Farewell Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

Terry Pratchett, by Dave M. Bennett, Getty Images

(First posted on Not PC)

I was saddened to hear of writer Terry Pratchett’s passing, because as a child and teenager I devoured the Discworld series he created. I reread the old ones while waiting for the new one to hit the shelves. Fortunately Terry Pratchett scoffed at the idea of writer’s block, so new books came out often. I spent hours reading on the toilet – my favourite reading spot. My family knew I was reading Pratchett because of the intermittent peals of laughter coming from behind the toilet door. (Fortunately we had two bathrooms.)

I discovered Terry Pratchett at the age when I started questioning everything. His no-bullshit writing, his clear stance on right and wrong, his irreverent poking of fun at authority, his scoffing at mysticism and religious dogma, all of these resonated with me at a time when I was trying make sense of the world.

For me Terry Pratchett’s fantasy world was a lens into the way the real world works. He used fantasy settings as a way to strip an issue down to its essentials. His writing was relentlessly reality-focused and clear, never ‘preachy’ or mushy, but with a benevolence and generosity that pervaded every page. Oh and his wry and wicked sense of humour! His books were a refreshing breeze of joy, rationality and individualism.

His stories reinforced for me that you should judge people as individuals, regardless of their race, gender, orientation or species – and yes, even the undead. His protagonists were often reluctant anti-heroes – cranky, grumpy, recalcitrant, quirky individuals who just want to be left alone to get on with their own lives. He had a soft-spot for the lovable, fallible rogue, as opposed to the goody-two-shoes white knight. He never made fun of people who didn’t deserve it. We always laughed with the protagonists, not at them. He skewered people who put on airs and graces and he made fun of those who think they know how everybody else should live – even when they claimed to have the best of intentions. He had no patience for wilful stupidity, superstition and cruelty.

From his books I learnt to distrust anybody who claims to have special knowledge which will make all my problems go away if only I suspended my own judgment. I learnt that life can be tough, but I have to figure it out myself, and that it’s better to be clever and resourceful than strong (though in a pinch being strong is pretty useful); that one should face up to evil, and stand up for innocent victims. I learnt that people make mistakes, that the real world is messy (not unlike Ankh-Morpork and Discworld), and that it’s OK – in fact that’s part of its charm.

Terry Pratchett is gone, but his books, and the lessons they taught me, live on.

NB: Some excellent Pratchett quotes here, including:

“Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.”
Terry Pratchett

“It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.”
Terry Pratchett

“If you have enough book space, I don’t want to talk to you.”
Terry Pratchett

“There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.”
Terry Pratchett

“Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.”
Terry Pratchett, Eric

“The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.”
Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

[Pic by Dave M. Bennett, Getty Images]

Cloud storage security, or why you should worry if you use Dropbox and Google Drive

What with Google Drive’s scary terms and conditions, and past security breaches at DropBox where anybody could see your stuff, I worry a bit about cloud storage.

I really like SpiderOak because even if they were forced to, they couldn’t figure out what you’re storing, or even what the files are called. It’s called zero knowledge.

Give SpiderOak a try:


How to Reach the Left | Roderick T. Long

In this video Roderick Long makes the claim that many libertarians buy into the corporatist world view. He explains that (some) liberals and libertarians have more in common than they think, and that libertarians often go wrong when talking to liberals. I highly recommend it for both liberals and libertarians.

It includes this great quote from Murray Rothbard on big business:

“For some time I have come to the conclusion that the grave deficiency in the current output and thinking of our libertarians and ‘classical liberals’ is an enormous blind spot when it comes to big business. There is a tendency to worship Big Business per se… and a corollary tendency to fail to realize that while big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market, that in the contemporary world of total neo-mercantilism and what is essentially a neo-fascist ‘corporate state,’ bigness is a priori highly suspect, because Big Business most likely got that way through an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.”

YouTube – How to Reach the Left | Roderick T. Long.

iPhone Tracker application (plus a 32 bit version for Leopard)

If you haven’t heard yet, your iPhone creates a record of all the places you go, and the information is stored in a database on your computer whenever you sync with iTunes.

