Uncontacted Tribes

May 30th, 2008

This has to be the news story of the day for me. I find it incredible to think there are still tribes out there that have had little or no contact with the outside world. Part of me still thinks this story is a hoax, but I really want to think it is true.


March 2nd, 2008

Last weekend there was a widely reported outage on the YouTube video sharing website. It happened the same day that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Pakistan had been instructed to prevent their customers from accessing the site.

So, why did this cause a problem for Internet users around the rest of the world?

To start off, here’s a little introduction to how the computers on the Internet know how to reach each other. Every computer has an Internet Protocol address (IP address). This is usually represented as four numbers separated by dots, e.g., but at the computer level it is a single number between zero and about four billion. Each ISP advertises the addresses it is responsible for by using the lowest number of the range and the length of the range. So, for example, I might say I am responsible for everything from to

This advertisement of which addresses an ISP is responsible for is known as a routing advertisement, and is advertised using a protocol called the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). ISPs speak BGP to each other so they all know who is responsible for which range. Usually only one ISP is responsible for a particular range of addresses, but it is possible to punch holes in that by advertising a smaller range of addresses. For a particular computer, the narrower range always takes precedence over the larger range.

For the range of addresses relevant to the problem last week, YouTube advertises a range of about a thousand addresses, but to prevent access to YouTube, one of the ISPs in Pakistan claimed to be responsible for about 250 of those addresses. This claim was only meant to be used internally to the ISP, and it would not have been a problem if it was kept internal, but the engineer made a mistake and the routing advertisement was passed onto other ISPs, until most of the world saw it. As it was a smaller range of addresses (a “more specific” route advertisement), everyone started to send YouTube traffic to the ISP in Pakistan, but of course, it didn’t know what to do with them and so the traffic was dropped and nobody could access YouTube.

YouTube tried to fix this by advertising ranges of about 130 addresses to try to be even more specific, but most ISPs don’t listen to advertisements of less than 250 addresses because there is the potential for there to be just too many of them. In the end, it took the ISP of the Pakistan ISP to block the route advertisements for everything to start working again. This was achieved within a couple of hours, which may have been a long time for YouTube to be unreachable, but isn’t bad when you consider the distance involved between all the parties in question.

Whilst the ISP is Pakistan should not have advertised this address range, the larger ISP that provides service to them should not have believed it either, so knowing that accidents happen, the blame lies with both of them. However, the mechanisms for knowing which route advertisements to believe are far from perfect, and there is a large degree of trust in fellow ISPs involved.

The problem is well-known, and work has been on-going to try and provide better ways of authenticating route announcements for some years, but we are still a little way from that being a reality. In the meantime, know that ISPs that were being less strict on what they believe from other ISPs are trying to tighten that down, but if things do go wrong again, rest assured that engineers at most of the larger ISP are talking to each other trying to spot any problems and fix them quickly.

A Day Off…

February 15th, 2008

Yesterday I was starting to think that I’d made a mistake. Going to an exhibition in the Natural History Museum during half-term, was I mad? I made sure I got there shortly after the museum opened at 10am, and luckily, whilst the museum was busy, there was no queue to get in and few of the families were heading to the same room as I was — the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. I’ve been the past few years, and it is an hour well spent. Lots of good photographs, some by professionals, some by amateurs, some by kids. By the time I left, the museum was heaving, and the queue at the front door stretched down to the front gates.

Next, I strolled down through South Kensington, somewhere I was once a regular, but now somewhere I haven’t been for a year or more, to a cinema on Fulham Road to watch the latest Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men. Through the adverts and trailers I thought I’d struck it lucky as I was the only person in the cinema, but a couple of minutes into the film another couple walked in and sat a few rows behind me. Still, three people in a cinema, you can’t get much closer to a private screening. Perhaps I should make all my cinema visits at midday on a Friday.

