Wednesday, 19 September 2018

UK TV licencing - useful information

The UK has a TV Licensing Authority, which collects money for the BBC. 

'TV Licensing' is a trade mark of the BBC and is used under licence by a number of companies contracted by the BBC to administer the collection of the television licence fee and enforcement of the television licensing system - chiefly Capita Business Services Ltd. 

The BBC is a public authority in respect of its television licensing functions and retains overall responsibility for the TV License.

The UK Government web-pages on TV Licensing:

Do you need a TV License?

Wikipedia page:

Here are some useful quotes:

• "Members of the public who do not require a television licence are under no obligation to inform TV Licensing of the fact." Shaun Woodward M.P. , Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, May 2006

•  Lord Carder of Barnes (Cm 6474, March 2005) “The BBC has informed me that it does not have any legal right to demand that people without a television receiver contact them”.

• Department of Culture, Media and Sport report (First Report, HC 82 2004--005, 16 December 2004) states “ While payment of the licence fee by households which actually have a TV is a legal obligation, we remind the BBC that the finances it receives from the licence are a privilege. The Corporation should use a less menacing style of advertising campaign."

• "TV Licensing implied right of access is withdrawn" This is far from straightforward, with many differing opinions and interpretations. See:

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Bell's Theorem - an interesting experiment with polarising filters...

It isn't often that you fins a video that uses very simply available materials to show an experiment that leads to the fine detail of quantum theory, and the current limit of what we know about the universe. Well, this short YouTube video:

   Bell's Theorem

does exactly this in less than 18 minutes! It is called: 'Bell's Theorem: The Quantum Venn Diagram Paradox', and I had never heard of Bell's Theorem before. But I definitely do now!

You may need to watch the video a few times to get your head around it...

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Tinker and Tanker - a paper craft archive

Apparently not Richard Scarry's most popular work, but one of my favourites.

Here's my personal archive of the 'cut out and assemble' paper-craft that got made ages ago, and I re-found inside a cardboard box recently, and captured in electronic form before I threw them away. The fun is in the making, not the keeping, it seems, and whilst I could have put them back in the box for another few years, I decided to move them on.

And yes, I know I should have done a panorama! (Wise after the event, and all that...)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Making Applications Secure

Developing applications that are secure is becoming an essential part of the toolkit of any programmer, and project managers are increasingly tasked to ‘Make it more secure - we don’t want to be the next headline…’ In 2015, this has become a major priority for many people.

So if you want a week of immersive training in making mobile, web and other applications more secure, then I thoroughly recommend the SecAppDev conference. It’s an intense program of background lectures where you learn the theory, and hands-on workshops where you get to try it out for real. Even better, it’s set in a renovated 17th century university location 25 kilometers east of Brussels, arguably the epicentre of Europe, and easy to get to by train or plane. Leuven is a charming ‘student city’ venue, full of bikes and cobbled streets, and where you can walk to just about anywhere inside the ring-road in less than half an hour. And the cars on that outer ring aren’t allowed far into the central area, so apart from a few busses, students and bikes rule! There’s a very good overview of the history of Leuven here:

The SecAppDev conference is held in the Faculty Club, to the south of the centre of Leuven. It’s a perfect mix of old exteriors and modern interiors, and whilst this is the Dutch/Flemish part of Belgium, the conference language is English. KU Leuven, the University of Leuven, founded in 1425, is the oldest Catholic University in the world.

Inside the conference, you step straight into the 21st century. The two-track program covers topics like post-Snowden, cryptography, TLS hands-on, SDL, Threat Modelling, and web/mobile hardening. I like following a topic and getting immersed, and so I went to the sessions where the introductory lecture covered the theory, and then the hands-on double-lecture provided a detailed hands-on workshop with plenty of opportunity to dig deep into the material. Pre-prepared VMs are used for some of the workshops, so that everyone has an isolated and common starting point, and I was particularly impressed with the TLS session, where you configured an Apache web server (on Fedora) from scratch so that HTTPS worked properly by using tools like mod_ssl and Open_SSL, replacing the default self-signed certificate with a trustable one from a CA using a CSR, generating a key-pair using Open-SSL… The Threat Modelling workshop was notable too, with teams competing to find flaws in a web system. The lecturers were all very familiar with their subject matter, and I learnt a lot.

If a day of intense learning wasn’t enough, the local chapter of OWASP had an evening event on the Tuesday night, which was an opportunity for more learning and networking. With the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) research group and the Department of Electrical Engineering nearby, and the meeting being held in the Department of Computer Science, there was a large and informed audience.

There is a wealth of information on the SecAppDev website ( ), with handouts going back to 2007 (the first SecAppDev was in 2005, so this was the 11th conference!), video recordings of lectures before 2013, A YouTube channel for more recent videos ( ), and a blog which has an entry that describes the user experience in more detail: is a non-profit organisation whose aim is to broaden security awareness in the development community and advance secure software engineering practices. For me, the week at SecAppDec 2015 taught me a lot, provided consistently excellent interactive workshops, good networking and follow-up opportunities, and was totally worthwhile. If you develop, or manage developers, or just want to be ‘security-savvy’, then you should be considering attending SecAppDev 2016!

Oh yes, and the food at the Faculty Club was wonderful!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Pause for thought

I've read enough blogs to recognise the signs. An initial flurry of posts, then a few pauses, then a few more bursts, then a longer pause, followed by a burst, and then just a single post, and then... nothing.