See here for more information, and an application that will show you a map with all the locations you’ve ever visited with your iPhone:


(Note: For a version that works on 32-bit Core Duo Macs, and one that runs on OS X 10.5 Leopard, see further down. For a Windows PC version, see right at the bottom of this post.)

Here’s an example screenshot of the iPhone Tracker application:

Screenshot of the iPhone Tracker app
Screenshot of the iPhone Tracker app

Apple doesn’t seem to be sending this information anywhere, but really, they shouldn’t be storing this much of this kind of information unencrypted in the first place.

The first thing you should do is enable encrypted iPhone backups so that other users and applications on your computer can’t access this information. I’ve been doing this for a while.

iPhoneTracker for OS X Leopard (10.5) and 32-bit Processors

If you have an older Mac with a 32-bit Intel Core Duo processor which can’t run the 64-bit version of the application on Pete Warden’s site, you will get this message:

"You can't open the application iPhoneTracker because it is not supported on this type of Mac."
"You can't open the application iPhoneTracker because it is not supported on this type of Mac."

If you are running Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) you will see this message:

“You cannot use this version of the application iPhoneTracker with this version of Mac OS X”

You can download and try run this 32-bit version I made for Mac OS X Leopard (10.5):


MD5 fingerprint for the zip file is: 3977c24e07019e23c987337f9342e684
SHA: 8757eba4a661e22f8b5b366c2dcd06becd90ea17

And this 32-bit build I made for Snow Leopard (10.6):


MD5 fingerprint for the zip file is: f8d2b4ccf107198a22aef655765d9654
SHA: cd9fce97c2db24515eaa687335c8e5e103a7eba8

For the geeks, you can get my modified version of Pete Warden’s source at this github repository:


Update: Combined with the fact that police officers in some areas are copying the content from cellphones of people stopped for traffic offences, it gets scarier:


Update 2: Here’s a Windows application that does the same thing. I can’t vouch for it:


Update 3: The original version of iPhoneTracker now supports 32-bit and PPC machines, and presumably OS X Leopard. You shouldn’t need my custom build any more.

Update 4: I made a build that increases the time and location accuracy. I’m not sure how useful this is, but here you go: iPhoneTracker_32bit_higher_accuracy.zip

Update 5: Apple heard, and have released a version of iOS that fixes some of the security problems:


(Hat tip Andrew Hedges)

Scary Campfire Story – Mac OS X Software Update

It’s a day, just like any other day. You run Software Update, and it installs Safari 5.0. After re-booting, you find that Finder crashes repeatedly. You start worrying.

You then run Safari to see if anybody else on the Web has experienced the same problem. But no, Safari won’t start at all, and keeps crashing. You try to keep calm.

So you start Software Update, to see if Apple has released a patch to fix the problem… Only… “Software Update quit unexpectedly”… Aaaaaah! :-(

Most popular programming languages – Python leaps ahead

According to the TIOBE Programming Community Index, as of February 2011, Python has just overtaken PHP as the 4th most popular programming language. That’s a big jump from 7th this time last year. It’s now just spitting distance behind C++, but has some way to go to catch up to C and Java. Yay for Python, my favourite language!

Here’s the obligatory graph:

Interestingly, C# on position #6 is catching up to PHP slowly, and might pass it soon.

Java, C and C++, though still very popular, seem to be declining steadily. Perl and Visual Basic seem doomed to obscurity. Good riddance. Ugh.

And check out how Object-C came out of nowhere, a result of the blossoming of the iPhone market.

Online Face Recognition: Machines are Looking for Michael Jackson

This is a very cool bit of Flash ActionScript programming which uses a video of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” to do real-time facial recognition. It can also pick out where the eyes are. If you have a web camera, select the ‘webcam’ checkbox, and it will try to recognise your face while you move your head around.

Click on the image below to try it out:

Black or White Face Recognition

You can read more about how this was done here:

play.blog2t.net » Machines are looking for Michael Jackson