The significance of the ECJ ruling

“This time, Washington and its business allies cannot compel Europe to simply submit to U.S. values and interests, as they have in the past to great effect; such as when they pressured European airlines to hand over passenger data for European travellers or European banks to do the same for international money transfers after 9/11. In fact, they now have relatively few ways to influence Europe’s national privacy authorities, and even fewer ways to pressure the European Court of Justice. They may be able to influence forthcoming legislation, but they will not be able to overturn it. Nor can the United States rely on moral force. It is no longer the acknowledged protector of civil liberties on the Internet. To maintain legitimacy, it has to engage with other states that have valid, if different, civil rights concerns.”

From an excellent Foreign Affairs piece by Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman on the implications of the European Court of Justice ruling about the “right to be forgotten”.

HDR images

I use PhotoShop CS and been wondering if the High Dynamic Range tools in CS2 would make it worth thinking about an upgrade. This astonishing picture of Tokyo by night has made me think it might be time to think about it. Basically HDR enables one to create a composite image from a number of photographs made with different exposures, thereby increasing the dynamic range of the image. Useful introduction here. There’s also a HDR pool on Flickr.

Thanks to James Cridland for the link.

Quote of the Day

No man can make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he himself could only do a little.

My countryman, Edmund Burke (1729-1797). It’s why I’m boycotting the US for as long as the Bush-Cheney regime lasts, somewhat to the bafflement and chagrin of my liberal American friends. Besides, I don’t want to run the risk of being shot at close range by the Vice-President.

Clash of civilisations

In this case, those of the US and Europe. On the day that every newspaper on this side of the Atlantic is devoting acres of newsprint to the widespread and continuing Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet published in Scandanavia and elsewhere, the US’s premier liberal newspaper has nothing at all about the issue on the front page of its web site.

Google to contest Feds’ demand for search records

It was bound to happen. And now, according to, it has:

The US Government is taking legal action to gain access to Google’s vast database of internet searches in an historic clash over privacy.

The Bush Administration has asked a federal judge to order the world’s most popular internet search engine to hand over the records of all Google searches for any one-week period, as well as other closely guarded data.

The California-based company is to fight the move.

Blawgs, aka lawyers’ blogs

Interesting piece in the New York Times. Quote:

A survey conducted by, which administers online advertising on blog sites, and completed voluntarily by 30,000 blog visitors last spring, found that 5.1 percent of the people reading the blogs were lawyers or judges, putting that group fourth behind computer professionals, students and retirees. The survey also found that of the 6,232 people who said they also kept their own blogs, 6.1 percent said they were in the legal profession, putting lawyers fourth again, behind the 17.5 percent who said they were in the field of education, 15.1 percent in computer software and 6.4 percent in media, said Henry Copeland, founder of Blogads. He conceded that the survey was hardly scientific, but argued that at least it undermined the popular image of the blogosphere as dominated by antsy teenagers and programmers in their pajamas, tapping away at keyboards all night.

How bin Laden has won, hands down

There was a terrifying story in the Guardian yesterday by David Mery. Extract:

I enter Southwark tube station, passing uniformed police by the entrance, and more police beyond the gate. I walk down to the platform, peering down at the steps as, thanks to a small eye infection, I’m wearing specs instead of my usual contact lenses. The next train is scheduled to arrive in a few minutes. As other people drift on to the platform, I sit down against the wall with my rucksack still on my back. I check for messages on my phone, then take out a printout of an article about Wikipedia from inside my jacket and begin to read.

The train enters the station. Uniformed police officers appear on the platform and surround me. They must immediately notice my French accent, still strong after living more than 12 years in London.

They handcuff me, hands behind my back, and take my rucksack out of my sight. They explain that this is for my safety, and that they are acting under the authority of the Terrorism Act.

Why was he targeted in this way? This is the really scary bit:

I am told that I am being stopped and searched because:

  • they found my behaviour suspicious from direct observation and then from watching me on the CCTV system;
  • I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates;
  • two other men entered the station at about the same time as me;
  • I am wearing a jacket “too warm for the season”;
  • I am carrying a bulky rucksack, and kept my rucksack with me at all times;
  • I looked at people coming on the platform;
  • I played with my phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.
  • It gets worse. Mery is arrested for “suspicious behaviour and public nuisance” and taken to Walworth police station. His flat is searched, and his terrified girlfriend interviewed by three police officers. The police remove from the flat the following:

    several mobile phones, an old IBM laptop, a BeBox tower computer (an obsolete kind of PC from the mid-1990s), a handheld GPS receiver (positioning device with maps, very useful when walking), a frequency counter (picked it up at a radio amateur junk fair because it looked interesting), a radio scanner (receives short wave radio stations), a blue RS232C breakout box (a tool I used to use when reviewing modems for computer magazines), some cables, a computer security conference leaflet, envelopes with addresses, maps of Prague and London Heathrow, some business cards, and some photographs I took for the 50 years of the Association of Computing Machinery conference.

