Imported From Epistula programming


Yesterday (I rule at this Daily Update thing) was the birthday of Benoît Mandelbrot, creator of the Mandelbrot set fractal, possibly the single most recognisable fractal image there is.

So popular is it, in fact, that a Mandelbrot generator is one of the classic computer science “Look, I can do this with this” problems. For example, someone’s created a Mandelbrot generator from flickr images and there’s even an implemention in four lines of bash, but to save your sanity I can’t find it.

It’s also one of the few mathmatical concept implementations with a song written about it

Mandelbrot Set you’re a Rorschach Test on fire
You’re a day-glo pterodactyl
You’re a heart-shaped box of springs and wire
You’re one badass fucking fractal
And you’re just in time to save the day
Sweeping all our fears away
You can change the world in a tiny way

computing Imported From Epistula Politics

Open Sesame

The Open Rights group founding was interesting.

At a talk just over a couple of years ago, organised by NTK, someone suggested that an organisation to protect the rights of people in the UK would only cost a few hundred people a fiver a month, and that there must be enough that this would be possible.

Having fairly publicly put my money where my mouth was a year or so ago, live on Hashlugradio, I’ve yet to regret doing so. And now it’s three years old, and already getting other people schooled.

It’s been a bumper year for digital rights. From HMRC posting half the nation’s bank details to the Darknet, to the ongoing campaign against Phorm, to three strikes and the rightsholder lobby’s so-far thwarted attempt to take control of your internet connection, this year was the year digital rights went mainstream. (ORG is 3, Nov 08)

So if you give a damn about protecting your rights online and off, I’d recommend throwing a couple of starbucks worth of change at the ORG each month, in return for a warm glowy feeling, a christmas party with no karaoke, and the possibility that the rights you’re guarding are your own.

But the leap from 750 to 1000 fivers received each month is not yet enough to guarantee us long term financial stability. We must reach our target of 1500 fivers before the end of the year. And we can’t do that without you. (ORG is 3, Nov 08)

Go now. Go quickly. We only have a few months to save the world

Imported From Epistula Mobile trutap

Trutap Two

Today, I went to the Future of Mobile conferency thing in Kensington. This happens to be the very first industry thing I’ve been to where the company I work for has had a major showing, and a major showing we made today. Not only with CEO Doug Richards going on a freeform odysssy of not only the future of mobile but its present also, up to Tom Hume of Future Platforms presented a talk on how designing multiple interfaces for each phone isn’t something that scales effort very well, and scaling very well is precisely the solution to the problem. FP are the people who build the TT App.

On top of that, CTO Carl did a panel at the end, Product Manager Luke’s on the spot for a workshop tomorrow (I think) and, generally, we were Visible.

I arrived a little late, but wasn’t too fussed about missing the first subjective five hours of the Phone Operating Systems panel, and instead only sitting though the final subjective two hours. There was a running theme of “The world would be better if the Operating Systems worked together” which was to be implemented as “You should work with us”, a theme that continued though the day, with Adobe’s Open Screen thing announcement starting off with “Do you know what sucks? The fact that everyone’s solution to the ‘There are too many platforms’ problem being to create a new platform.” I actually honestly hoped they had worked out a solution to this, and indeed they have. They have created a new platform. But it’s based on Flash, so that’s all right then.

Currently there are three main problems with developing mobile applications. They are these:

  1. The phone operating systems
  2. The operators
  1. The install base.

    1 & 2 are classic problems. There are a wide range of operating systems for phones, few of which allow for things to run on more than one of them, and the desire for Operators to not become merely another data pipe (as the land-line phone companies did before them as the Web spread) but to retain a measure of control over their users (be it by refusing to allow non-signed apps to be installed as in the US, or by limiting data use by screwing around with socket access and web proxies as in Europe. Three have even started inserting HTML into pages in mid-flight, a-la 1990s Geocities).

    The third problem is the elephant in the room that none of the proposed solutions cover. It’s all very well for the iPhone interface to be cool, for Android and new Symbian installs to allow access to the phone’s data, for the Open Screen faffery to allow porting an application from phone to browser to desktop to mind-link by redefining the interface specification, but none of those are of any use to anyone who bought a phone before 2006.

    You can’t just pull a new standard out of your arse, say “I solved it!” and entirely ignore the billions of handsets and users that are simply not using “smart” level handsets. Like the rise of CSS in the last few years, but on a much larger scale, it’s not enough to declare that everyone else is doing it wrong simply because the early adopters now have something that does it right, you can’t just stop supporting them yet. We’re not even in the transition phase, where we have something to migrate to.

