Archive for October, 2005

Things fall apart

Well, the Fiendish Müntemerkel didn’t last long. German democracy makes a lot of things explicit that are assumed in the UK – for example, where the British assume the leader of the largest party will form the government, and know that if not he or she can be disposed of through a vote of no confidence, the German parliament has to explicitly vote in the new government. Before that, the parties have to reconfirm their leaders, something that we also spare ourselves. This all meant that getting the frankly unlikely Müntemerkel government into office would be a little like a convoy of fuel tankers heading up Highway Eight to Baghdad.

Only after the successive pitfalls of agreeing on the cabinet, and then the programme, and getting the party leaders re-elected, and getting the policy of joining the coalition confirmed, and finally confirming the new government with a vote in the Bundestag had been dodged could they finally turn their backs on a road of RPG teams behind every tree, roadside bombs and fake police checkpoints in the calm security of the yellow-black zone.

Well, as it happened, they got past ambushes 1 and 2 before the insurgents scored a hit. Franz Müntefering, the SPD general secretary and new party chairman, who was meant to become vice-chancellor and minister of labour, the SPD’s guarantor in the government, has resigned as party chairman after his candidate for the general secretaryship (which as chairman he must vacate) was soundly beaten by the left’s candidate, Andrea Nahles. With Müntefering out of the party chair and the Gen Sec’s office, and unlikely to take up his seat in the cabinet, the whole balance of power in the new government goes out of kilter.

The SPD tried at first to deny it, saying that the coalition negotiations were proceeding “normally”, but it didn’t last. In the morning, the rowing between the CDU-appointed minister for education and research and the CSU leader-cum-minister of the economy was on the point of settlement as the CDU gave up the research programme on nanotechnology, optics and optoelectronics, microelectronics and production processes to Stoiber’s Economics Ministry. But by the afternoon, Stoiber was out too, heading back to Bavaria with the comment that “it’s an entirely different SPD”.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you..


Last night’s RL test match, between Great Britain and New Zealand, pointed up something it’s easy to forget, thanks to the dearth of internationals. That is how the character of league-playing nations varies. The Australians usually come on tour with three annoying, but transparently gifted stars, but they aren’t the point. Neither is their traditional monster thug, the Paul Sironen or Gorden Tallis figure. The killers are the other nine men, who all look the same and have professional qualities and body types such that they can all play each other’s positions and occasionally do. They all seem to be called Brad, to be 5’8″ tall, about 16-17 stone, blond, and come from Sydney. (The monster thug and the three superstars are more diverse and come from Queensland, either Brisbane Broncos or somewhere in the outback.) Call them the Brad units, fabbed like silicon chips by some mysterious robotising process.

Because of this, British fans tend to underestimate them. You look at the squad list and think – Who are these people? Right, if we can wallop Johns from the word BANG, keep the ball away from Girdler, and test Lockyer under the high ball, Adrian Morley can take care of [insert thug here]. Job’s a good ‘un.

Two weeks later it’s pissing with slate-coloured rain on [thug]’s bleeding cranium and yours as he glares at Morley in the sin-bin, Lockyer on the bench, Johns undergoing medical treatment, Girdler sulking in the stand, and the Brad-units running in their 11th try to make it 70-0. This non-individuality almost makes losing to them losing to a computer. The Aussies, of course, both deny this and cultivate it, rather like German football teams used to cultivate the British stereotype of them as an impersonal machine whilst bitching savagely about each other in the German press as soon as they got back to Frankfurt.

New Zealand are very different. The ideal Australian player is a Brad unit. The ideal New Zealander is either Robbie Paul or Lesley Vainikolo. This is extreme rugby, played by men who will never escape identification. There are three types of New Zealand player – tiny scrum halves of a different kind to anywhere else in the world, like Robbie, Gary Freeman or the incumbent Stacey Jones, who I swear made more ground running than most of the forwards last night, wingers bigger than other countries’ prop forwards who usually have wild hair and wilder eyes as they charge around, turning up on the opposite wing as often as their own, and terrifying back-rowers with similar hair and worse attitude (Brendon Tuuta and Tawera Nikau, step forward).

Because of this, reliability eludes. Nobody in a NZ team is ever content with Brad-unit status. This was why, when the Auckland Warriors were formed to compete in the Australian league, with essentially a complete New Zealand squad, they often disappointed. There’s also a small-country issue with people who play in the UK, who are rarely selected. Unless their surname is Paul, of course, but then, genius makes its own rules. Some say the legendary coach, Graham Lowe, managed to overcome this with the great Kiwi team of the late 80s, but I hear they were a pretty wild lot still.

