All that needs to be said about the Brit Awards

Prince Harry says it all (clipped from Brits)
Prince Harry expressing his opinion on the Brit Awards.

(OK, it’s the result of ITV/Brits’ technical incompetence rather than his real opinion, but it’s funny…)

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Reading the bills, because no-one else does

The Alcohol Bill appears to be being discussed by the Scottish media simply in terms of minimum pricing, which is exactly what the Government wants you to do. That there is other stuff in the bill that people might find objectionable (or not, of course) is simply not being mentioned anywhere other than in the last paragraph of every fifth BBC News Online article.

The good thing about the Scottish Parliament is that all new bills are uploaded online as PDFs (the bad thing is that the website is very poorly designed), so you can read it for yourself, with a full explanation also available. For those who don’t really want to because it’s written in jargon, here’s a summary interspersed with occasional ranting:

  • Minimum pricing for alcohol

The minimum price-per-unit is specified by ministers, and is calculated as a measure of (minimum price*(ABV percentage/100)*volume in litres*100). The explanatory document specifies that the minimum price could be 40p/unit, but of course it doesn’t have to be. Nevertheless, this won’t affect spirits or pub prices very much; taking a bottle of 12-year old Highland Park, this works out as 0.4*0.42*0.7*100 = £11.76. Highland Park usually sells for ~£20 in supermarkets.

The killer is that a multipack price must be at least (n items*minimum price), which means no more BOGOF/3-for-2 wine offers as well. So for a  12-pack of 440ml 5% Stella Artois, this would be (0.4*0.05*0.44*100)*12=(0.88)*12=£10.56, which is a bit more than this usually sells for.

What the bill does is make multipacks, for the most part, uneconomical.I find this somewhat annoying because I buy a large pack of beer, put a few cans in the fridge at a time and tend to drink even a 12-pack over a couple of months – it harms reasonable drinkers more than it harms those who are abusing it – but it’s not lethal.

  • Explicitly banning BOGOF/3 for 2 in off-sales

Just in case you didn’t notice the bit above.

  • Banning alcohol advertising outside designated areas

Almost certainly means that off-licenses will have to cover their windows (just after we finally admitted it didn’t help for bookies) and means that supermarkets won’t be able to promote in windows. The current alcohol laws mean that all alcohol offers must be in the designated area anyway, so all this’ll do is mean that offers can’t be promoted outside Row X. This doesn’t apply to non-alcoholic beer-branded merchandise, so supermarkets can sell you a Guinness glass in the glassware area.How thoughtful.

  • Requirement for age verification

Scottish licensees already do far too much age verification as it is; I was refused alcohol at an open-air Radiohead gig in Glasgow because I didn’t have any ID they found acceptable (despite being 23 at the time).

As I don’t drive and don’t carry my passport around with me, this is a perennial problem; I do carry quite a lot of identification, but no-one cares about my photo bus pass, credit cards (over 18 only, verified by your bank) or so on; it’s just passport, driving license, the national ID card that isn’t going to happen or the Portman Group give-us-your-personal-details blackmail card. The bill requires Challenge 21. As it’s already a crime to sell to someone under 18, quite harshly punishable, there is absolutely no need for this.

  • Allows ministers to add to and remove from the law at will

So they don’t have to shove any changes through the Parliament again. This is by far the sneakiest segment of the bill, a very New Labour-style measure fron the SNP. This will allow them to bring back the over-21s stupidity again…

  • Licensing boards can ban under-21s in their own area

…oh. Apparently this involves a “detrimental impact statement”, but section 9 gives them the power to do it unilaterally.

A thoroughly infantilising measure. Most of the worst thugs I’ve seen in pubs are Begbie types who are far older than 21, although that is of course a personal opinion rather than purest fact. Students can be annoying, but generally not too vicious; and in any case, a good proportion will be over 21 anyway. And how are you going to tell the difference between 21 and 18? It’s harder than 18/non-18.

See Challenge 21 for details. Grr.

  • “Social responsibility levy”

Licensing-board imposed fines for “bad” publicans, which could just be being in a “bad” area, or the Western Isles. A fine piece of spin from the Alistair Campbell Big Book Of Machiavellian Delights.

