Shooting the messenger

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Gary Earlier this week, The Home Secretary Teresa May decided that Gary McKinnon should not be extradited to the USA to stand trial there for alledged 'hacking' of a number of US government computer systems. I very much welcome this decision, which has taken far too long in my opinion.

However, rather than stopping this abuse of process on the grounds that the UK-USA treaties are lop-sided — with substantially different requirements for the UK to extradite from the USA compared to the reverse — she chose to prevent it on the grounds of possible effects. This, to me, is likely to open a whole can of worms (US: 'can of whoop-ass') as others could, possibly rightly, say they are in the same position and would kill themselves should they be forced abroad to stand trial.

What Gary (probably) did was, indeed, wrong. The response of the US government though to seek to punish him by extended incarceration instead of thanking him for opening their eyes to their poor standard of online security is far worse.

18-Oct-2012 13:03 ·
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by my absence

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Well, yes, I don't seem to have been around much lately on any of my blogs, do I? I could blame 'life, the universe, etc' but, in reality, I seem to have been focusing on the "short-form" comments of Twitter at al instead of the more expansive and detailed long-form.

Will try to do better …
21-Aug-2012 11:32 ·
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Safe word

08-Apr-2012 22:48 ·
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Keep buggering on

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A few days ago, James Graham told why he was quitting the LibDems. Yesterday, another friend did so too, indeed there seem to be blogs and tweets all over the place of people finally 'losing it' with the Liberal Democrats.

I declined to renew my membership a couple of years ago but whenever I get surveyed on the topic (usually by YouGov about twice a week) I still list myself as a LibDem supporter. Primarily because I can't see any adequate alternative. To support either of the rabid right-wing parties (Tory or Labour) is just not possible and, being a very firm believer in the concept of the European Union (and, indeed, in a future federal EU) there is no other party currently active in the UK which I could contemplate supporting.

I keep hoping, telling myself, that the reasons for the LibDems doing what they have been in coalition is precisely because there is a coalition; that if we (and yes, I'll still say 'we') had won — or lost — things would have been different because there would have been only the external pressures of the situation and not of some other political viewpoint. And it hasn't all been negative: having the LibDems in (part-) government has resulted in many good things happening which wouldn't have if it were only the Tories there.

And I'll carry on that support because I do not want to see multi-party politics disappear from the UK, which would be likely if LibDem support drops away to the levels of the 1960s-80s. To just have two right-wing Parties would be as bad for the UK as it is for the USA, and I won't support that.

But I don't hold out much hope for the 2015 General Election being any sort of solution, indeed it might take another generation to start the process of change again.

16-Mar-2012 19:19 ·
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MITx i18n fails

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One of my 'pet' topics over more than 20 years has been how to Internationalise (i18n) web sites and services; how it isn't just the spoken language which changes, but also many of the basic assumptions which authors — and readers — make. I have made presentations on the subject to organisations large, small, and multinational.

But failure to do this properly has just reared itself on the 6.002x course I am taking at MITx. Today's messages to students include some responses to feedback about error messages, once of which MITx have responded:

this occurs if you submit non-numeric answers to numeric problems. This most commonly occurs if a comma is used instead of a decimal point, or units are included.

Now two points are raised here, and show the 'English-US' language assumptions that they've made.

Firstly, that in many countries (notably much of Europe outside the UK) the 'decimal point' is written as a comma! Indeed, the course leader's response makes no sense because the comma has not been "used instead" of the decimal point, it is the decimal mark! For a fascinating discussion on this point the Wikipedia article makes a great read.

And where the value is below one, there is also the matter of whether there must be a leading zero (ie "0.56" or just ".56") with the majority of countries using the leading zero, but not the USA.

There is also the matter of including the units or not. Now it is, quite clearly, a long time since I was at school, but I was taught that you never, ever write down a value without including what that value is measured in. Ideally also with the error margin too. This, then, becomes a matter of difference of English comprehension for the students of 6.002x as the questions do, indeed, ask "how many Volts are …", for example, with the understanding by those who wrote the course that this means a numeric-only answer. But that relies on a particular understanding of the construction of the English language. One might also compare it with "I did not have sex with that woman".

There are over 100 thousand students on this course, spread literally all around the world. For many their first language is not English in any form. To demand that they understand the course material in a particularly localised manner is possibly going too far. On the other hand, this course is the first from MITx and very much "by way of an experiment" to find out the issues which arise.
07-Mar-2012 12:35 ·
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Student

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I've always been interested in the topic of remote teaching & learning, from looking at the possibilities for online teaching of computer programming as a dissertation topic at college through to my studies in the 1980s and beyond with the Open University. And last week I noticed that MIT were planning to offer their first online course, and in a topic which interested me. So I've signed up and start this coming Monday!

The course — offered through MITx — is called 6.002x (Circuits and Electronics) and looks really interesting and likely to reinforce the work I'm doing in the hardware hacking field (which I write about on sheHacks ), and building on what my father taught me about electronics when I was very young.

More updates as the course starts!
03-Mar-2012 14:08 ·
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A letter to MLB.TV

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For the last couple of years I've been really happy with my subscription to MLB.tv - there being no other way to get access to baseball here in the UK that lets me watch all the games I want to be able to see - so when the HP TouchPad became available I was really happy that I'd be able to use it to watch games instead of having to keep my laptop or desktop computer on.

I say "was" because about two weeks ago you stopped me being able to use it.

One of the primary reasons I selected the HP TouchPad as my tablet device (as opposed to the 'market leaders' of Apple iPad or something Android-based) was that it has *native Flash*, meaning that it behaves exactly like a desktop to far as most sites are concerned. And after I bought it in August I used it just about every night from then on, including the division, championship, and world series. It was *perfect*.

Not perfect, though, is the long wait until the start of the new season (getting closer though - yay!) so I've watched the occasional game during the winter - and as always I'd done this on my TouchPad. But week before last, instead of the opening titles for NESN I got a suddenly black screen with the text "This MLB.TV application is not supported on Touchpad devices."

Well I was very surprised (I even tweeted to @MLB and @MLBTV but there was no response) as there is NO NEED for an 'application' on the TouchPad. That was - as I noted above - the whole point of my buying it!

I decided to wait and see what happened once you announced the new 2012 subscription details. So when your email "2012 MLB.TV Premium is Now Available! Watch Baseball on Your Favorite Devices" just arrived I went to find out.

And I now see that there are a number of platforms which you are offering an 'app' for, in addition to the desktop option. But there is no TouchPad in there - not that it actually needs an 'app' anyway - so I'm effectively fully blocked, from a service I have paid for.

You promote MLB.TV as "Baseball Everywhere" yet you have *removed* it from where it has been in the past. I pay for my subscription - it isn't a no-cost thing - and that means I expect to be able to watch it in the same way in the coming year as I did in the past year. For me that means on my tablet, which happens to be an HP TouchPad and requires no 'special treatment' other than to be allowed to play the standard Flash feed.

There aren't a lot of TouchPad users around, and not needing 'special handling' in the past probably means you haven't been aware of us, but that doesn't mean we don't provide some of you income. If we can't watch there is no point in paying, is there.
10-Feb-2012 22:30 ·
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