This was why, last night, the beating was so stinging. Not only did the Lions get within four points of them twice in the second half but fail, they then ran amok on us. Losing to Australia is like losing to a computer, or a team of robots. Losing to New Zealand is like a sudden eruption of barbarians, 26-42. Bugger.


Laura Rozen has news on the Italian end of the Niger-uranium scandal. Apparently, Mr. Martino walked in to the US, UK and French embassies to hawk his documents without success before he finally got them accepted at the Pentagon.

What I’d like to know: what did the Italians stand to gain that was worth pushing dodgy documents to all their allies? If the fakes were rumbled, SISMI’s credibility would be gone forever – nobody will ever believe them again, in or out of Italy. They invented the question “who benefits?”, after all.


Kathryn Cramer and Co.’s latest Google Earth overlays for the Pakistani earthquake and Hurricane Wilma are up. Just a word: Carlos of No Such Blog has been back to Key West. His home is standing, but the car is dead, and he estimates 60 per cent of his books have been ruined, which is terrible. He claims to have bought a new car on EBay, which doesn’t entirely fill me with confidence.

Tom “Green Ribbon” Griffin has filed a Freedom of Information Act request into exactly what the MOD thought it was doing hiring Transavia Export and Jet Line International. Unsurprisingly, the Defence Logistics Organisation won’t say, claiming that the request is likely to be “commercially sensitive” under Section 34 of the FOIA, although a final decision won’t be out until the 16th of November. Presumably that’s Viktor’s commercial sensitivities they’re worried about? Still, his FOIAR did better than mine, which dropped into the MOD’s FOI web form and went straight to File Zero without even an acknowledgement.

Indian seismologist says that mobile phones tend to fail 100 to 150 minutes before an earthquake. Going by the details the article gives, the mechanism must be the frequency shifts he describes – if transmissions around 1000MHz are shifted up to 1800-1900 and 2000MHz, that would put them right in two out of four GSM wavebands, close enough to the WCDMA/CDMA2K 2100MHz band, and would include the 850 and 900MHz bands in the freqs getting shifted up to interfere with them.

It’s unlikely that preliminary tremors would change much – they might spoil the very finest details of the radio-planning in a fixed cell GSM network, but not by enough to do any damage, and a CDMA system would cell-breathe around it. Point-to-point microwave backhaul links might be affected, but then, those need very tough construction indeed.

According to today’s Observer, No.10’s Respect Tsar (it nearly spells taser, after all) Louise Casey has turned against one of Blair’s brilliant ideas, specifically the scheme to take away “disruptive families'” housing benefit. Apparently she is concerned that the children of such homes have suffered enough without being turned out in the street where, one supposes, their untidy existence will be grounds for an instant Asbo. This is remarkable…or is it?

Ms. Casey has been showing worrying signs of character development in recent months. First there was the speech to top Home Office asbocrats in which she drunkenly berated them for a lack of tolerance of people enjoying themselves. Now this. What on earth is going on? After all, her role so far has been very different.

I think of her as a slightly sinister medic at court, Tony Blair’s Doctor Robert. From as early as 1998, when she was commissioned with getting rid of beggars by coercion as head of the Rough Sleepers Unit, she has always had what Blair needs when the sweating starts, the eyes go glassy and the pacing, shaking horrors set in. Then he ducks out of his latest sofa conference for one of the good doctor’s injections. 50 ccs of authoritarianism, a hundred units of self-righteousness to run over thirty minutes, cut with liquid pharmaceutical censorship direct from Powderject’s Swiss division. Within minutes the drugs begin to take hold and we’re all off to bat country as the prime minister hops and tics into action, talking unusually quickly and riffing off the decor. Like so many court doctors who are always there when so-and-so needs some speed, her career was spectacular, hurtling up the civil service ranks, sidestepping from the Home Office to the Treasury, to the Crime Reduction Unit, back to the Home Office, now to the total plexus itself, the Cabinet Office, and at No.10 too.

But, of course, over time the doses just keep jumping. 60, 75, 100 ccs of the stuff – if nothing changes, soon they’ll need a syringe the size of a small motorcycle engine. Now, she’s holding out on him. You’re always early…he’s always late/One thing you learn is/You always got to wait, as Lou Reed put it. “I’m sorry, Tony…what you’re suggesting goes right outside my professional discretion. Auth isn’t a thing to play with, you know. I have my Hippocratic Oath to consider..” Think of the betrayal, the grovelling. But I doubt it will help. Carrying the Leader’s syringe is not a business with a great pension plan unless you get out soon enough.

