Epic referendum fail


Arg. I had been mostly managing to avoid looking directly at the referendum, unfortunately a ‘myth buster’ and some ‘facts’ dropped through the door today.

FACT: Adding ‘FACT:’ in front of anything you like doesn’t make it a fact!

I know, life would be so much more fun if that did work…

Sadly there has been a distinct lack of facts from both sides of the debate. If I’m being charitable, that could be because the whole thing is a massive unknown. The substitute has not exactly been constructive though.

Perhaps it would have been better not to have the referendum at all? Our recent track record of referendums hasn’t exactly been stellar, and the EU referendum in particular is even more problematic. Perhaps we could all agree to stop having referendums whatever the result is this time. Or would we need a referendum to decide that?!

I did at least spot a couple of more interesting looking articles during the predictably depressing campaign:

Plus this discussion on twitter:

I know that the EU is far from perfect but unless I hear any compelling reason otherwise, I think I’ll be voting remain on Thursday. There are probably pros and cons for either choice but ultimately where you draw borders is so completely arbitrary that I’d personally prefer to live in a larger area that allows free movement of people, than a smaller one. I don’t want to live in a gated community for similar reasons!

I also tend to agree with Ben Goldacre’s reasons.

Having said all that, the real issue of the whole campaign is, why isn’t the official leave site on a .uk domain, and why isn’t the official remain site on an .eu domain?

Update: Uh oh…



Build it and they will come


Somehow I have spent way too much of my time over the last year on efforts to replace the build tools on projects that already have working builds.

Photo © Duncan Rimmer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Granted the builds had/have problems, as most do, but for some reason the ‘solution’ always seems to be to move to the new shinny build technology of the week, without really focusing on what that’s meant to improve even at a technical level, yet alone from an end user/business perspective. You may as well be arguing about tabs vs 2/4 spaces.

The latest fun build technology adventure has been to switch from Grunt to Gulp. (If you’re fortunate enough not to have heard of either, you may think I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent but no, Grunt and Gulp are both real tools to help automate build tasks.)

If it was up to me, I would probably avoid using Grunt or Gulp completely:

It’s not up to me though, so here are a few early observations about Gulp:

  • It seems to have a few issues with error handling, although gulp-plumber has helped
  • More worryingly, Gulp appears to have a tendency to hang, which doesn’t seem ideal from an integration point of view
  • A lot of the examples I found did things ‘the wrong way’
    (There’s a plugin blacklist and I’ve found a few strongish views on how not to do things in Gulp, just less concrete examples on what the right way is so far)
  • There are some useful recipes to get you started
  • It’s not really any better or worse than Grunt, just different
    (Not that I’ve spent that much time with Grunt)

Given there’s almost no chance of making everyone happy with the choice of build tools, I would just leave the decision to whoever creates a new project, hopefully taking in to account ease of development and continuous delivery, and then leave it alone.

If you really think you want to change from Grunt to Gulp, or between any other build technologies, don’t do it. No, really, it’s a waste of time. You’re thinking about trying Broccoli now aren’t you? Or Brunch? (Really, I’m not making these names up!) Why don’t you switch off your computer and go out and do something less pointless instead? If you really can’t stop yourself, at least buy everyone on the team lunch first.

Spy on them?

Apparently today is the day we fight back, with the launch of Don’t Spy On Us in the UK.


It’s puzzling why digital interactions are somehow viewed differently to other aspects of everyday life. I suspect the economics of getting away with mass surveillance online vs. offline has a lot to do with it. Whatever the reason, making it explicit that our offline rights extend online is well overdue. The six proposed principles don’t seem all that unreasonable:

1. No surveillance without suspicion
Mass surveillance must end. Surveillance is only legitimate when it is targeted, authorised by a warrant, and is necessary and proportionate.

2. Transparent laws, not secret laws
The Government is using secret agreements and abusing archaic laws. We need a clear legal framework governing surveillance to protect our rights.

3. Judicial not political authorisation
Ministers should not have the power to authorise surveillance. All surveillance should be sanctioned by an independent judge on a case-by-case basis.

4. Effective democratic oversight
Parliament has failed to hold the intelligence agencies to account. Parliamentary oversight must be independent, properly resourced, and able to command public confidence through regular reporting and public sessions.

5. The right to redress
Innocent people have had their rights violated. Everyone should have the right to challenge surveillance in an open court.

6. A secure web for all
Weakening the general security and privacy of communications systems erodes protections for everyone, and undermines trust in digital services. Secret operations by government agencies should be targeted, and not attack widely used technologies, protocols and standards.

If we miss this opportunity, there’s a real risk to democracy. How is oversight possible if the people you’re overseeing know things about you that you’d rather keep private. My last MP, a candidate for the Lib Dem leadership, certainly had things to hide. Perhaps we need to know more about MPs. A lot more.