    It’s getting better. Back when I was working for Internet Designers, we were working on Java-based games for some of the very first mobiles to support it. At that point, one of the phones was so strapped for memory that Nokia had sliced out the portions of Java that allowed for network connectivity. You could access the internet, or you could run a Java app, but you couldn’t do both at the same time. As functionality increases, compatibility increases, and as more companies rely on full support of the VM, it gets slowly better with phone releases. Sometimes it gets worse.

    One of the recurring themes when the tech-’bloggers’ (Still hate that damned phrase after ten years) took to the stage was that the fundamentals still have to be solved. There’s no point in developing the next wonder-app if nobody ‘normal’ will download it because they’re afraid they’ll get a bill for a thousand pounds in data charges. Comparison was made to the days before flat-rate dial-up, and for good reason. The concept of bill-shock has migrated to a new industry (Ironically, much less of a problem in places like India, where the phone is the primary network device (few people have PCs, so most access is net-café based, therefore public, therefore not used for Social Networking, both with and without capitals), because the data rate is much lower).

    It’s slow, and it’s frustrating, and I know this because I did it as a web developer, but just because the technology that makes all this so much cooler is so very close that we – the early-adopter ‘Mobipro’ capitalist westerners – can see it doesn’t mean we can leap to it yet.

    The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet. (William Gibson)

    On that note, and because I really should mention it, Trutap – who still pay my wages – launched the new Version Two app this week, with the brand new even cooler interface:

    The new application, which anyone can download for free, blends intuitive design with a range of interactive features that make finding and keeping in touch with friends really easy. Key features include: a personal newsfeed, ‘who’s online’, status & location, extended profile, searchable user directory, private messaging, email, SMS, blogging, photo-sharing and mobile IM.

    We haven’t released ports for every phone yet – there are various different versions, and they all need to be QA’d before they’re released. If you get V1 – or already use V1 – we aim to send you a trutap message soon when your phone gets the V2 version, so bare with us 🙂

    If you’ve got any problems with it, talk to nicholas@ or

afe Imported From Epistula

The Eosian Council 10

Am back from The Eosian Council 10.

tEC is the name for a series of the UK -based contingent of’ meetings. The definition of a tEC varies from person to person, but the basic format is that the group hires a house (usually a youth hostel) for a weekend, and spends it playing games, doing quizes, bitching about Eddings’ more recent output (You do not need to comment here with "I like eddings but he writes the same story a lot!!!!". Really) doing music quizes and generally being social with people.

Also, it ends up being my first non-larp pre-planned weekend away this year.

My very first ever experience of meeting people I’d met over the internet in real life was the tEC 2 prelude meet in London, followed the day after by tEC2 itself, which was nine years and a bit ago, which is faintly scary, which was at a beautiful cottage turned into a YH in Badby. There we got ambushed a bit by the local radio station (This was back in July 1999, and tinpot internet communities were newsworthy) . The venerable Aquarius is still hosting the MP3 of the resulting interview, and also there is the MP3 David Eddings sent us on how to pronounce things badly.

This years event – the first in about four years, after the community disolved quite a bit – was in a glorious rambling holiday home near Tiverton in Devon that would comfortably sleep 22 (there were twelve of us) and had an open fire and a massive kitchen and was, basically, the house I would build if I become rich and not-living-in-london. Upsides include no internet and patchy mobile coverage. Not good for a home, but perfect for a weekend away.

There was good food, good company, beer and games, and I generally had a fabulous weekend.

How was yours?

2008 Current Affairs Imported From Epistula Poems Politics


In World War One

  • Forty two million people were mobilised for the Allies
  • There were twenty two million casualties on the Allied side.
  • There are less than ten people alive left who fought.

    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    In World War Two

  • Over 10% of the 1939 population of Germany were killed. 16% of Poland.
  • The soviet union suffered 10,700,000 military deaths.
  • The UK lost 382,600.
  • One of these was John Brunt

    The point of Remembrance day is not war. It’s not really peace, either, and anyone using it to push any political agenda is doing the Service a disservice. It’s the unspoken social contract between those who go to fight the powers that would attack our country and those who survive: That if you go and fight, and do not return, we will remember them.

    You may disagree with the current war, where the direct threat to our lands is diffuse and not really counterable – and possibly enhanced – by direct action in the lands of others, but this war is not all wars, and these reasons are not all reasons, and those that die of these decisions did not make them.

    And so we remember them.

