All posts by rune

Slow-cooked lamb and butternut squash curry.

This is our favourite slow-cooked curry. It’s super easy, feeds loads and tastes really good. Ingredients

  • 2 – 2.5 lb diced lamb
  • one to one and a half butternut squash, depending on size, diced.
  • four large onions, chopped
  • 1 large jar of  quality curry paste. I use Pataks paste, we like the madras.
  • A few birds eye chillies, if you like extra spice
  • 4 – 7 teaspoons of brown sugar, to taste
  • two tins of chopped tomatoes
  • two tbsp of oil

Method

  1. Gently fry the onions on the oil until the begin to go translucent.
  2. Meanwhile, add the butternut squash, tomatoes and sugar to a large slow cooker and set to medium heat.
  3. Add the curry paste and fry for a few more mins.
  4. Add the chillies (if required) and the lamb and fry on a high heat for a few minutes to seal the meat.
  5. Add the meat / onion / curry paste mix to slow cooker and mix it up.
  6. Fill the curry paste jar half full with water, replace lid and shake.
  7. Poor the water into the pan and bring to the boil whilst stirring to deglaze the pan.
  8. Empty the water from the pan into the slow cooker and stir.
  9. Cover and cook until the butternut squash and meat falls apart easily when pushed against the side of the pot with a spoon. This will take approximately six hours. Do not open the slow cooker to test until at least five hours has passed as every time you open the slow cooker, you lose heat and it can extend the cooking time significantly.
  10. When cooked turn off slow cooker and allow to rest, preferably for at least an hour.
  11. Serve on basmati rice.

This dish works great with just about any good curry paste, just adjust the ingredients and seasoning to suit. It tastes even better if refrigerated overnight prior to serving. It keeps for ages in the ‘fridge and also freezes well.

Are online petition and lobbying groups just political parties in disguise? (Why I won’t share online petitions).

We’ve all done it; you receive a request to sign a petition from an organisation like 38 Degrees via email or Facebook and you sign and select the options to share with friends via twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. It’s easy, quick and it doesn’t require much thought or effort.

These organisations claim to be non-political; to represent the masses without involving themselves in party politics but is this true? Humans have a tendency to form social groups, to follow, to succumb to peer pressure. Every time you share a petition on-line you’re using peer pressure to help these organsations coerce your friends into supporting their point of view. Organisations like 38 Degrees use inclusive language to make the reader feel a rapport, a belonging to the group at large. There is a strong psychological and sociological basis for this. Humans want, even need, to feel part of a group. The more of your friends who openly support these causes, the more likely you are to support them. A social network creates an implied trust and by extension, when an idea is shared in a social network it creates the same implied trust of the idea and it’s source in your network. Are you really so confident in the source and intention of a petition that you’re willing to personally vouch for it’s integrity? The same theory is used in sales and marketing and yes, also by political parties. Many of these petitions carry the equivalent of a tabloid headline. Emotive language is used to invoke an emotional response without proper consideration of the subject matter. This reaction makes it very easy to manipulate the masses in to showing support for an idea with very little understanding of the issues. Once you’ve shown support for the idea, you’re encouraged to use your social influence to convince your friends to do the same. This process could easily be manipulated. Petitions could be crafted to suggest successively more extreme ideas and many would not notice the resultant gradual erosion of their freedoms and extremism creeping in post by post. History has shown us that governments often go through the transition to extremism slowly, one seemingly reasonable change at a time.

Organisations like 38 degrees are, to me, overtly political even though they claim not to be. It could be argued that they are not party-political in the traditional sense as they seek to influence existing MPs regardless of party. Another argument is that they are a party themselves and should therefore “come out” and register their intention as such.

These sort of organisations, often with good intentions, seek to influence and change the current climate. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. However, I feel that this process should not be pressured. To force your ideas on someone is not freedom. People should be encouraged to understand issues and respond to them, not to react emotionally to tabloid headlines. To illustrate this point, imagine if every Daily Mail headline had a petition attached which readers were asked to sign immediately. I think we’d see some dangerous ideas seeing support when in reality many readers, with proper analysis of the issues, would not agree.

We have to accept that tabloid journalism and sensationalism is part of the political climate in the UK. I wonder if it’s safe, however, for this type of comment and political lobbying to be so closely linked.

