Rollyo – roll your own search engine. At first I thought that this looked quite cool and I still do mostly, but I think that it’s got a major flaw: you can’t search any deeper than a whole domain. I want to be able to search into the directory structure of sites, so or even¶m2=value2.

Practical example of why this would be useful: I was trying to build a blosxom orientated search (that’s a link to my profile at Rollyo, as the searches themselves use javascript and I haven’t worked out how to link to one directly yet), but for it to be useful I’d like to be able to search pages like and – limiting the search to or returns far too many false positives without using quite refined search terms, which seems to me to sort of defeat the object somewhat.

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Mystery miasma

On thursday I spent the day checking the soles of my shoes for unpleasant dog-related substances as everywhere I went it seemed that I could smell a faint tang of excrement. But before you start emailing me with smart remarks, it turns out that I wasn’t the only one plagued by the smell – Polly told me the next day that she had noticed it but hadn’t mentioned it in case no one else had, and on Friday our local paper, the Bristol Evening Post, ran a report on page three about the “nasty nif” hanging over the city centre. One interviewee descibed the smell as “rather like when they muckspread on farms”, which was pretty much spot on if you ask me.

Although Wessex Water, the local water utility company, claimed that nothing in their system seemed to be amiss, they agreed to send someone in to investigate. Although some kind of trouble with the sewers seems like a fairly likely explanation, there’s fun to be had thinking up alternative explanations. Perhaps some incompetent terrorists attempted to poison the city only to find out too late that their arms dealer was having a bt of a laugh and instead of Sarin he’d flogged them several cylinders of joke fart gas. Who knows – send me any better ideas, if you have ’em.

One interesting thing that came of the smell was the reference in the Evening Post article to the delightfully Fortean “Bristol Hum”, a low-frequency noise heard in Bristol and other places in the world allegedly the result of noise pollution by traffic and factories, but is still viewed by many as a mystery. Let’s hope that the “Bristol Stench” doesn’t persist for quite so long.

Digital Civil Liberties

It’s way past time for something like the Open Rights Group in the UK. Nothing for it but to quote their “manifesto” wholesale, as I couldn’t put it better myself:

The Open Rights Group is committed to protecting your digital rights, to fighting bad legislation both in the UK and Europe, and to fostering a grassroots community of volunteers dedicated to campaigning on digital rights issues.

Your civil and human rights are being eroded in the digital realm. Government, big business and industry bodies are taking liberties with your digital liberties, actions they could never get away with in the “real” world.

Our goals are:

  • to raise awareness within the media of digital rights abuses
  • to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • to campaign to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • to nurture and assist a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts

Your right to privacy is being eroded by the government’s ill-conceived ID card scheme, by biometric passports and the threat of vehicle tracking systems. Your right to free speech and freedom to use digital media is under threat from corporations who believe that ‘fair use’ of copyrighted works should exist only at their sufferance. Your right to private life and correspondence is under threat from a proposed European directive to log traffic and geographical data for every call you make, every SMS you send, every email you write, every website you visit.

It is essential in this time of international tension and uncertainty that we vigourously defend our digital civil liberties, ensuring that the our hard-won freedoms are not taken away simply because they’ve moved to the digital world.

If these issues concern you and you can afford to pay out a fiver a month in support of the Open Rights Group, go and sign this pledge. Now.

Coverage of this is spreading across the more geeky parts of the internet (for example Boing Boing) and now it’s been covered at the BBC, so let’s hope that with continued pressure news of this will penetrate further into the mainstream media and more people will start to pay a bit more attention to what’s going on rather than blindly believing the paranoid, dangerously misguided rubbish coming out of the Home Office.