Talk to me; the effective use of Twitter for those in the public-eye.

In recent days, it seems Rupert Murdoch @rupertmurdoch has decided to dip his toe into the waters of the Twitter high-seas.  Now, while, to his credit he has started off better than most politicians, media hacks, corporations, et al, it seems he still has not quite grasped the nature of the beast – if one wants to use Twitter to spread a message then they have to realise that it is fundamentally a bilateral conversation.  Such nuggets as,

I LOVE the film “we bought a zoo”, a great family movie. Very proud of fox team who made this great film.

are unlikely to pass the average user’s inbuilt advertising filter.

Other very high profile users also appear to have missed the point, for example: @BarackObama does not tweet back to anyone at all, as far as I can see; the profile for our beloved Deputy Prime Minister, @nick_clegg, appears similarly bereft of replies; even an account that I would have expected to be conversing with their fan-base, @coldplay, has the air of a preacher on the pulpit.  I posit that to use Twitter merely as a means of disseminating links to other content is a missed opportunity and for those with an image to protect, possibly damaging.

It is not hard to find examples of high-profile people or organisations that have indeed embraced the true nature of Twitter – conversation!  The most obvious example that comes to mind is @johnprescott.  It is not by luck that his tweet,

Ok Twitter. #murdochsdeletedtweets Go!

rapidly started a deluge of people ripping-the-pish out of Mr Murdoch.  The difference between these two use-cases?  John Prescott has obviously realised that there are real people on the other side of @ addresses and will talk to them, frequently.

The list of folk that have got into the spirit is indeed extensive, including such gems as  @charltonbrooker (Charlie Brooker), @EricPickles, and the wonderfully eccentric @jonsnowC4.  Celebrity chefs have got the idea with people like @jamieoliver and @Nigella_Lawson frequently replying to recipe queries.  Even @Ed_Milliband seems to have figured it out with most of his stream comprising of replies to people, albeit with a slight hiccup or two early on, however he retweeted some of the more funny ones, e.g.

If you fell through a crack in the universe would anyone notice? #AskEdM

#askEdM Why doesn’t superglue stick to the inside of the tube?

#AskEdM how long is it to tipperary & will I have to go via the
congestion charge zone to get there?

suggesting he at least has a sense of humour and can take a joke.

So, morale of the story?  Twitter is essentially a tool to have quick conversations with people at a distance; to many,  not responding to other people on Twitter is almost as rude as not responding to someone who asks you a question in person.  People or organisations intending to use Twitter to further their image or public perception would do well to bear that in mind.


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Seeing the light; Home Office to trial laser deterrent device for Police riot control; Photonic Security Systems – SMU100

In the aftermath of the August riots in London, it appears the Home Office is looking at alternative measures for riot control.  As reported in the Telegraph, one of these options is a ranged weapon that uses a laser to temporarily blind the target.

SMU-100 Photonic Security Systems

SMU-100 Photonic Security Systems

The manufacturer of this device, Photonic Security Systems Ltd, a Scottish company based in Sandbank Business Centre in Dunoon, appears to have originally designed this technology for use at sea against pirates.  According to their brochure, the SMU100 can project a 4m square area at 500m range.  Aside from the range specification, there is little information available with which to assess the safety of the device.  A request under the Freedom of Information Act has been made to the Home Office in an attempt to ascertain some basic specifications.

To make a comparison with something more familiar: in the UK and most of Europe, laser pointer devices are limited to Class 2, i.e. in the visible range and <1mW power output.  Without deliberately abusing the device, it would be almost impossible to cause long-term damage with these types of laser as the blink response normally occurs at around 0.25secs, well before permanent damage could occur.  In other parts of the world, laser pointers up to 5mW are regulated for; while of low incidence there have been one or two reports of long term damage from device misuse.

Like the SMU100, these types of “dazzler” weapons have been used in military applications for some time with a range of weapons already developed.  While they seem to operate at higher output power (Glare Mout device) as compared to the humble laser pointer, it appears it is standard practice for a lens to cause the beam to diverge over distance, hence not directly comparable with a standard collimated laser beam.

If the SMU100 follows the same principle of using a higher powered laser but divergent beam then the device should be safe in proper use.  The flip-side is the device could potentially be dangerous if misused.  For example, if using the specs from the above “Glare Mout” device, we can see it uses a Class 3B laser operating at 532nm with max 125mW power output.  If such a device were used at very close range then the beam will have not diverged and the result would be a high risk of causing permanent blindness.

