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European Court of Human Rights will hear case about GCHQ spying


This is huge news: the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear a challenge to bulk Internet surveillance by the UK spy agency GCHQ. The case was brought by Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and English PEN, and German Internet activist Constanze Kurz. This is a rare instance of "impact litigation" in the UK, where a bad law or practice can be ended swiftly and decisively by having a court hear a test-case about the law and rule on its constitutionality. This tactic has been incredibly effective in the US -- EFF's famous Bernstein victory, which legalized strong cryptography, is a good example -- but has been less available to UK activists.

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Great Firewall of Cameron blocks game update because "XerathMageChainsExtended" contains "sex"

Redditor LolBoopje discovered that the UK's Great Firewall of Cameron -- the national censorwall put in place by the prime minister -- was blocking updates to the game League of Legends. The update archive contained two files, "VarusExpirationTimer.luaobj" and "XerathMageChainsExtended.luaobj" that had the word "sex" in them, triggering the censorship algorithm. The censorship is totally silent -- users got a "file not found" error -- and it was only some very clever sleuthing that revealed the error.

I've written at length about the worse-than-useless nature of censorware as a means of keeping kids from seeing bad stuff. One of the key points to note here is that silent failure: there is no way of telling how many of the timeouts, file-not-found errors, and other miscellaneous bugs in your daily Web experience are caused by the Great Firewall, and that is by design. It is a system that is intended to make it impossible to tell if it's working. That's not going to be pretty.

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UK Prime Minister's special advisor wants prison for people who watch TV programmes the wrong way


The UK Conservative MP Mike Weatherley spoke at a second reading of the Intellectual Property Bill in Parliament and called for prison sentences for "persistent" downloaders. Mr Weatherley is a former entertainment industry executive and is Prime Minister Cameron's Intellectual Property advisor. He also defended the idea of disconnecting families from the Internet if their router is implicated in accused acts of copyright infringement.

In Weatherley's view, "piracy" is the same as "theft." He's saying that if you listen to a song the wrong way -- by torrenting it, rather than listening to it on Spotify -- you should go to jail. He's saying that if you watch a TV programme using Bittorrent instead of Iplayer, that the state should pay to imprison you and you should be deprived of your liberty; but if you watch that same program in the same window on the same screen in the same place, but you get it from Iplayer, you're in the clear.

Prison for watching TV the wrong way -- no wonder they're called the Nasty Party.

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Help ORG fund a legal director!

Ed from the UK Open Rights Group writes, "In the next month Open Rights Group will be recruiting a Legal Director to help us intervene in crucial digital rights court cases and bring real legal expertise to our work. We can't let government and big web companies go unchallenged in the courts. We already have the funding to take on a part-time Legal Director. But to bring in a full-time experienced lawyer who can drive ambitious legal projects we're relying on lots of new supporters joining ORG."

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Pirate Cinema and Homeland covers shortlisted for the Kitschie for best cover


The Kitschies are a British award for science fiction and fantasy; every year they choose some marvellous books to honour. This year, I'm proud and pleased announce that they've shortlisted the UK editions of my novels Pirate Cinema and Homeland for the "Inky Tentacle" award for best cover. Both covers were designed by the studio Amazing15 for my British publishers, Titan Books. I'm indebted to the judging panel and the Kitchie volunteers -- thank you!

Food studio that makes edible fireworks, four-ton punchbowls, and floats a steamship in 55K litres of green jelly

Bompas and Parr are a London-based "food-nerd" studio that makes weird and amazing foodstuffs, including an edible fireworks display for New Years Eve that showered revelers with strawberry smoke, peach-flavored snow, orange bubbles and banana confetti. In a fascinating profile in Wired, they reveal something of their methodology and their portfolio, which sounds delicious and ambitious.

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Elaborate, detailed Star Wars dioramas


Carl "Boutros77" BouMansour is a fine artist and modeller in the UK who makes elaborate diaoramas based on science fiction movies, especially Star Wars. These are lavishly documented in his Flickr sets. There's a lot to love here, but I recommend starting with the pictures of the Cantina on Tatooine. It's such an ambitious miniature set, and the attention to detail left me amazed and delighted.

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Bartender places Tony Blair under citizen's arrest for unprovoked war against Iraq


Twiggy Garcia, a bartender at the east London restaurant Tramshed -- which is right around the corner from me! -- interrupted former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's dinner to place him under citizen's arrest and ask him to come to a police station to hear charges for his decision "to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq." The war criminal smiled winningly and tried to change the subject to Syria, while his offspring hurried away to get their private muscle. The bartender, sensing an impending beat-down, left, quitting.