Photo © Veronica Aguilar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


According to BT its parental controls are ‘completely customisable’ and apparently it is possible to add specific sites to allow or block which, unless you’re Claire Perry, is obviously essential. Even so I’ve experienced just how pointless internet filters are before, so I’m keen to avoid ‘porn’ filters on my home broadband connection for as long as possible.


I don’t know how filtering works on other ISPs but these are just a few of the problems with BT’s implementation which contributed to an upcoming switch to a completely unfiltered broadband provider:

  • Applies same filtering to every device… hopefully there aren’t actually any homes without adults around. Apparently they do allow you to schedule when the filter is active but that seems like a solution from the last century.
  • There’s no way for me to find out if a site would be blocked by the filter. There are sites I might want to make certain are blocked but I obviously wouldn’t want to have to visit them to find out!
  • There’s no way for site owners to find out if their own site would be blocked by the filter.
  • The standard filtering has a couple of glaring omissions which I would be interested in: I want to block adverts targeted at children, and I want to block any form of tracking.

There are more details of BT’s filtering in the Open Rights Group blog post, BT answers our questions about parental controls.

Photo © Mark (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Warning: This post contains pornographic words

Apparently few things matter more to David Cameron than protecting children on the internet. Perhaps he’s planning to increase the funding available to tackle online child abuse, which would be useful. Apparently not, which is a pity because Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.


So what is David going to do to protect children on the internet? Nothing very useful as far as I can tell. In fact, probably the opposite. The internet, like life, is complicated. In the simplest terms I can think of, the internet is not safe for children, but actually that’s ok, and is no different to a lot of other things.

You wouldn’t expect young children to be using a chainsaw on their own, but you would also find it pretty difficult to cut a tree down with plastic safety scissors. You wouldn’t expect older children to use a band saw on their own, but it would be ok if they were supervised while learning to use one safely.

I would agree with the suggestion that parents aren’t given enough help, but a ‘one click’ on/off filter on a shared internet connection is really really not the answer. You need lots of tools; maybe playpens for the very young, corner protectors when they can walk, right up to an idiots guide to the internet for older politicians!

Aside from the fact that blocking and filtering just tend to annoy people who are trying to access perfectly legitimate content, and MPs haven’t even really defined what they want to block, there are downsides to creating a UK intranet. There are already more than enough places with over zealous filters, like O2 and Orange, or libraries, and there can already be real financial implications to manipulating search engine results with no transparency or oversight.

Perhaps even this post/blog has been blocked. Ok, the world wouldn’t be much worse off in that case, but I am more concerned about other sites which are likely to be blocked unintentionally, especially now that I have a child. You see, it’s not quite as simple as the Prime Minister makes out. I may face some very tricky conversations as my child grows up, and they would be more difficult if they and I aren’t able to search for information and support. I had naively assumed that banning rape porn would be one simple thing that everyone would agree with, but even that subject isn’t quite as straight forward as you would hope. I hope that reading challenging articles about difficult subjects will prepare me for being a better parent. I know that a web filter won’t.

I’ll be holding on to unfiltered internet access as long as possible.

(Of course the internet isn’t the only place children might see porn. I assume they’ll be announcing a filtered version of the Sun tomorrow…)

Photo © Anne Petersen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Communications Data Bill doesn’t go far enough

There’s been some great news for security in this country recently: the Conservatives have finally given up on their silly agreement to roll back state intrusion. Let’s hope Nick doesn’t succeed in blocking such crucial legislation but, if he does, it seems like the US could already be doing the surveillance for us!


The only problem is that this kind of blanket online monitoring just doesn’t go far enough. With the public in fear of the ever present threat of terrorism, we need to collecting metadata about all forms of communication, from the postal system, to peoples front rooms:

  • We shouldn’t expect to just put a letter in the post without any form of tracking. All post should be taken to post offices, along with photo ID, so that sender and recipient can be properly logged.
  • Oyster can already keep track of public transport journeys in London and needs to be extended across the country as a matter of urgency.
  • Every journey by road also needs to be logged. Submitting a route plan should be required in advance of each journey, with automatic number plate recognition verifying the actual route taken.
  • And finally, to cover the last mile of any journey, as well as pedestrians and cyclists, it should be compulsory for every citizen to carry a smart phone and use a UK government 4wrnd app. This will enable location and proximity to other citizens to be tracked in real time.

Terrahawks need to push ahead with these measures and more, before it’s too late.

Admittedly this new surveillance will undoubtedly cost a lot of money, which could impact other methods of protecting citizens. What some people have conveniently overlooked is that, once collected, the new data will be a valuable source of revenue. If mobile phone companies can sell data, there’s no reason for the government not to do the same. From insurance companies and worried parents, to foreign governments, people will be queuing up to access this valuable new big data resource.

Photo © walkingwalking (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)