So there you go. Surprisingly, there isn’t a big Q&A article on the BBC News website with this information in it linked off every article about the Bill, without the ranting, as there is with most controversial Westminster issues. There’s certainly no excuse for the Herald or Scotsman, past the fact that Johnston Press don’t care about anything other than cash (most certainly not their website). I guess  that’s the Scottish media for you: media by press release, complacent and incompetent all.

Buttery my a…

So I’ve just flicked across onto MTV R and, as usual for an MTV channel, it’s running adverts. The one that got my attention was an ad for the spreadable margarine Flora Buttery fronted by Gary Rhodes, who must really need the money – at least Jamie Oliver and that berk doing the Aldi ads are fronting for decentish food products, not hydrogenated vegetable fats.

The main trick it does is the good old Pepsi Challenge format – Flora Buttery versus Lurpak Lighter Spreadable (not named in the voiceover but printed in an ultra-light Helvetica along the bottom) on crumpets. Lurpak Lighter Spreadable is, of course, the tasteless version. The ad then tries to make it look like most people preferred Flora Buttery in their taste test.

However, the best bit of the ad is where along the bottom of the screen (this must be an Ofcom mandate or something) it prints the true results:

Out of 200 people tested. 48% preferred Flora Buttery Taste, 45% Lurpak Lighter Spreaable, 7% had no preferences.

In other words, 96 people liked Flora Buttery better than Lurpak, but 90 people liked Lurpak better than Flora Buttery while 14 people couldn’t give a damn. Not only is the difference within the margin of error but it shows that in their own taste test, a very large number of people preferred the other brand anyway, and more people either did that or didn’t care than gave some preference, no matter how small, for Flora’s own product.

I believe the phrase is ‘epic fail’.

Avoiding DDOS: the PF way

I’ve run a FreeBSD server in my home for six years now. I love the capabilities home servers give you over your bog-standard wireless router – mine, for example, downloads all my POP3 email from various sources, runs it through a Bayesian-enhanced SpamAssassin and filters it through into various IMAP folders (on my boxes, usually Thunderbird or, on the laptop, Mail.app). But you’ve got to be very careful with this, and apart from a front-facing Postfix for email directed at my dynamic DNS domain I have had no regularly open ports. What if I want to access my email from work, for instance?

For this, I’d like to use SSH forwarding; putting the IMAP port through to a local port on the machine I’m using, with the actual data transferred securely over the Internet and where no-one can listen in, even if I’m on some crappy open wireless somewhere. SSH is configured to only accept public key authentication, and to refuse all password access – if you try connecting from a normal SSH client without a relevant key, you get dumped back to your command line with my snidely worded banner, and a “No password access” message. The only public key is in my possession and, of course, is passworded.

Despite this, having open SSH attracts scumbags like paparazzi to Amy Winehouse and the system I use for my firewall (a 733MHz Pentium-III with 256MB RAM) simply can’t cope with thousands of individual connections doing ineffectual dictionary attacks on usernames over Virgin’s 20Mbit connection; it locks up with a massive load average somewhere in the “c”‘s. As an added bonus, this of course eats my “unlimited” download cap during that particular point of the day.

How, therefore, can I balance my security with my convenience? The answer is the same thing I use to do my NAT forwarding, the pf packet filtering firewall.

pf originated with OpenBSD, and was introduced into FreeBSD somewhere around 5.3: I switched from FreeBSD’s own ipfw2 when I upgraded from 4.x to 6.x. As a bonus, pf allows dynamic lists to be built up of IPs that trigger specific rules, allowing for dynamic blocking of SSH offenders.

After my initial “block in” rule in my pf.conf, I define a table:

block in

table <abusive_hosts> persist
block quick from <abusive_hosts>

This defines a list of abusive hosts, traffic from which is blocked without any further discussion (with pf, applicable rules lower down the list take precidence over rules further up unless ‘quick’ is provided, which cuts off further parsing.) You can manually add to this table like so:

pfctl -t abusive_hosts -Tadd <IP address>

Or, more interestingly, you can add to it programatically. After my catch-all NAT rules, I make a rule to allow access to the local SSH port – with a catch.

pass in on $ext_if proto tcp to ($ext_if) port ssh flags S/SA keep state \
        (max-src-conn 10, max-src-conn-rate 6/30, overload <abusive_hosts> flush global)

This allows up to ten simultaneous connections from a particular SSH port, or up to six within thirty seconds. flush kills the states for previously OK connections when it over-runs; global kills all connections from the IP. And the overload rule causes all those things which fail the rule to be pushed into the abusive_hosts table, meaning anything that’s bad and repeatedly connects to my SSH port end up going straight to null.