    There must be many people who read this yesterday and shivered. Whenever I go to London, I bring a black rucksack, because it’s the only way I can carry my laptop without wrenching my back. I often check my phone for messages, and read stuff from the web that I printed off before catching the train in Cambridge. And sometimes I even wear an overcoat or a Land’s End jacket. Granted, a crumpled ageing Irishman is unlikely to be mistaken for an Islamic terrorist, but perhaps I should take to brandishing a half-empty bottle of whiskey just to be sure!

    Network? What network?

    Just back from Oxford, where I chaired a session of the Internet Institute’s conference on ‘Safety and Security in a Networked World. The conference was held in Oxford’s Said Business School, a grim building near the railway station which looks like the headquarters of a dry-cleaning company.

    It would be nice to think that the School is named after Edward Said, the late — and distinguished — Palestinian cultural critic, but I fear the money that built it is more likely to have come from commissions on oil and arms sales. In a feeble attempt to give the place a vaguely middle-Eastern air, it’s built around a featureless courtyard.

    When I arrived, I asked the pleasant young woman at the desk how to log onto the wireless network. She gave me a nice-but-puzzled look. Her voice said that there wasn’t such a thing; her look said “This is a business school, dumbo, not some technology college”. So I launched MacStumbler and — Lo! — it was So! The University of Oxford’s Business School doesn’t have a single wireless network.

    The panellists on my session (on ‘Privacy, Trust & Security – A Zero-Sum Game?’) were an interesting lot: Caspar Bowden, who was an imaginative Director of FIPR before he joined Microsoft as their Chief Privacy Adviser; Fred Piper of London University; Elizabeth France, the Telecommunications Ombudsman; Richard Starnes; and — to my great delight — Eli Noam from Columbia, one of the most stimulating and unsettling academics in the field of telecommunications policy. It turns out that he’s on the Advisory Board of the Oxford Internet Institute.

    Technology and beauty

    As regular readers know, I am fascinated by photography, so it’s not surprising that two articles on the subject caught my eye — both published in the New York Times.

    The first was an intriguing piece by Michael J. Lewis on how popular conceptions of beauty are shaped by the photographic technology available at a particular time. Black and white film, for example, favoured faces like those of Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn.

    the intense tonal range of black and white photography favored a richly contoured face, with prominent cheekbones that cast lovely form-defining shadows. An “angular face,” as Katharine Hepburn termed her own, was particularly good at casting shadows. If her face was insufficiently angular, an actress might make it more so. Marlene Dietrich is supposed to have had her upper molars removed to put shadows under her cheekbones, a story she bitterly denied.

    In describing these features, people invariably resorted to the metaphor of sculpture, and compared them to a glistening marble statue lighted dramatically from one side. The director George Cukor observed that “that extraordinary sculptural construction of lines and planes,” Joan Crawford’s face, “caught the light superbly, so that you could photograph her from any angle.”

    A generation later, in his essay on Garbo’s face, Roland Barthes, the French philosopher, described it as enigmatic “mask of antiquity,” that was “sculpted in something smooth and fragile.”

    But the arrival of Technicolor in the 1950s changed all that. The new technology, Lewis writes,

    did not take kindly to the sculptural face. The legendary Barrymores, with profiles like a map of the English coast, suddenly seemed too craggy.

    There arose a new concept of film beauty. Now the distinguishing trait was not so much facial architecture as a glowing complexion. Neither Marilyn Monroe nor Grace Kelly nor Kim Novak had what might be called a strong face, but all presented vast expanses of vitally healthy skin on the big screen.

    Lewis thinks that one of the effects of digital technology — especially movies on DVD — is to lead to an emphasis on oversized facial features. This, at any rate, is how he interprets the findings of a poll conducted by People magazine, which asked its 500,000 readers to choose the fifty “most beautiful” people.

    What is the American ideal of beauty today? To judge by People magazine’s new “50 most beautiful” issue, which came out earlier this month, it does not tend to delicate and fine features. If anything, it runs in the opposite direction, toward large and striking features: Angelina Jolie’s oversize lips; the emphatic jaw of Mariska Hargitay, a star of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; the startlingly wide mouth of Julia Roberts.

    And the reason for this? Because we see them mainly on a small(ish) screen.

    The defining feature of the digital image is its smallness. A head shown on a television screen is usually life-size or smaller, a format that favors large features. Just as cartoonists exaggerate the features of their characters so they remain legible in miniature, so oversize features work well on the small screen. The more cartoonish, within limits, the better.

    The other interesting NYT article was a profile of the distinguished photojournalist David Burnett, who in addition to lugging round the standard Canon digital cameras and lenses that most professional snappers use nowadays, also carries an ancient 4 x 5 Speed Graphics camera — because it produces the kinds of images to which digital technology cannot even aspire.

    On this day…

    … in 1935 T.E. Lawrence died after being injured in a motorbike crash. There was an interesting item on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme claiming that both US and UK troops in Iraq are reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom as a guide to Arab culture. (And no, I did not make that up!) It’s a bit like Tony Blair speed-reading the Koran after 9/11.