Well, accounts are now out of the insurgent attack on the Palestine Hotel. Apparently, there were three suicide car bombers…stop-groups in the streets around…and a storming party in the wings to take advantage of the car explosions. It sounds very much like the big assault on Abu Ghraibh that I blogged up in June. This time, according to Robbo, the assault was called off because the third suicide car got entangled in a barbed-wire entanglement and some nameless commander decided to cut their losses and withdraw.

It’s especially worrying not just that, as I said in June, they seem to integrate both suicide bombers and break-contact drills. It’s also worrying how many of these attacks have been near-thing survivals on our side. The first was in the spring of 2004, in Fallujah, where the Iraqi police were wiped out while the ICDC (now National Guard) were pinned down in their base – without suffering a single casualty. That was a total success. The next widely publicised ones were Abu Ghraibh, then a major police fort in west Baghdad, followed by a break, and then first the Interior Ministry and now this. Those last four all seem to have been cut off short – the Ministry attack went only as far as a shoot-out with the guards, without a suicide bomb being employed.

Now, either they are not capable of learning that these tactics aren’t quite getting there, which would be surprising because they are still alive, or something is not obvious. What is it?

CCTV Hacking, Part 2

In our last post we discussed watching other people’s Axis network cameras using Google’s inurl: command. In this post we shall have a look at how to control them.

I now know that the inurl:axis-cgi search isn’t new. In fact, it’s just one of a wedge of Google searches that bring up plenty of cams – try inurl:view/index.shtml, inurl:liveapplet, and inurl:multiplecameramode for more stuff. The view/index.shtml ones are Axis cams with a more user-friendly html front page. Some of those offer nice little control bars for the event that you might want to steer the camera.

If that’s not so, though, a lot of Axis cameras can be remotely steered using CGI commands in the URL. What you need to do is find out if the camera you’re looking through has a file called ptz.cgi on the server – ptz as in pan, tilt and zoom. So, open another browser window or tab, paste the URL of the camera into it, and delete everything after /axis-cgi/. Now type com/ptz.cgi?camera=1, where 1 is the number of the camera you’re looking at. If there isn’t one, or only one camera, just use 1. Hit enter. If a blank web page loads, without requesting a password, you’re in. If there is a 404 error, the camera isn’t of the type that does CGI commands.

Now, you need the commands themselves. Unsurprisingly enough, rpan pans the camera from left to right, rtilt tilts it up and down, rfocus refocuses it, rzoom zooms in or out, and riris sets the iris to suit the light. The r-commands are relative to the camera’s current position..there are also absolute commands, but frankly, who cares? Let’s keep it simple. The values in them are numbers in three or four figures, so a command looks like this:

This pans camera 1 1000 units left. The opposite movement is achieved by placing a minus sign before the value. Once you’ve formulated your command, hit enter, then refresh the window or tab that’s showing the camera output to see results.

Good hunting.

Departing Sharjah 0300 hours for Baghdad. Irbis Air Co. Flight BIS6371. Running on US DOD fuel.

You can be, by following these simple instructions. Background: there is a popular software package for operating surveillance cameras over the Internet, called Axis. This program writes all the stuff coming from the camera into a cgi file which it puts in a subdirectory called /axis-cgi/. Therefore, all the URLs Axis creates in the world have this string in them by default.

Google, the well-known search engine, has a function to look for search terms within URLs by prefixing them with the command inurl: Therefore, we can see all the cameras by searching for inurl:axis-cgi. Try it . Operating notes: most of the camera feeds point to IP addresses rather than domain names, so you will need to do an IPWHOIS lookup to find out whose camera you are looking at. Static images will have the rough format axis-cgi/jpg/image.cgi, while streaming video can usually be found by altering the URL to /mjpg/video.cgi. If the video doesn’t start at once, click refresh or add “showlength=1” without the quotes to the end of the URL, then hit refresh. Beware that these streams may suck up quite a lot of system resources.

Now you, too, can be astonished by East Ayrshire council’s glaring lack of clue, as shown by the fact their street CCTV appears to be openly available on the web: Camera 1, Kilmarnock, and Camera 2, John Finnie St. Can anyone comment on the Data Protection Act implications? After all, it’s one thing to knowingly enter private property, but surely it’s something quite different to forcibly film anyone and everyone in East Ayrshire and transfer the results to anyone who asks for them?

Orwells candidate?

Edit: A hat tip is in order to Ray.