The film was great. Stunning cinematography of the Texan landscape, interesting characters, and a few unexpected twists. If you like other Coen Brothers films, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Then it was back to the flat and just about time for a short ride as the sun set over Essex with a superb range of purples and oranges in the sky.

Not a bad day, perhaps I should take more days off. I’ve only got another 30.5 to use up before the end of March.

Lucky seven.

January 17th, 2008

Today marked seven months and seven days since the little knock on my leg, and it was also the day I picked up my new bike. The weather wasn’t completely on my side, so I didn’t manage to get many miles under my belt, but it felt good to be back on a bike. It certainly feels much smoother than my old Bandit, and I’m looking forward to doing a bit more distance on it.

Seven also seems to be quite a lucky number for the passengers on the 777 that crashed at Heathrow today. I’m sure they’d rather not have been on board that plane at all, but if it had landed even a hundred metres shorter the outcome could have been very different.

I done gone did it.

January 13th, 2008

The plan for yesterday was quite simple. I’d head into town, have a quick browse in Motoden, then catch the tube up to Arnos Grove and hand over the readies for the Honda Deauville that has been advertised for the past couple of months.

On the way to Motoden, I passed a Yamaha showroom that I hadn’t seen before, George White on Shoreditch High Street. Nothing very interesting, so I moved on. When I got to Motoden, I had a quick walk around, saw the more expensive Deauville they had there, but as I was about to wander out the salesman asked if I needed any help. I explained what I was looking for, and he asked if I’d considered a CBF600SA. I hadn’t, as I’d always thought of them as bland bikes, and that’s coming from someone considering a Deauville, but on the other hand, that might work to my advantage when it comes to insuring it. For about £3500 I could get a CBF600S with ABS that was only a couple of years old. Bearing that in mind, I headed off to Arnos Grove.

It took a little while to find 1st Line Motorcycles, but that’s my fault for not taking enough notice of where it was relative to the tube station beforehand. When I did get there, the Deauville was sitting in front of the showroom with “SOLD” scrawled across the windscreen in marker pen. I wasn’t too disappointed, as I can now see what sort of Deauville you get for £2,700. The crossmember on the swingarm had quite a bit of rust, and it looked its age. I wandered around the showroom, but there weren’t that many other used bikes.

The main problem I had with buying the CBF was that I had no idea how much it would cost to insure. It had never featured in my plans, so I’d not spent any time finding out how much it would cost. On the way back to the tube station was an internet cafe, which I was about to pop into when I realised I could just head back to the office. Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad, so after few minutes thought, including reading MCN’s rather downbeat review, followed by the far more complimentary user reviews, I figured I would go for it.

I walked back to Motoden and spoke to another of the salesmen for some more details on the three CBFs they had in stock. They were all about the same age, but one, whilst it had higher mileage, also had heated grips and a hugger fitted. Apparently it had just been used as trade-in on a VFR and had been owned by the chairman of the Honda Owners Club and well kept and maintained. In retrospect I should have tried to get a couple of hundred off for the high mileage, but it is probably too late for that now. I pick it up on Thursday.

Now to sort out the insurance…

The time has come.

January 11th, 2008

It has been seven months since my little accident. The fracture clinic has signed me off, the physiotherapist has signed me off.

My new boots, trousers, jacket and helmet arrived a couple of days ago. That only leaves one thing — something to sit on.

I’ve been doing a bit of shopping around, and the insurance is going to sting me, but the best bet looks to be something like a five year old Honda Deauville. Cheap(ish) to insure, capable of large mileage, and reliable. If I can keep that for two or three years, the no-claims will build up and I should be able to think about getting something newer, whether it is more powerful or not.

Blogging from my desktop…

January 7th, 2008

My blog entries are approximately as frequent as postings on Mil Millington’s “Things That My Girlfriend and I have Argued About” list.

This is just a test of a small applet running on my desk which will make it even easier for me to avoid writing anything.

Progress (finally).