Usually that's it. There are lots of possible explanations: the blog writer has got a new job, or moved on, or something else. Whereas a newspaper column would quickly be replaced, blogs are different. They continue to exist on the Interweb, although that increasingly out-of-date 'last' entry is like a flag that hints at an underlying 'story' or maybe just a simple reason, but no more than that. Like:

But sometimes it is different...

(And sometimes it is self-inflicted: )

Last or Final?

When people post to blogs, the 'latest' post is also the 'last' post - in the sense of the 'last so far'. Irregular postings that don't say 'this is my final post' are always going to be the 'most recent', 'latest', 'last so far', etc. Interestingly, even a 'final' post could be followed by a 'my previous post was not my final one!'. Extrapolating from this, then the concept of a 'death-bed post' is an intriguing one. (Some blog posts start to get close to this topic, for example: )

Gaps analysed partially

There have been quite a few gaps in postings to this blog, and based on this evidence, then my analysis would have been exactly the same as for any other blog. But then, surprise, surprise, there have been some new entries. And more intriguingly, I am now posting an entry that examines what happens when a blog pauses and then restarts. I suspect that this makes this entry doubly rare, and so something really unusual.

The reasons for my gaps are mildly interesting, and faintly unusual (depending on how you measure the degree of unusual-ness), and I won't bore you with them, which isn't meant to trivialise them, merely to downgrade their significance. The world is an intriguing place, and sometimes events impose themselves on you.

Nice conclusion!

So I'm more than happy to say that sometimes, interesting and unlikely things happen. After several  challenging pauses, I'm now going to try and write the occasional blog post again.



From me.

To you.

(Yep, reading all that 'New Wave' SF from the 1960s has been a big influence on my use of 'new lines' !)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

IET John Logie Baird Lecture Archive

Back in November, I chaired the 2010 IET John Logie Baird lecture - a yearly celebration of multimedia innovation. This year's lecture was called: 'a day in the life of a multimedia communicator'. The IET web-site is now up, and contains an archive of material from previous lectures in the series, plus videos from this year.

The speakers and topics were:

Brian Levy (
former CTO of RedBee (BBC Technology) - The Multimedia Future

Mike Short (VP Technology, O2 Group) - ADITLOAMC

Marian Ursu (Deputy head of Department of Computing, Goldsmiths) - Shapeshifting Media: Interactive Moving Picture Storytelling

Alistair Crane (CEO, Grapple Mobile) was unfortunately unable to attend.

There is also a video of the panel session that I chaired.

TelevisionImage via WikipediaJohn Logie BairdImage by Tetramesh via Flickr
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Sunday, 18 July 2010

Self-imposed Constraints

The Crystal Maze has long been one of my favourite TV programmes, and I have watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) quite a few of the ongoing repeats on the 'Challenge' TV channel in the UK. Sometimes the puzzle catches your imagination, and this happened to me with a recent episode.

The puzzle seemed straight-forward: just arrange the six lowest-value dominoes into a square where each of the sides add up to the same value. A quick bit of brow-furrowing got me to the value - it has to be four, but actually solving the puzzle was rather trickier. I began to feel rather like the unfortunate contestant, who has also failed to solve the problem - and I had the considerable advantage of not having any time limit (plus I didn't have the other contestants shouting 'often less-than useful' advice at me all the time.

Eventually I found the solution, but it wasn't a very satisfying answer. The reason has to do with the way that I think about dominoes. I spent many of my formative Saturday nights at 'Domino Drives', mainly because my Dad was a seasoned card player who was pretty successful at the accompanying 'Whist Drives', and so transport wasn't a problem. As a result, I think of dominoes as being arranged with ends matching, and doubles rotated through ninety degrees. Now there were some local variations: Up North, where I lived at the time, they played with dominoes that went all the way up to Double Nines, and the One spots were not red, nor were they a different size. White dots all the way from none to nine was what I was brought up with, and it wasn't until many years later that I discover the many variations of domino that existed elsewhere...

Subconsciously, I was applying the 'match the ends' rule as a constraint to this problem. Not rotating the doubles so that they were across the flow wasn't a problem, because I had grown up with players who didn't cross doubles, and there were always people around the table who would 'tut-tut' and rotate any uncrossed double during play. But matching those ends was totally automatic, and so I quickly came up against the problem that wherever you placed the Double Two domino, the two dominoes either side immediately made those two sides add up to more than four!

Eventually it dawned on me that the only way to solve the problem was to ignore my self-imposed constraint and not to match the ends of dominoes. Once you do this, then the solution drops out quite quickly.

But, as frequent readers of this blog will tell you, my head doesn't let me stop there. My mind continuously looks beyond the obvious, and I now realised that actually, not all of the junctions between dominoes broke the rule/constraint - just some of them. Now I already knew that the 'no junctions break the rule/constraint' was not possible, so was it possible to break the rule/constraint at all the junctions?

It seems that you can't do this either. This was my best result, and here all but one of the junctions breaks the rule/constraint.

So, today's observation is that: 'Sometimes you unconsciously impose rules where there aren't any rules at all.' - plus the corollary that: 'breaking constraints sometimes produces interesting results', which gives s revised, and more difficult puzzle:

Can you arrange the six lowest-value dominoes in a square so that the sides all add up to the same number, and with the highest possible number of junctions between dominoes where they have different numbers of dots?

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