Why you can’t be open about yourself and also support social change.

I believe in every person’s right to privacy (one of the goals of the work I do in AAC is to provide technical frameworks that allow AAC users this right). The problem is that I don’t find it particularly useful for myself.

I’m fairly happy to drop implicit social barriers where I can. Examples might include being quite into the quantified self movement and by being very open about approaches to things like twitter and goals. The most obvious example is of course, having a blog at all: you can practically define a blog as a method of making private thoughts public. As I wrote when I put out my 2014 twitter resolutions, I get a lot of positive benefits out of being open with the world that I wouldn’t if I were closed in. (I’m relatively open compared to, say, the average person, but if you’d like to see openness really pushed quite far it’s worth reading Steve Pavlina, who was (and remains) a very high-profile productivity blogger – he went on to start blogging about this divorce and then his later experimentation with bondage and dominance in relationships. I salute the man’s commitment to openness, but can’t imagine being *that* open…)

On the other hand, I do very much believe in a person’s right to privacy. I think that the world could be considerably more perfect, and that privacy is pretty necessary as an ingredient letting social change gather pace. Consider how things like homosexuality, being of the ‘wrong’ race and various other crimes were treated 50 years ago compared to now. I’m really looking forward to being 80 and seeing 50 years of social change – and I’m pretty sure that without privacy we won’t get very far at all.

The problem is that the more of myself that I am open about, the more I diminish the position of people carefully maintaining their privacy. There are big things that people keep quiet (for example if you’ve reassigned your gender) and little things (like if you’d started smoking again and didn’t want your sister to find out), but if it becomes normal to be open (which I do think would be a good thing) then those people who are the vanguard of social change are going to get a kicking…

…and I don’t have a way to resolve these two positions. I’d appreciate any ideas.


(As is often the case, the page image is from Wikicommons – I was looking for something in terms of ‘mask’ or ‘disguise’ and this jumped out of me.  I decided I didn’t care how relevant it was to the post on privacy, I was having the picture of the dog in dark glasses) 

Silly FoI requests.

I’m a big believer that a more transparent and accountable state is a better state, and I’ve written a few times about some problems with the FOI system as implemented. This sort of comedy FOI request does not help. But I would like to write it off as the cost of doing business. More to the point I would like to stress that each of these requests where likely deal with as swiftly by the FOI staff as the switchboard would have dealt with a prank call.

For many Christmas is a time to have fun, share a few jokes and act a bit silly.

However some people have taken this silliness further than most, even as far as governmental departments, by writing funny festive Freedom of Information requests.

Hopefully they raised a smile on the faces of their recipients, although the lack of cheer and goodwill in some of the responses suggests otherwise (this might have something to do with all the paperwork).

What do you think? Are they just a holly bunch of time wasters whose jokes (like mine) only belong inside a Christmas cracker, or are they spreading seasonal joy to councils, civil servants and press officers?

Well, maybe not.

via MM’s top five… festive Freedom of Information requests.


More to the point – if we are going to do a comedy request (and I’m guilty of often being somewhat scathing on my own corraspondence), then one should at least do it properly: I give you this Durham University request (Warning, ever so slightly NSFW). 

Faith in Royal Mail… Win

EDIT – Apologies to all who couldn’t access the site earlier – I clearly wasn’t prepared for the amount of traffic that reddit can generate. By the way – if you enjoy this page, you might also enjoy the Flowers for Alan Turing Project

A little while ago I was given a lift back to London by a friend. On the way back down the motorway we had one of those wide-ranging decisions that one can have – this one included the nature of trust, the likelihood of humans committing a crime if they knew nobody could see them and some complex relationship between star wars and popular rap albums.

My friend was far far too polite to accept fuel money at the time so when I was writing my thank you notes (which tend to go as postcards) I made the point of attached some money for fuel.

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This utterly confused all witnesses. The idea of attaching money to a postcard with a staple was apparently heresy. I had to have a number of conversations of the form

Them: you can’t do that

Me: why?