The value of these weapons in military settings is immediately obvious: one can conceivably control a number of given situations without being forced into shooting someone.  In that sense, they could potentially reduce casualties on both sides of an encounter.  In a civilian setting, decidedly different considerations come into play with serious questions over use of Tasers and CS spray / PAVA spray already in the media.  In the US, the situation of misuse of less-than-lethal weapons is arguably worse with recent instances of Pepper spray abuse being of particular concern (UC Davis protesters being arbitrarily Pepper sprayed).

Before the SMU100 is authorised, there must be physical assurances built into the device to prevent accidental or deliberate misuse as without those assurances it seems we are destined to repeat the mistakes made with introduction of Tasers in the UK and take another step towards militarisation of our Police forces.



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BBC advertising and common (ad)sense; BBC advertisements for non-UK users.

Ok, this is apparently old news, alas, I only noticed this was happening today and do not remember any debate or discussion on it at the time.

It seems, BBC is serving up Google Adsense advertisements on its online content for non-UK visitors.  The only reason I noticed this was because I do most of my web-browsing using a VPN I setup in annoyance at the general capitulation of UK ISPs with requests to monitor their users’ browsing habits.  Proof, as they say, is in the pudding…

BBC Weather Site Viewed from a US IP

BBC Weather Site Viewed from a US IP


BBC Weather Site Viewed from a UK IP

BBC Weather Site Viewed from a UK IP


There is actually reference to this in the BBC’s Advertising Policy:

BBC Advertising Policy

BBC Advertising Policy

The first paragraph states,

“The BBC is not permitted to carry advertising or sponsorship on its public services. This keeps them independent of commercial interests and ensures that they can be run instead to serve the general public interest.”

Which outlines the basic rationale behind why the BBC is not commercially funded, saying so explicitly,

“If the BBC sold airtime either wholly or partially, advertisers and other commercial pressures would dictate its programme and schedule priorities.

However, the last paragraph says these conditions do not apply for BBC’s services outside the UK,

The BBC runs additional commercial services around the world. These are not financed by the licence fee but are kept quite separate from the BBC’s public services. Profits are used to help keep the licence fee low so that UK licence fee payers can benefit commercially from their investment in programmes.”

If the BBC’s independence and impartiality would potentially be hindered by advertising in the UK then it is surely because of potential influence the advertiser gains by virtue of payment.  That same logic does not cease to apply based on geographic location: advertising is advertising and money is money, no matter where on earth you are.

Call be daft but does the BBC’s policy not appear slightly self-contradictory?


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Adding insult to injury; Boris’s transport cheif, Daniel Moylan, describes Ken Livingstone as “schizophrenic”.

Normally, I am fairly thick-skinned when it comes to people making comedic comments surrounding mental illness.  For example, I will occasionally make jokes about my own problems – perhaps it’s the Scottish trait of self-deprecation, or merely another copying strategy.  In any event, I usually take humour surrounding mental health issues in good spirit.  Where I draw the line however is when definitions of mental illness are used as an insult: it is a bad habit to get into and perpetuates the assumption that those with mental health problems are somehow of diminished worth compared to the general population.

That leads us to the subject for this blog entry, viz. the article that appeared in the London Evening Standard on Tuesday 6th December concerning Daniel Moylan’s opinion of Ken Livingstone’s transport proposals[1].  In the article, Daniel Moylan is quoted as having said,

“He [Mr Livingstone] is schizophrenic. I’m not calling him a liar but he is misleading the public and he is kind of misleading himself.

Using the term for a serious psychiatric condition as an insult is in my view pretty bad form, so I wrote Mr Moylans a letter and copied in auld Boris too for good measure.  You can download it here if you want to read it (pdf).

[1] – Boris slams Ken Livingstone over £1bn fare cuts ‘black hole’


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Scaremongering is as easy as ABC; ABC News on customs radiation screening of Japanese imports, 23rd March

In the small hours of the morning here in the UK, BBC News occasionally screens what was recently aired on ABC News America.  Their Chief Health and Medical Editor, Dr Richard Besser, has just interviewed a customs official at an airport and is now describing how the “powerful radiation detector” [sic] would detect any radiation from imported cargo.  While he has confirmed the obvious result that there have been no incidents of harmful radiation detected, they have attempted to plant a seed of worry in their viewer’s minds – after all, if there is nothing to worry about then why have they reported on it.

There have been a few very minor and short lived radiological emissions in Japan.  Yes, there have been precautions taken to protect the local population by means of an exclusion zone and distribution of Iodine tablets, however that is precautionary – putting on a seatbelt in a car does not automatically imply you are going to crash.