And this works, too. Using the pfctl command, you can view the contents of the table. I’ll pass it first through awk to remove the spacing, aiding with xargs for further piping, and then through “wc -l” to get the line count:

orpheus# pfctl -t abusive_hosts -Tshow | awk '{print $1}' | wc -l
      22

Removing ‘| wc -l’ gets you a list of IPs, and putting ‘xargs -n 1 host’ there instead gets you a list of the hostnames associated with each of the IPs which can give you an interesting picture: at least a couple of them right now are IPs on American cable modems who are almost certainly compromised home users.

That’s twenty-two abusive hosts who’ve met my SSH blackhole since I last rebooted my machine, who would otherwise have been a problem: pfctl -sr -v (which is sent to you in your nightly root emails) tells me that right now I’ve blocked 5.3MB of unwanted traffic from these hosts since I last rebooted 18 days ago, and I’m sure I’d have got much more if they hadn’t started getting nothing but silence from my machines since the point of blocking.

I’ve found this immeasurably useful for increasing my box’s uptime and overall reliability, which helps prove that a PIII type machine is still good enough for quite a lot of things. And if you click the link to read further, I’ve posted my complete (and only slightly altered) pf.conf for anyone’s interest.

Continue reading “Avoiding DDOS: the PF way”

Pillocks on 606

Whose smart idea was it to put up 606 message boards on the Sol Campbell racism controversy without once, as far as I can see, actually describing what the hell happened anywhere visible? The only people to actually report what was being said are of all people the Daily Mail, and The Guardian has a description of the chant as used in 2006. It’s all way beyond the line – a combination of homophobia (aimed at a straight man!) and lynching references in a song based on “Lord of the Dance” and a jolly chant along the lines that he’s a black guy who likes it up him.

Usual stupidity here, but good to see it called out for once – Croatia only got fined £15,000 for full-on racist chanting at the England team, despite their long history of such things. Message boards on things like this are invariably filled with “anti-PC” bores, idiots and occasionally someone with sense. Sometimes it’s worth deconstructing, so what are the shining wits (sic) on 606 saying?

comment by sandcastlejim (U7681251) / posted Yesterday

it’s just a bit of banter – sticks and stones and all that. the world has gone soft.

Uh-huh. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but threatening a footballer with lynching and AIDS (not necessarily in that order) because he left your team on a Bosman seven years ago after saying he wouldn’t is perfectly A-OK. Got it. Right.

You are a moron, aren’t you?

comment by With Big Phil We Must (U7876572) / posted 8 Hours Ago

does anyone think that the media and football clubs are becoming a bit too Feminized ?

i mean football has always been like this maybe its deemed as racial but if a former club cant give an ex player stick then whats the point goin to a game ..its all about Banter a release from pressure of work/home going to a game its for fun and enjoyment
In this matter i think people are being too politically correct and as hard as it is for me to say i think Sours fans did nothing wrong …and nothing more abusive than most teams fans give to old players who left to join a hated rival

You wont be able to cheer a goal soon

Or at least I hope that you won’t. And it’s “feminised”, at least if you’re not American; it doesn’t have a capital and it doesn’t have a “z”.

And that’s a really poor insult, too. “The worst thing I can say about you… is that you’re like a girl! GIRL!”

comment by Deadly Ledley (U2941764) / posted 3 Hours Ago

the lord of the dance song isnt racist

if the player was prepared to sell out his own fans, he should be prepared to take the backlash. By responding like this, he has shown that he has a fragile mind and can’t handle the boo boys

Oh dear. This one’s a snide reference to the man’s depressive episode in early 2006. How low can you go?

Actually, why should I even bother? They’re really condemning themselves. The real pillocks here are the BBC for opening up a message board where no useful Internet discussion can ever be achieved (see also Have Your Say, scotsman.com and any long thread on Comment Is Free.) The others are just attracted to it.

War!