So what can you do about it? Personally, I’ve made a decision to not share petitions on Facebook or Twitter any more. If you chose to sign a petition, do so after you’ve read the full text and understand the issues. If you don’t understand, you can always save signing for when you have enough information. Perhaps, abstinence from this debate is more appropriate? Sometimes it’s best to leave it to those who do understand. It used to be considered impolite to impose your political views on your friends and I feel it still should be. Remember, your Facebook friends don’t ask your opinion before every petition post. In this sense they are unsolicited, like spam, and have a real potential to cause annoyance and division between friends.

If you do choose to sign a petition or support a cause, that’s your decision, but don’t help the lobbying organisations pressure everyone else into thinking the same by exploiting your social networks to do so. If you need to share an idea you feel is important, do it personally, write something yourself and let your readers decide.

Black History?

My daughter’s school class talked about “black history” last week. They spoke about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Now, whilst these people both have historically significant stories, is this not more American history?

I am puzzled why there appears to have been no mention of Africa and the common heritage of all African-descended peoples, why there was no mention of other signficant figures; there are plenty to choose from. Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvery, the list could go on, The aniversary of Halie Selassie’s famous “war” speech to the UN was on the fourth of this month.

Now I know, it’s only middle-school level and I can’t expect too much. However, the apartehied regime in South Africa, for example, was within my lifetime. Nelson Mandella was mentioned a lot in the news when I was young and the links between the regime in South Africa and the UK are arguably stronger than those between the UK and the USA. The same is true with Jamaica, being a former British colony. We also have a connection to India and hence to the life of Gandhi. Should black history not encompass more than just the USA; the majority of black peoples worldwide live outside of the USA.

I can’t help think that the school have paid lip-service to this part of the curriculm by providing a small snapshot of Black people in American culture. Perhaps if I lived in a more culturally-diverse area this would not be the case. I wonder if schools in more culturally diverse areas are more likely to provide a broader view of this subject. Now I know, all of this is probably not deliberate, the teachers probably have little knowledge of the subject matter themselves and even less time to research it. The lesson plan probably originated from a Google search which turned up american websites. However, should a broader view of this huge chunk of international history be more integrated into the school curriculm and by so doing understanding be cultivated, even in areas of lower cultural diversity?

Why don’t banks use digital signatures to stamp out phishing?

Ever wondered why banks don’t offer optional digital signatures on all of their messages to you, or even full encryption of messages? My ISP does it, why not banks? This has the potential to stamp out Phishing scams for good. It’s backwards compatible too. The processing power required is not a huge issue nowadays.

But, it’s not in the bank’s best interest to stamp out these scams. Why you ask? The answer is simple. Contrary to popular belief, cases of external hacks getting to sensitive bank data are very, very, very, rare. So rare as to be almost impossible. What is more prevalent is compromise involving some human, internal element. The public’s perception that external Phising or hacking attempts are responsible for data being compromised, cards being cloned, accounts being accessed, is an extremely useful diversion for the banks because it makes the average person assume that the threat is external and the bank is hence still trustworthy and safe. This is, however, not the case. Bank staff are no more trustworthy or immune to coercion and blackmail than anyone else. If inteligence organisations can be compromised, private companies can be compromised easier. In my entire time working in the security field I have never seen an external attack on a secure system succeed.

So, back to our phising. If the bank can blame an issue on phishing, you continue to trust your bank with your money, which is very important to their continued profit.

The same goes for credit and debit card fraud. I was told by my bank that most fraud happens because armies of people in the third-world are paid to type in random credit card numbers all day. This is simply not true. Most credit card numbers are compromised either at the retailer or at the bank, full stop.

So, consider this. Does your bank really care about your security? Absolutely not, what they care about is profit. Security can be reduced down to a risk on paper. They can insure against a risk, quantify it, budget for it and continue to make profit. Properly securing against these threats is expensive, more so than accepting the risk, so they accept the risk and carry on, much as a supermarket factors the cost of theft into product prices. They continue to make profit, so the board is happy.

Remember: banks don’t care about you, they care about your money, end of story.

Is the government’s “Bums on seats” approach to education damaging our children?

I’ve been thinking about the government’s decision to impose fines for non-attendance on parents and the tightening up of the regulations around when a child can be absent from school and I can’t help but think that this approach cannot be productive. We seem to be seeing a gradual but relentless erosion of the rights of the parent and the child in favour of having our children’s “bums on seats” in the classroom.