I'm sorry he quit. I'd have booked a table at Tramshed for the express purpose of buying him a drink. If you're interested in placing Tony Blair under arrest, you can learn more at Arrestblair.org.

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Bugle alarm clock

Dominic Wilcox made this Bugle Alarm Clock for a window at Selfridges department store in London: "This prototype alarm clock is fitted with mini air compressor and thin vibrating rubber membrane to mimic lip vibrations."

4: Bugle Alarm Clock (via WTBW)

(Photo: Piotr Gaska)

Mr Chicken: the genius who paints London's fried-chicken signs


London's fried chicken restaurants are a bizarre and wonderful institution -- generally, they have American-ish names (Dixy Fried Chicken, Southern Fried Chicken, Carolina Fried Chicken) and KFC-ish logos, all carefully titrated to be just far enough from the KFC version to keep the Colonel's savage attack-lawyers at bay. I photograph these places semi-compulsively, but I never knew (until today) that all their signs were designed by a single virtuoso fried-chicken sign-painter named Morris "Mr Chicken" Cassanova, who warrants his own chapter in Siâron Hughes's 2009 book Chicken: Low Art, High Calorie. A post on Creative Review excerpts Hughes's interview with Mr Chicken:

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Events for London hackers and designers who want a better world

Carla sez, "There are two upcoming ways for designers and coders to put a little good out into the world. First, you can land a job that lets you spend your time making positive social change. On February 6 join WebVisions at Essence in London for short presentations from Essence Digital, Buddy App, PaveGen, Streetbank, and Sidekick Studios. Learn different ways that you can turn your vocation into a force for good. Second, be a part of WebVisions' Hackathon for Social Good on February 8. Held at Fjord London, programmers and designers will spend the day working collaboratively to build programs and applications that benefit local nonprofits." Cory 1

What's the most profitable price for an ebook?



Rachel Willmer, who runs the excellent ebook price-comparison site Luzme, summarizes the price-preference data she's captured from her customers. By measuring the point at which readers are willing to buy ebooks (whose prices are variable) and the volumes generated at each price-point, her findings suggest the optimal price for ebooks in different territories. This is important work: because ebooks have almost no marginal cost (that is, all their costs are fixed through production, so each copy sold adds almost nothing to the publisher's cost), there's lots more flexibility pricing strategies. If you make more by pricing your book at $0.01 than you do at $10, the right thing to do is price it at a penny and rake it in -- a rational business wants to maximize its profits, not the amount that each customer spends (I wrote about this at length in 2010).

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Portraits of London's 19th century poor


Thomas Lord Busby's 1820 volume Costume Of The Lower Orders was part of a genre of books that featured colourful paintings depicting working people in the streets of London, generally viewed through the lens of an aristocratic voyeur. They're a kind of visual companion to Mayhew's classic London Labour and the London Poor (though this latter dates 20 years after Busby's book).

Another important volume is Thomas Rowlandson's Characteristic Series of the Lower Orders, which Spitalfields Life has excerpted in two posts (1, 2).

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The Borribles are back!


I've been posting here about The Borribles for more than a decade (proof!). Michael de Larrabeiti's young adult fantasy trilogy from the 1980s remains among my most favourite examples of both YA literature and literature about London. The books detail the lives of the Borribles, a race of elfin, pointy-eared changelings, whose number swells every time a naughty child simply walks away from home and begins a new life as an immortal, pointy-eared trickster. The Borribles live by a strict code: they never work, only thieve; they do not handle or covet money; they squat in derelict buildings, and they must earn their names by completing a daring adventure, such as taking up arms against the hateful Rumbles, a race of covetous, materialistic overgrown rodents who inhabit an underground world called Rumbledom.

Today, Tor UK is relaunching The Borribles for a new generation as three ebooks with lots of extra art and other supplementary material. They're also still publishing the UK omnibus edition a (the great Tor Teen US paperbacks are sadly out of print, though easy enough to get used). Only the ebook comes with China Mieville's wonderful introduction.

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UK consultation on orphan works

The UK's Intellectual Property Office has opened a consultation into orphan works -- works that are still in copyright but whose copyright holder can't be ascertained or located. The US Supreme Court case Eldred v Ashcroft heard that 98 percent of the works in copyright are orphans, and this problem will only get worse as the duration of copyright keeps on getting extended.

Parliament enacted the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, which set out a plan for letting people buy and use orphan works with an escrow fund for absentee rightsholders. Now, the IPO is seeking opinions on how that system should run.

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