Imported From Epistula tv

West Wing Season 8

I missed this the first time around.

Did you know that when the West Wing writers were looking for a candidate to base Matt Santos on, they went for a young politician – not even a senator yet?

For what those West Wing fans stunned by the similarity between the fictitious Matthew Santos and the real-life Barack Obama have not known is that the resemblance is no coincidence. When the West Wing scriptwriters first devised their fictitious presidential candidate in the late summer of 2004, they modelled him in part on a young Illinois politician – not yet even a US senator – by the name of Barack Obama.

(From The Guardian, Feb 2008)

This includes some of the speeches:

But it doesn’t end there. The model for Josh Lyman was, apparently, a man I’d never heard of called Rahm Emanuel. Who is apparently the model for Lyman. And he’s been tipped to be Obama’s chief of staff, which is what Lyman ended up as.

Life imitating art.

(Sorry Murky, another false alarm)

Imported From Epistula Movies

Lucky Number Slevin

[The Kansas City Shuffle is] not something people hear about. Falls on deaf ears mostly. This particular one has been over twenty years in the making. No small matter. Requires a lot of planning. Involves a lot of people. People connected by the slightest of events. Like whispers in the night, in that place that never forgets, even when those people do. It starts with a horse.

So, I’ve just seen Lucky Number Slevin which is a film I now like quite a lot. It’s a kind of stylish gangster/heist movie, fast and witty and self aware. Kind of like Usual Suspects (One of my favouite movies) crossed with Lock, Stock…

Anyway, recommended. The writer is the man behind the Bionic Woman, too, which I’ve also been recommended to watch out for.

2008 Current Affairs Imported From Epistula trutap


I should have posted this a while ago, but anyway.

This year I am not doing Nanowrimo. Writing an entire novel in november seems too much like hard work. I am doing something that will make me look equally silly, but will require significantly less work on my part.


Movember is a sponsored mustashe growing thing, with the money going to prostate cancer research and treatment. A number of people at planet Trutap are taking part (and it was weird to go into the office on Monday to see all the bearded geeks of various stripes cleanshaven. I hope a couple are carrying ID…).

It’s such a good idea, in fact, that you should sponser me to do this, by going to the movember site and doing so right now.

Every little helps. If people donate, pics will happen. Actually, if you donate enough, pics won’t happen, and the internet will be saved more silly photos of me on the internet. Go on, help 🙂

Fiction Imported From Epistula

Stephen Benatar – Recovery

Gosh, Five days in and I’m already a day behind. I suck.

A book review, today. Or, rather, the circumstances behind the book review.

Every so often, I do something that I can foresee is going to be a bad idea, and yet do it anyway for some things just must be done. Kiss the girl, quit the job, drink the shot, fail the exam. All these things are important.

So, on the 5th of October I walked into a bookshop in Islington. I’m really bad at timely reviews.

I’m really bad at bookshops, too. I’m equally bad at art shops, which is the shop I’d just walked out of before I walked into Waterstones, but mostly I don’t have a reason to go into art shops. However, in this case Neal Stephenson had a book out, and so did Terry Pratchett, so I had to buy them. And I was pretty good, in that I only came out with twice as many books as I went in for. It would have been just one over, but I ran into an author.

If you do a web search for Stephen Benatar you will find this is something he does quite often, taking a stock of books into a local Waterstones and approaching random shoppers with his very polite, very English “I’m signing copies of my book here today, and wondered if you might take a look”, at which point I was pretty much doomed to buy it. Putting a book down requires finding out where it came from (librarian training in action), and besides, it’s a book. You don’t put down books you haven’t read. It would be wrong. The book in question is Recovery, and it’s a collection of two novellas about memory, complete with unreliable narrators and other such things. I found the book to be tremendously readable – of the two stories, I prefer the first, where a recent amnesiac attempts to track down his identity with the help of a local private detective, increasingly finding it linked back to the period in 1948 that the narrative keeps flipping back to. A well crafted plot with a finale that teeters on the edge of explanation – this is not a story for people who like their narrative to end complete and with a pretty pink bow – wonderfully smooth flowing. I’d recommend that if you like this kind of thing, you should buy this kind of thing. I’ll be tracking down more of the author’s works.

I still haven’t started the mammoth task of the new Stephenson book, though.

Current Affairs Imported From Epistula


The mood in America has been likened to the one here in ‘97 when we managed to kick the conservatives out for the first time in about 20 years, which amuses me. However, the fact that ours failed to live up to that optimism doesn’t mean yours necessarily won’t.

Good luck.