The government fails to recognise that education and learning is much, much, more than just learning to a pre-determined academic standard in a classroom. If, as parents, we have a responsibility to ensure our children receive an education it follows that we also have a right to have our say in what that education involves. We need to reclaim that right.

The decision by the government to put a blanket ban on term-time holidays and other trips is a case in point. For many families a holiday is their time to re-connect as a cohesive unit. With many parents working full time and children in school every day, families become disjointed; disconnected from each other. Holidays have huge emotional and educational benefits, as the family experiences different environment and cultures as a joined-up unit. It is a time for parents to enjoy time with their children and a chance for children to see their parents relaxing and having fun. A connected, close, family unit will help the child cope with stressful situations not just now but potentialy for life. These children will require less support from the system and potentially be less likely to be involved with the police and other services. For this reason alone, it makes sense to encourage a cohesive family unit. For some it is simply impossible to take holidays during the official school holiday time because of the costs involved. Unscrupulous holliday companies have realised that they have a capitve audience and have inflated their prices so much as to make holidays at thise time unaffordable for many.

What about a family educational trip, for example a trip to one of the national museums in London? Many schools are so under pressure to deliver the national curriculm and so afraid of health and safety law that children simply do not go on trips such as this any more. Children should not have to miss out on the hugely rich, multisensory educational experiences avaliable on these type of trips because of this. What about reconnecting with our environment? Being out in “nature” is arguably one of the most important things our children can experience when they are young to develop a healthy respect for their environment when they are older.

If schools can’t offer these experiences, if they are not required to listen to our views as parents with regards to our children’s education, we as parents should be free to decide that these type of experiences are important to our children’s education and well-being. We should be able to choose to take our children out of school so that they can experience a richer, wider educational experience than our schools can offer.

It is often stated that some parents will not take attendance seriously if there is not a financial penalty for non-attendance. To proponents of this argument, I would ask, why does the child not want to attend school? Most children who do not want to attend school feel this way because there is a problem that needs adressing. Forcing parents to force children to attend school does not help their learning and it certainly does not help the relationship between parent and child. This approach can damage a child’s approach to learning for life and damage their relationship with their parents irreparably. Instead, we should ask, what is the school not doing to support and engage this child and make them want to attend school and interact with their peers? Perhaps we should be fining the school or the Local Education Authority for non-attendance as they have obviously failed in their duty to support, engage, nurture and encourage the growing minds that they are entrusted with.

What about periods of illness? I hear stories of schoools requiring ridiculous proof of children’s illness, sometimes so invasive that it could be considered as harassment. Schools should accept proof of ilness on the same basis as if you were off work. This implication that when children are off ill, the parent is lying and proof needs to be provided is simply unacceptable.

So, parents, let’s reclaim our rights and assert our moral responsiblity to do the best for our children. Our government needs to listen. We are not bad parents just because our children have time off of school. We as parents know what’s best for our children and we have a right to be listened to.

Thought for today

I’m not anti-system. I will support systems that work for the good of society and peacefully object to those that don’t.

I’m not anti-government. I will support a form of government that I broadly trust and believe in and respects my rights as an individual.

I’m not anti-state. I will support a state which enables me to be a free and independent individual and to live my life as I choose without fear of discrimination hate and violence from others. In return I will not show discrimination, hate and violence to others.

I’m not anti-business. I will support businesses that act ethically where they can, in the best interests of human kind. I will do my best to limit my contact with those that don’t.

I’m not anti police. I welcome a police force that protects my human right to live as I choose without fear of violence, discrimination or prejudice but does not intrude on my right of privacy or my right of choice.

So, there’s some themes here:

1) Respect for the individual

2) How does the above apply to the current state of affairs?

3) Tolerance. Are we moving in the right direction? If so, maybe some patience is required and trust in the belief that we will get there.

4) Responsibility. We have a responsibility to society to support that which is good within our society and object to that which is not. Of course, the debate starts when we all try to agree on what’s good.

5) Misinformation. Whether it’s deliberate or unintentional, it clouds the issue greatly. The Internet and the way it makes it so easy for everyone to publish compounds this issue. Before you make a judgment, question the validity of your sources.