November 10th, 2007

Today I had the latest of my visits to the Fracture Clinic, which have been happening every four weeks since I left hospital. The routine is fairly standard, I go in full of hope and optimism, convinced my leg is just about fixed, then come out a little later, disappointed to find it isn’t . The previous appointment four weeks ago was perhaps the worst example of this, as it marked four months since the accident, I was feeling good, but for the first time I saw the X-Rays of my leg, the gap that still existed between the bones, and the extent of the initial damage. The registrar was concerned and said that if there was no change by the next check-up, they might have to consider a minor operation to remove two of the four screws that hold the intramedullary nail in, which would cause an increase in movement and encourage bone growth.

Today I arrived at the clinic again full of optimism. The receptionists were having a bad day, and the notice board behind them said that only one consultant was in and there were long delays. I settled in with a book and waited for the nurse to call me and send me to X-Ray. Down at X-Ray the radiographers were standing around the desk so I got in straight away. The radiographer was a kiwi with an interest in bikes, so we had a bit of a chat whilst he was copying the image onto the computers (no film to develop nowadays), but mentioned in passing that I’d really done a good job on the leg. This worried me a touch, as I figured it meant I still had a way to go. I went back to the clinic and waited to be called in to the registrar.

A few minutes later this happened, and he said that there was a lot of new bone growth over the last four weeks and showed me the X-Rays to prove it. There is a large “cloudy” chunk around the fracture site, which is new bone growing. He asked if I was still using the crutch and I told him I was (which isn’t a lie, I don’t use it all the time, but I do use it), so he said I don’t need to any more. Result. I’ve never been happier leaving the fracture clinic than I was today. One more visit, but not for six weeks, and that could be the final one. I’ve also got permission to fly long-haul again, so metal detectors notwithstanding, my new passport needs to be christened with a stamp. Travelling to and from Amsterdam just doesn’t cut it.

I think I’m almost there…

National pride

September 8th, 2007

England won at rugby (against the USA), football (against Israel) and cricket (against India) today.  All topped off with the Last Night of the Proms.  If I wasn’t Welsh, I’d be proud to be English!  Instead I’ll settle with being satisfied to be British.

Rugby World Cup

September 8th, 2007

It is Rugby World Cup time again, and whilst I’m all for more rugby union on the TV, I’ve got a couple of issues at the moment.  The first is that as any fule does kno, rugby must be on the BBC.  It just isn’t the same on the ITV, the commentators don’t have the experience, and there’s very little half-time analysis when you’ve got to fit two commercial breaks in.  I don’t know which channel broadcast the last RWC, but that is because I was watching it on Star Sports.

Which brings up the other issue.  The return of the RWC means it is four years since I was away for my little trip.  Trying to watch the first couple of group matches on the Muslim east coast, during Ramadan, at the start of the monsoon season, including at an almost-deserted Cherating beach where I managed to persuade the only bar that was open to show a match.  Then across to the west coast.  Malacca, Cameron Highlands, and the finals on Pankgor along with a couple of Irish girls that were following the same route.

I was thinking about using this as an excuse to indulge in some thought about what has changed in those four years, but maybe I’ll save that for now.


Rainforest World Music Festival

July 15th, 2007

Speaking of the Rainforest World Music Festival, it looks like it kicked off yesterday with a group from Bario.


July 14th, 2007

By chance, I listened to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on Radio 4 this morning. Purely coincidentally it had an item on the threat to the Penans of Sarawak from logging in Borneo (BBC have an MP3 of the show, but I don’t know how long it will be available, the item is 17 minutes into the file). The Penans that the journalist visited were close to Bario, where I spent two months as a teaching assistant, and may have been some of the ones that I had seen when I was there, or later when I was writing my Guide to Long Lellang, a Kelabit village, but with several Penan settlements nearby such as Long Main and Long Sait which I walked to. I hope it may have been slightly dramatised, but it painted a very bleak picture for the future of the people as more and more of the Borneo rainforest is torn down.

