example, look at previous posts on the cost of the health service. In the end, the way of calculating the cost was to work backwards from the sums spent and doing the maths.
There is a certain moral high ground taken by government. We know how to spend you money better than you do. Just as everyone on this board wouldn’t say that about or to a best friend, it’s also false to say that a government knows best.
Government’s clearly design the rules to maximise tax income. In just the same way as a private company or individual tries to maximise income. This is part of the growth in complexity and obfuscation of the tax system. It’s getting worse too.
Only with a simple taxation system can these moral issues be resolved. People then have a choice. Change the government locally, or look for another one.
The objections can only really come from those that believe that people can’t make their own choices. It’s clear that these ideas have fallen with the demise of the communist block. Here the state was right, even to the extent of making illegal for people to change the system, or to leave to find another one. Its clear Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are still thinking along these lines. Extend the state, and promote secrecy about paying for services. Currently people are just noticing what is going on.
The problem for Tony Blair and company is that with a clear taxation system in place, citizens will vote for the removal of particular services because the costs are too high. It is also a problem for pressure groups, who want particular spending plans implement for some pet project, but have other people pay for them, the prisoner’s dilemma again.
A simple taxation system (and benefits system) will change the current winners and losers. However, it will reduce the wastage in taking money off people, administering it, and paying it out, minus the charges. It removes the uncertainty of how much people are going to pay. It also means that people don’t spend effort in avoiding or in administering the tax. For example, National Insurance costs small firms a lot of money to administer. IR35 has cost contractors a lot of time and effort to avoid. This money could be better spent on more productive activities, then doing the Inland Revenue’s job. These are some of the hidden costs of taxation. A simple taxation system, where everything is transparent is also a fair tax, since you and I know what others will be paying. If there are hints that others are free loading, then it's more likely that we will do the same.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Fooling around 

I've just been reminded of a story. A couple of students, male and female were fooling around in one of their parents houses. Usual middle class place, on the coffee table with the magazines was a basket of marble eggs. Any way, somehow these got introduced into the foreplay, and suddenly, slurp, it was lost.
Since it's a rather smooth object, and when it's a little slippery, rather difficult to get a hold of. So, it was off to casualty. Now I don't know about you, but I reckon you have only one approach. You have to be brazen about it. Now after the usual banter, the casualty doctor couldn't get a grip. So, he decides best thing for it, send her up to obstectrics on the grounds they are the experts at getting things out of said location.
So, he's now sitting alone in casualty, and the curtains keep twitching, with people looking round the corner.
Any eventually the casualty doctor returns. He says to him, we've just got a note from obstectrics, they say, "Mother and Egg are doing fine".

Monday, October 06, 2003

The Degree Confluence Project 

The Degree Confluence Project

One of those quirky great ideas that could only have come about on the web. Visit every point on the earth that lies at an integer latitude and longitude point. Apart from the ones at sea.
It's all come about from GPS. Just like geocaching, its a very simple idea. A sample of lots of places in the world with photographs. For all intents and purposes, these are completely random locations.
No one individual could do this project alone, so it's a great example of what a network of people can achieve.

Sunday, October 05, 2003



I went and saw this movie last night. Don't. It's truly awful.
The camera work is deliberately unsteady. If you're sitting close to the screen, it will introduce nausea. I'm sitting there sweating, trying not to look at the screen in case I puke. Not much fun when you're in the middle of the row, somewhere near the front.
It's a play that's been filmed, and it shows. Very hammy lovies acting it up. The only character that comes across as well acted is James Caan.
The best bit, the end. The residents are all bumped off, and its the best part of the film because you don't care for them at all, and because you can leave the cinema.
The only other saving grace, the music.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Scam Email 

I've just received my first scam email on my new email account.

Check out this conference!

Wednesday, October 01, 2003


Design is interesting. Why is it that some object works better than some other object at a particular job? Sometimes is pure technology. Take the humble potato peeler. They almost always work in the same way, a curved surface with an embedded blade. However, it’s the peelers that allow the blade to float that work best, by a long way. Then there are the other intangibles such as weight. In some cases, an object is too heavy, in some to light. It’s not always obvious which one is best; you have to pick the object up and feel it. Shape and surface matter too. All of this rambling was prompted by the need to get some mixing bowls to make cakes. Look around at what was available; I came across Nigella Lawson’s range of cookware. Now, it’s a pretty obvious move from cookery books to a cookery show to selling you the contents of your kitchen too. Antonio Carluccio has been selling ingredients for a long time. No, it was the design. Jasper Conran has come up a great idea. Why is it that almost all mixing bowls are round? OK, you can’t have corners or you can’t mix things properly. No, its when comes to getting something like cake mix out of a bowl, you find that you are pouring from a very wide container.
The solution is simple when you see it, make the mixing bowl oval shape. Similarly when it comes to space, they stack neatly.