Diaspora* – a new social media platform

Many of you use Facebook. However, with decreasing privacy and the fact that FB own your personal data, many are looking for a new social media platform where control can be retained over your data. Enter Diaspora*.

Diaspora* is a new social media platform based on a federated architecture. This means that you can host your data on any one of many public servers, or run your own. The network handles distribution of posts to your friends in much the same way as email; your posts are delivered to your friend’s server directly, there is no central system. This is great for resilience and it is also great for privacy as only the data you specifically allow to leave your server ever does.

There is no advertising on Diaspora*. It features a nice clean, simple web interface and also a mobile site, Android and iPhone apps, just like Facebook does.

I am currently testing a new community Diaspora* server (or Pod, as they are known) with the view of offering access to it to all my friends so we can all start the migration away from Facebook together. Don’t worry though, Diaspora* allows you to cross-post your status to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr automatically, if you like. This makes the transition easy to manage as your friends who have not yet made the switch can still see your posts.

If course, you’re welcome to use another Pod. One such public Pod is joindiaspora.com, which is run by the founders of Diaspora*.

The first step towards avoiding internet censorship and control (alternative DNS Roots, opennic and why you should care)

As governments and corporations look to exert more control over the internet the issue of avoiding internet censorship and promoting freedom of speech has become a central issue in shaping our internet for the future. To ensure that information is both free and uncensored it is imperative that political and economical forces are not able to unfairly modify the internet architecture for their own purposes. At the centre of this is issue is the Domain Name Service (DNS).

DNS is a directory of computers and their associated names, much like a ‘phone book. When you type an address in to your browser (for example, www.google.co.uk) your computer asks the DNS service to find the IP address that is associated with this address so your computer knows where to connect to to get the page you have requested. The DNS is a hierachical structure, made up of a number of Top Level Domains (TLDs). These TLDs are the right-most part of the adrress, like the .com, .net, .co.uk etc that we all know.

Anyone can run a DNS server. However, to resolve the domains we all know, your server needs to talk to the top-level or root servers. These servers are run by corporations and are distributed around the world. The overall administration of the DNS and IP addressing falls to an organisation called Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a non-profit organisation which was set up by the US Federal Government to control DNS, which was previously within US Federal remit. The US federal government has retained influence over ICANN, not least because ICANN is operated within US jurisdiction. ICANN charges a large amount of money for the privilege of setting up a TLD or being a reseller for domains within a TLD, which used to be free when the internet was first created.

DNS can also be used to track your internet access. This is because every site you visit generates a DNS request, which can be logged, leaving a record of all of the hosts on the internet that you connect to. DNS can also be used to censor your access; if a domain is removed or blocked from DNS, you cannot resolve the domain name to the IP address on which it is hosted, thus stopping access to the domain. Censorship using DNS blocking has already been implemented in many countries.

However, there is a solution to this invasion of your privacy. Alternate DNS root systems can be used which do not have such censorship. This also provide an added bonus: free to register domains and TLDs, thus making DNS free, open and globally distributed, as it was always intended to be.

One such alternative root provider is opennic. Opennic allows you to resolve a host of new TLDs whilst still allowing access to the existing, ICANN administered domains. It’s easy to use, it just takes a simple configuration change on your PC to benefit. Click this link for more discussion on why this is a good idea and to find out how to make the simple change.

So there we are. Object to censorship, control and artificial costs. Join me in using opennic now and keep internet freedom alive.

IPv6 is here to stay but are vendors taking it seriously?

World IPv6 day has come and gone and many companies worldwide now have a permanent IPv6 presence. ISP’s are now rolling out IPv6 to customers and are restricting the number of IPv4 addresses offered. These moves are welcome to those ready to adopt IPv6 but are vendors stepping up to provide IPv6 enabled devices? My personal experience says that they are not.

I recently contacted Siemens to see if my Giagset VoIP DECT phone would recieve a firmware update enabling it for IPv6. The answer I got was a definite no. This is hardly surprising, the device is a couple of years old. However, the email which i received went on to say that Siemens currently have no DECT VoIP bases that provide IPv6 functionality at all.

In the consumer router market, the story is much the same. There are still only a small number of routers that can suppport IPv6 and those that do often suffer from buggy, incomplete or non-compliant implementations. This makes the IPv6 path a frustrating one for early adopters such as myself. I don’t get the feeling that vendors are seeing IPv6 as important at the moment. I really hope this changes soon.