It was the second mention I’d heard of Sarawak on Radio 4 this morning. In ‘Excess Baggage’, the Rainforest Music Festival, which takes place near Kuching at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Who am I kidding?

July 13th, 2007

Of course I am going to ride a bike again.

I am in no rush to repeat the experience of the last few weeks, and more importantly, I don’t want to put friends, family, and the emergency services through it again, but it isn’t that easy to stop riding a motorcycle. There is still so much I want to do on two wheels. Travelling around the UK, touring through Europe, and hopefully, venturing further afield. Even just riding into work in the morning and arriving with a grin on my face. Somebody mentioned something quite appropriate, which is if I don’t get back on a bike now, I’ll only do it again in 10 years time and regret all the time I’d missed in between. It is interesting to note that it is the people without a bike that ask “are you going to ride again?” Other riders ask “when are you going to ride again?”

I’ve found out that the bike has been classified as a write-off. I was insured fully comp, so I should get a settlement for the bike, but even just taking that into consideration, my next insurance quote is going to be a fortune. On top of that I need to replace all my gear, as none of it has made it back home. Most of it was cut off me, but the helmet and my left boot were given to me. You don’t ask a helmet to save you twice, so that went, and what use is one boot? Even if I could have bought the matching one, it was pretty much worn through on the toe anyway, and that was on the leg that wasn’t hurt. Bearing that in mind, I guess my next bike has to be a cheaper runabout for a few years until the premiums start to come down again.

Maybe an advanced riding course would also be a good investment.

Reporting the news, or part of the news?

July 12th, 2007

One of the problems of spending alot of time at home with the TV on, is that you spend alot of time at home with the TV on. I still haven’t succumbed to mainstream daytime TV, but I do leave the TV on News24 in the background (the remote is broken, and it is an old TV, so getting up to turn it off is a major event). I think we can all be happy that Alan Johnston was released in good health, but the BBC didn’t half ham it up. Pictures of their correspondents all over the world with pictures or posters of Alan, or congregated outside Television Centre. Today, one of the major items on BBC news, including the introduction to NewsNight in the evening, has been that the Corporation has apologised to Her Majesty and Annie Liebowitz over some mis-editing of a clip, and some bravado by a producer, that suggested to other press organisations the Queen had walked out of a portrait session during her last visit to the US. It is vaguely newsworthy, but “breaking news” that has to be covered as the first item at the top of the hour? Not really. I do note it was covered on Channel 4 News at 7pm, but 47 minutes into a 55 minute programme. That may be a bit more like it.


July 4th, 2007

Today was Gordon Brown’s first Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament.  At one point, he pointed out that the leader of the opposition should remember he’d only been in office for five days.

Well, that’s alright then, let’s just hope we don’t get anything like terrorist attacks for the first couple of weeks or so.

New bikes, and hospital.

June 22nd, 2007

Saturday June 9th I picked up my brand new motorbike, a Suzuki DL650X.  I wanted to get the engine run in before a Scotland trip that was supposed to start two weeks later on the 23rd, so I put the first 150 miles on it that afternoon and took it out again on the Sunday.  All is going well until I’m heading homewards, going gently around a roundabout, when the next thing I know I am sliding along the road towards the rear of a car.  I don’t remember much about lying on the ground, I only remember a couple of items in the ambulance (giving a breath test), and then I’m in A&E (ER) at Harlow Hospital being told I’ve broken my leg.

I was conscious enough to call my Dad to tell him I’ve had a bit of an accident, to remember the radiographer rather unkindly saying “motorbiker, what does he expect,” but little else.  I was warned I was going into theatre and the next thing I remember is the recovery room, nodding as people are telling me things, but not really taking in alot about what happened.  Tuesday and Thursday I had two more operations as they closed up the wounds that had been opened to reduce the swelling as a metal pin had been inserted into my tibia.