Them: because it will go missing!

Me: who will steal it?

Them: the postman!

Me: but he doesn’t steal the rest of my mail…

Them: how do you know?

So partly out of stubbornness I persisted with sending the letter – on the principle that I was willing to risk £10 to prove the innate trustworthiness of human beings in general and the honour of postmen in particular.

Several days later – I get the following photos by email:


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Here’s what I particularly love about this – when it reached the sorting office, someone clearly decided that the £10 was too much of a temptation, and so took the time to fetch and address by hand a new envelope – which strongly implies that the people at the Royal Mail are much more trustworthy than they even believe themselves to be 🙂

Yay for humans!


EDIT – in response to this comment “An article about theft based on an idea stolen from a TV show that aired three weeks ago. Irony!” from Bill. I’ve done a bit of googling (Reddit tells me the show in question is a Dave Gorman one on Dave) – I understand that the show in question was broadcast at 10pm on the 1st October (from this forum thread), which is (actually, only by a few hours) after I posted the thing – I’ve unredacted (new word?) enought of the picture to show the postmark… I would have say that the irony is that it’s an article about trust, that isn’t trusted 🙂



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U.S. Religious Zealots Sneak Into Scottish Schools Without Parents’ Knowledge to ‘Help’ With Lesson Plans

U.S. Religious Zealots Sneak Into Scottish Schools Without Parents’ Knowledge to ‘Help’ With Lesson Plans.

“British newspaper the Daily Record just revealed that a U.S.-dispatched group of Christians, affiliated with the Church of Christ, has been helping out in Scottish schools. Head teacher Sandra MacKenzie (pictured below) of the 400-pupil Kirktonholme Primary School in East Kilbride knew what the missionaries were up to — the paper says she even invited them – but the kids’ parents were left in the dark. They only realized what was happening when their children came home with Creationist books they had been given at assembly. “


I recommend reading the rest a U.S. Religious Zealots Sneak Into Scottish Schools Without Parents’ Knowledge to ‘Help’ With Lesson Plans.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things…

I’m okay with religion, I’ll happily give a spirited defence of someone’s belief in a supreme being. I’m more uneasy with the idea of presenting religion to children before they have shown an ability to distinguish between differing philosophies. I’m very uneasy about religion being presented as fact. I’m generally incensed by the idea of religion flat out contradicting scientific evidence.

To give the balanced view – this is external group helping out at a presumably short-staffed school, who handed out some books on Monday, presumably the teachers at the school, had a quick glance at them (the article commically mentions a parent saying “They looked fair enough at a glance and one had a dinosaur on the front”) and though ‘isn’t it lovely that these volenteers even bring materials for kids’) So I’d like to hesitate a little before we take torches and pitchforks to the teachers.

The thing that sticks in my mind here, is that when I was at a (Catholic) primary school, my class was given a copy of the New Testament each. If this Christian school in predominately Christian Scotland had given each kid a little copy of the bible, which (read literally) includes a range of things on which children can ask awkward questions of their parents, then I don’t believe that parents, papers or public would have batted an eye. You can certainly imagine a confused North American Missionary being deeply mistifed by the idea that the UK is fine with Leveticus, but fiercely objects to putting the message of gensis into a children’s book…

Orginal story in this piece…


Stripping Kindle DRM with Lego

From HackADay…. Stripping Kindle DRM with Lego.

HackADay has a nice post about a guy who has built a lego machine to take the copy-protection off his kindle ebooks – the machine presses the ‘next page’ button on his Kindle, then the space bar on his Mac to take a picture. These pictures are then sent to a cloud-based text recognition service. After a few hours of this there is a copy of the eBook in plain text format sitting in his computer.  You can read the story and see the video at HackADay I’m posting here because it’s a nice example of the key problem with copyright protection mechanism: sooner or later the format has to be delivered in a way that humans can consume, and at that point, machines can consume it in any format they like…