The BBC is now airing their own report.  The exclusion zone was referred to as a “contamination zone” – which is factually incorrect – and the pictures they had broadcast earlier under the auspices of a report on the nuclear incident are in fact people in protective suits looking for bodies after the tsunami, which has nothing to do with radiological issues.

After a decade of selling fear, I would have thought the major media outlets would have realised the public are at saturation point.  Further emotive reporting, I expect, will be met with apathy as many people at the current time have more than enough problems on their plate.  Rational and factual reporting set in appropriate context is required, and there is a real appetite for a return to professionalism rather than sensationalism.



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Japan Nuclear Incident 15th March Fukushima Daiichi; radiation dose comparisons.

After reading a Tweet from endless_psych questioning the relation between exposure in Japan and that of living in Aberdeen, I decided to do some “back of a cigarette packet” calculations.

Well, the fire at Fukushima Daiichi involving the spent fuel is, according to IAEA update page, releasing 400 μSv h-1 into the atmosphere.  The Sievert is a unit of radiation dose equivalent, so we shall convert all other comparison quantities into Sieverts.  If you happened to live in the Granite City – a.k.a. Aberdeen – then you would, in the average home, be exposed to 60 Bq m-3 from Radon gas leaching from the Granite bedrock, from Scottish Government data.  This quantity needs conversion and using the “Working Level” rationale for Radon as outlined rather concisely by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, here, we can see that:

60 Bq m-3 ~= 60 . 0.0044 = 0.264 WLM (at home assuming 7,000 hours a year)

0.264 WLM ~= 0.264 . 4 = 1.056 mSv annual dose equivalent.

Now the original expectation was that the exposure in Japan would be significantly less than that of living in the average house in Aberdeen.  Well, that is not the case: you would only need to be at the Fukushima Daiichi site for 1.056 / 0.4 = 2.64 hours to reach the same exposure.  However, from the same data source, the worst houses in Aberdeen receive 1600 Bq m-3 which would be over 28 mSv a year, so you would have to stand about outside at the site in Japan for 3 whole days to receive the same equivalent dose.

In real terms, it still is not too bad. I expect the problem is highly localised and we know little about the half-life of the isotopes involved.  For a final comparison, an hour at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan is equivalent to a spine X-Ray, data from Health Physics Society.

Again, these are exceedingly rough examples but were, well, worse than I had predicted.

P.S. I’m rather tired right now, so you may want to double-check my figures… I’ve got a habit of missing “powers of ten” when tired 🙂


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Nominet seek stakeholder opinions on plan to allow domain name suspensions by Police request.

Nominet, the registry that runs the .uk top level domain is seeking feedback on recent proposed changes relating to domain name suspension.  The proposal boils down to allowing Nominet to suspend domain names at the behest of the Police: if they receive a report that a domain name is being used for criminal purposes, they want to be able to suspend it.

The problem with this model is there is no judicial oversight.  Police are there to keep public order, investigate crime and gather evidence.  It is for the courts to decide when the accused is actually guilty or not.  By essentially giving the Police carte blanche they omit the necessity for the Police to prove a crime has been committed. This has obvious implications for free speech, as only recently was taken offline by their hosting provider on the basis of a letter from an acting Detective Inspector.  It was claimed the website was hosting illegal content yet I have not read any subsequent news reports of a charge against the authors.  The content in question was advice for people on how to deal with Police investigation resulting from their presence at protests, essentially to change one’s clothes/hair and seek legal advice (more info in this blog entry).  So to any reasonable person, the absence of a charge or prosecution suggests that the Police simply objected to the material as it concerned their operations.  If the Police had to obtain a court order or decree with respect to Fitwatch’s hosting, I suspect their request would have been quickly dismissed by the Magistrate or Sheriff.

Allowing the Police to censor any material they object to is not conducive to free speech, however Nominet’s proposals do exactly that.  Do we really want to blithely hand the Police an ability to censor the entire .uk domain tree?

The proposal set forth by Nominet can be found here or in this pdf.  Before the 23rd February dealine, you can also submit your own comments and request to be a stakeholder in the discussions by linking through from this page. My own comments are appended below.

Continue reading

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David Cameron, et al, put your money where your mouth is: I challenge you to live on the UK median salary.

Our glorious leader, The Right Honourable David Cameron MP, and his unholy alliance of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, have been rapidly advancing with their plans to implement draconian cuts in public expenditure.  Cuts which generally detriment the poorer end of society and keep those that are already well-off sitting pretty.  Despite this apparent disparity, Mr Cameron has been propagating his concept of a “big society” and that we “are in it together”.  Well, with cuts hitting students, the disabled, people claiming housing benefit, people with children, people relying on local authority services, people with jobs in the public sector, and many more – most of us are “in it together”.  Unfortunately, Mr Cameron, you are most definitely not “in it together” and faining an ersatz camaraderie with the general population is at best insulting.  If Mr Cameron wants an ounce of our respect, he will have to earn it by leading from the front.

