May 2007

Suggestions that the UK government is to introduce a new police power, that of questioning without concrete suspicion has been called a move towards a police state by some, and likened to the US’ illegitimate permanent detention centre at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba. While I think the latter is hyperbole, the former is a more reasonable statement. What, after all, is a Police State? It is a state in which the police have arbitrary power, which they may exercise without reason, without explanation and without significant oversight. The over-use of anti-terrorist stop-and-search powers by some forces shows that unrestrained powers supposedly aimed at anti-terrorist operations can easily be overused (abused?) by officers.

Police already have the power to stop and question individuals, where they can show a reason to do so. So this is not about giving the police a new power of questioning, it is about removing the requirement for reasonable explanation of their actions. It is the requirement that police be able to explain their activity that prevents this being an arbitrary power.

Even worse is the suggesstion that refusing to answer the questions posed by a policeman would be classed as interfering with police business and in itself constituting an offence. The current government has already reduced the right not to incriminate oneself. This would be a further blow to that. Either you answer the police’s questions, or you are guilty of an offence by that refusal. This is a further erosion of human rights. All the rhetoric by government officials here, suggesting that anyone opposing these powers is “more concerned with the rights of terrorists than those of their potential victims” ignores the fact that the subjects of these powers will, in the vast majority of cases, be ordinary citizens, not terrorists.

Finally, imagine the world if Labour is re-elected in 2009 or 2010. In 2013 ID cards are planned to become compulsory. It is no surprise that these proposed new powers include the idea of “questioning as to identity”. It will likely become, effectively, an arrestable offence not to be able to prove one’s identity, i.e. to have an ID card with one at all times. “Ihre Papiren, bitte!” indeed.

A new OSS application for video editing I downloaded the other day had a couple of nicely fun icons for video operations. The “sharpen” operation for the image uses a picture of Albert Einstein. That’s nice enough but the unsharpen one is even better: a picture of George W Bush!

There are three science museums in Tokyo: The Science Museum (at Kitanomaru); the National Science Museum (at Ueno) and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Since it’s not too far from the Surugadai campus of Meiji University, I visited the Science Museum a little while back. Today I visited the Science and Innovation museum. I’ll get around to the National Science Museum at some point and add it to this review. There are photos of the Science Musuem and the Emerging Musuem in my gallery.


As mentioned, MPs at Westminster debated a bill to exempt themselves from much of the Freedom of Information Act. Having been provided with extra debating time by the government (which nevertheless claimed no collusion in this) MPs passed this shameful measure. We now depend on the Lords to defeat this retrograde step in public accountability.

I wondered last week why there were a few bubbles in the liquid in my apricot jam jar. I found out today when I opened the jar again after not using any for about 5 days – it was fermenting in the jar!

Some UK MPs are supporting a cynical attempt to remove themselves from the Freedom of Information requirements. A backbench Conservative MP, David Maclean, has a private members’ Bill which is being provided with government time to get it through the commons which would severely restrict MPs needs to reveal information about themselves. Freedom of Information is a necessity for accountable government. The Telegraph has a piece on this. I have written to my own MP urging him to turn up to the debate and vote against this bill:


Over on my gallery, I posted a picture of a “London Pub” in Tokyo. I didn’t venture inside that one, but on 28th April I went for dinner with Hirai Hirohide (Jack)-san and his wife Chizue-san. They’d had me over for dinner a while back and since my Guest House accommodation isn’t really set up for entertaining, I invited them out for dinner. We met up at the “Rose and Crown” a UK-style pub/restaurant right next to Akihabara station. Akihabara is “Electric Town” and used to be nothing but electric appliance stores, and later electronics stores of all sizes and types coming in. They’re redeveloping the area, though, and it’s gaining some entertainment areas, including a Starbucks, an Excelsior (a Japanese Starbucks clone) and a Vie de France coffee shop in the square that the Rose and Crown overlooks. It overlooks it because it’s a first floor (nikai or second floor for Japanese and USians) establishment. It’s quite common in Tokyo for restaurants to be in vertical blocks, with lifts (and stairs, though sometimes only emergency stairs) to the 6, 7 or more floors, on each of which is one or more restaurant. In this particular building, in a square at the back of Akihabara station (you can tell it’s the back because the station building is covered in ducting and pipework never meant to be seen) there are various types of restaurant including the “Rose and Crown” (that’s a link to their website). Jack thought it would be fun for me to try the Tokyo interpretation of British food.


Teenage boys are the same everywhere. Stupid and convinced of their invulnerability. I was waiting at Mukougaokayuen station this morning, connecting between the stopping and express services to Shinjuku. I was listening to a language lesson. An express train coming in the opposite direction (one which stops at Mukougaokayuen started blaring its horn. They usually do this because someone is standing too close to the edge of the platform. This one kept sounding, though and stopped only a third of the way into the station. As I looked down the platform to see what the problem was, I spotted a young lad (13, maybe) climbing off the tracks and onto the platform I was standing on. Train company staff started rushing around with mobiles or radios (difficult to tell the difference sometimes these days. There were a lot of similar age boys on the opposite platform, but I couldn’t tell from their attitude whether the boy had been pushed onto the tracks or jumped down on his own “initiative”. They stopped a long distance express (not stopping here) just outside the station on my side, and left the express in the other direction standing part way into the station for about three minutes. I don’t know if they found the boy, but things returned to normal.

Whether it was horseplay that got out of hand, a stunt, or a serious piece of bullying, I’m not sure. It didn’t look like a suicide attempt. Whichever it was, it would appear that there are some cultural universals, and one of those would appear to be silly actions by teenage boys.

I’ve known Charlie Stross since about 1990. Steve Glover introduced us. When I first met him, I think he’d had one short story published in Interzone. He was struggling to become a fiction writer. A decade later and he’d made it into print numerous times in the major SF magazines (particularly Asimov’s) and finally got a book contract. I kept meaning to read some of his stuff, which we chatted about when we met at cons and elsewhere. When I went up to Edinburgh for the Computer Law World Conference last September, I met up with Charlie and his spouse Feorag. When I mentioned to Charlie that I really did intend to read some of his stuff real soon now (he’d sent me a copy of Accelerando in electronic form and asked me to see if I could spot any techno-gotchas, but I hadn’t had time) he very kindly supplied me with a full set of his books. I raced through them before Christmas and was mostly very impressed. His most recent SF (he also publishes a pseudo-fantasy series and a horror-detective series with different publishers) was Glasshouse, set in the same universe as Accelerando, which suffered as a novel from being a fix up of nine short stories in three groups of three. When it appeared on the short list for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel, I figured I’d actually buy a copy of one of his books, and I ordered a copy from Amazon. I just read it. Read on for a review.


The internet connection at the Guest House has been a bit flaky since I got here. It seems to have four states:

  1. Working
  2. Occasionally failures to resolve DNS queries or connect, defeated by reloading in a web browser and ignorable for most other net work. Oddly, once a connection is created it generally continues to run if it’s a dynamic keep-alive connection. Multiple connections sometimes lead to missing graphics or, worse, non-loading of CSS files for web pages.
  3. Mostly down. If I try hard I can sometimes get a web page to load by trying 20 or so “reloads”. Mail comes in when an IMAP connection establishes for a little while. Outgoing mail is very awkward and often doesn’t get out for hours or until it comes back up.
  4. Completely down.


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