Russia has invaded Georgia and is apparently bombing civilian targets. It’s like the old Russia never left. In the meantime, CNN is showing Wolf Blitzer moaning repetitively about John Edwards shagging a campaign employee in 2006 for a short period of time. How meaningful.

I’m back, by the way. I’ve had a bunch of failed drafts over the last few months, but that should soon be over. So more blogging coming soon…

Coming up tonight – Eurovision 2008 liveblogging

Later tonight, why not come over to Twitter and watch my Eurovision 2008 live blog? (If Twitter’s not working, I’ll do it here.) I like Sebastian Tellier. I don’t think our entry’s the worst thing we’ve ever put in; not when our last few included Scooch and Daz Sampson. Who knows, we might even come in halfway through the table… hah.

What follows behind the “continue reading” link is a reprint of my Twittering for the Your Decision show with added explanatory and exclamatory comments.

Continue reading “Coming up tonight – Eurovision 2008 liveblogging”

I’m speechless

The Media Guardian “Media Monkey” section (may need free registration) reports on the ‘Shaftas’, a negative award ceremony for the worst sort of hack…

Heat magazine won worst magazine of the year for their infamous tasteless stickers stunt.

This was a sticker featuring a picture of Katie “Jordan” Price’s profoundly disabled five-year-old son with the insignia “Harvey wants to eat me!“. This was so amazingly dreadfully out of tune – and, what’s more, widely reported – that Heat were forced into apologising. Words cannot describe how uncommon an event that is.

Media Guardian then however report an incident that didn’t make it to the press at large, unless you’re a reader of Loaded “magazine” (a publication that, all else being equal, should have been snuffed out at birth):

But they failed to show up so the award was given to Loaded instead for the magazine’s “110 birds we’d like to bone” feature. Even the hardened Shaftas audience shook their heads at Loaded’s inclusion of Kate McCann in this list, with a caption which read: “Sensitive one this but there’s nothing more erotic than a pained woman in need of some good lovin”. Hmmm.

Hmmm is about right. “Sensitive one this”? Kate McCann? That’s gall. That’s so amazingly tasteless I’m actually mostly speechless. Even most b3tans won’t go down to that level, and those that do at least are usually trying to be funny rather than creepy.

And that is creepy. It’s practically on ‘sick stalker’ level.

Loaded editor Martin Daubney bounced onto the stage to accept the award, saying: “I would love to blame a reporter but I wrote that myself.” After it was pointed out that made him a “truly dreadful human being”, he countered: “And I’m paid for it.” Monkey predicts future Shaftas greatness for this man.

Why do people buy Loaded magazine anyway? It’s not even very good porn, and it’s obviously from this not at all funny, so why bother?

The rest of the awards are interesting, bashing Richard Desmond and the usual suspects; worth a look.

For your convenience

A little frustrated right now: not only have my Radiohead tickets been held by Special Mail Service (the people who posted my passport to the wrong address a few years back) with the reference number I need to arrange redelivery spoken once by an automated voice over my mobile with no pen handy and no physical evidence they’ve been, but I’ve got a parcel from an online vendor sent through Initial Citylink which they failed to deliver.

I didn’t get carded, but a check on the tracking system told me that the parcel had attempted delivery; I call Citylink and they tell me that they don’t card in “secure” doorways (although mine isn’t very secure, and neither FedEx or Royal Mail have a problem carding me at all). This wouldn’t be a problem normally because Citylink open their depots quite late and I expected to be able to quickly go to the one at South Gyle (a number 22 bus away) and pick it up.

But there isn’t a South Gyle depot; it closed two months ago. They’ve moved to Livingston. As if that’s efficient for the Edinburgh area; it makes it inaccessible to anyone without a car or a tolerance for long, roundabout journeys on First Bus. And since I’m at work all day and since Citylink won’t change my address over the phone to my workplace my best hopes of getting the parcel are leaving it with my neighbours, which I’ve gone for as the least worst option.

There was an article in the Guardian business section yesterday about Citylink making large losses and dealing with it by… closing depots. Which will make people hate them more and try even harder to avoid them. I certainly won’t make the mistake of buying computer kit from a Citylink-only vendor again; and that without a bad experience before.

(And Radiohead, why SMS? You know they suck from the discbox experience; mine took way over a week to get here. Why continue with them? Why?)

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