The current annual gross salary before expenses for the Prime Minister is £142,500, c.f. The UK Parliament Website.  Now, compare that to the median gross annual salary of a full-time employee in the UK, which stands at £25,900, c.f. National Statistics National Survey of Hours and Earnings.  Our Prime Minister earns five and half-times as much as the UK median salary – that is hardly “in it together”!  Even a non-ministerial MP is paid an annual gross salary of £65,738, whereas ministers are paid £134,565, c.f. ibid.  While I certainly do not agree with the financial measures that the current government is implementing, I would at least have respect for them if the people implementing those policies were feeling it with the rest of us.

Now, my challenge to Mr Cameron – and all MPs that are propounding the policy of severe cuts as a good idea – is to live on the UK annual median salary of £25,900.  If our government expects the population to accept their measures with good grace, they cannot sit in ivory towers, isolated and disparate from the population.  If he is finding a problem in what to do with the £116,600 pa difference, I am sure many homeless charities at this time of year would be glad of it – that is a lot of hot meals and roofs over heads.

Will you, Mr Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and First Lord of the Treasury join the people this Christmas and live on the same salary most of the country does?  Will your ministers and the MPs in your government join too?  After all, you graduated from Oxford with a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and are entrusted with budgeting for an entire nation – surely you can budget for your own household.

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The Police force’s intimidation tactics;, forward intelligence teams and Millbank student protest.

It is barely a week after the student protest at Millbank in London.  An event which the media tells us has polarised views on how to achieve effective protest; in reality, I suspect most people are unperturbed with a few windows having been broken at the Conservative’s HQ.  The main complaint seems to be of a fire extinguisher being thrown off the roof, which while dangerous and tremendously stupid is hardly characteristic of the 50,000 people protesting.

Irrespective of one’s view on the rights-and-wrongs of how the protest unfolded, there has been a more disturbing development.  For some years now, the Police in different parts of the country have deployed FITs – so called “Forward Intelligence Teams” –  at public demonstrations and protests.  The purpose of these FITs are to overtly photograph people at the protests; the photographs are potentially then retained by the Police for use at future protests, or effecting subsequent investigation.  Having your photograph taken and kept on record merely for attending a public event is criminalising the act of peaceful protest, and in my own view is both morally reprehensible and legally dubious.  Legal challenges have already been raised against this practice, as summarised in this wikipedia entry.

A campaign group, Fitwatch, justly oppose this type of policing and attend protests and demonstrations with cameras themselves photographing the Police photographing the protesters.  Unfortunately, this has at times resulted in what can only be described as a violent and disturbing response from the Police: in 2009, two women were handcuffed, restrained at the legs, held round the throat and had Police manipulate pressure points on their neck all for the trivial reason of asking the collar number of four Police officers (which appears to be a matter of policy rather than law).  An article and disturbing video of this incident is available on the Guardian’s website.

Recently, an even more concerning development seems to have occurred: the Police asked for Fitwatch’s website,, to be taken offline and it was so done with no court order, no injunction/interdict and no warrant – in fact it seems a letter from Will Hodgeson, an acting detective inspector at C011, seemed to suffice.  The Guardian newspaper has had sight of this letter as outlined in an article here.  The hosting provider is putatively named as which is based in the US although the IP whois returns that netblock as belonging to “Bandcon”.  Removing content from the internet without any judicial oversight is to say the least disconcerting, circumvents any legal protections and has not required the Police to prove their allegations; more importantly it rides roughshod over freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

In the meantime, the original content has been replicated on blogs across the internet essentially rendering the takedown ineffective… well, for those that know why the site is inactive.  While I suspect most hosting providers would be more robust in their response and demand a court order – which under the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act should be enforceable in the US – it will likely become the situation whereby people wanting to ensure their content is available will have to resort to either “bullet proof” hosting providers, or use other technologies similar to say Freenet.  It seems Fitwatch have temporarily moved to Facebook, here.  Will the MET write the same letter to Facebook?

ETA 17th November 2010 2:18PM: It seems their website is back online although it points to the same IP address as last night; perhaps they had arranged new hosting yesterday had changed their DNS A record at that point.

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In the beginning there was, well not much.

First post.  Should really be more meaningful.

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