The first thing I have to do here is thank all the staff at the hospital that looked after me very well, even that one radiographer.  Then I also have to thank whoever it was that called the police and ambulance and stayed with me when I was laying on the road.  Unfortunately I have absolutely no recollection of you, but I am truly grateful.  After that there’s the ambulancemen and paramedics that got me to hospital.  Finally, and most of all, the friends, family and colleagues that have supported me.

One of the things that struck me in hospital was the “PatientLine” system that allows you to stay in touch when you’re in hospital.  It costs £2.90 a day to activate, and for that you get some TV channels, some games, and basic internet access using a small keypad.  If you want to make calls it costs 24p/min to landlines, mobiles are more, but to be called from the outside it is even more expensive, 39p/min or 49p/min depending on the time of day.   I also note that whilst the beds and surrounding areas are disinfected between patients, the PatientLine unit isn’t — you don’t even seem to get a fresh pair of foam pads on the headphones.

It has been many years since I last stayed in hospital myself — I think I was around 14 at the time, but for somewhere you’re supposed to be recuperating, they are no place to get a good night’s sleep.  Trolleys and boxes being pushed around are one thing, but the pained sounds from other patients can make for a harrowing night.

As for myself, I’ve got wounds from knee to ankle either side of my right leg from the operations.  They should have the staples and stitches taken out in a week or so, after which the main aim will be to get the bone healed.  Finally there may be the need for some physiotherapy after that.  The consultant reckons 4-5 months to be fully healed, but it sounds like my mobility will be severely limited until then.  I asked if I might be able to use the underground to get into work after a couple of months, and he made it sound very unlikely.

When I am fully healed, will I be getting on a bike again?  This is the $64,000 question.  At the moment, I don’t really know.  I love motorcycling alot, but I would never dream of putting the people I mentioned previously through the same ordeal.  However, it could have happened doing any number of things.  Am I less likely to cross the road?  Ride a bicycle?  Go trekking?  Probably “no” to all three.  I guess I need some time to think about it.

Nobody talks on the Underground.

September 30th, 2006

Everybody knows the rule, time on the tube is your own private time. You don’t look at anybody else, and you certainly don’t talk to them. Well, I’ve had a glimpse into a different world over the past couple of days.

Thursday evening I’m on the platform at Liverpool Street, waiting for a tube. There’s a girl sitting on one of the benches and I see a guy sit down next to her and start chatting, they don’t appear to know each other, but they’ve both had a bit to drink. They’re waiting for the same train as I am, and when we all get on they’re sitting across the aisle, a few seats further down. She appears to be very chatty, and soon enough she draws the guy across from them into their conversation (I recall the opener was her saying to him, “You look p*ss*d off”), and another guy next to him. At this point the original guy is looking as though he wishes he’d picked someone else to chat up, but the damage is done and he’s started something far bigger than himself now. As the contagion creeps down the carriage, I hold out for a few minutes, then start chatting with the woman next to me. Mainly about the people across the carriage, but also about the Sainsbury’s Chicken Salad that is on the seat between us, still in its plastic bowl with film top and cardboard sleeve, which looks as though it had just been picked off the shelf and placed there. Eventually the others get off, and I end up chatting to the woman until my stop. So, Claire the South African that lives in Theydon Bois and works near Bank, it was good talking to you! Maybe it is a little odd that under normal circumstances, certainly if it had been earlier in the evening, the unopened, pristine chicken salad would have gone without comment.

Friday morning, on the way into work, the train is pulling into the next station, Loughton, and as it pulls in I spot someone that I think I know. Coincidentally, the train is stopping so she’ll be getting on the door nearest me. Fairly sure I know who it is, but still not trusting my memory, I figure I’ll wait and see if she recognises me before potentially making a fool of myself. “Hello, Rob” I hear, “I haven’t seen you for ages!” At the time I was thinking “ages” was about seven years, but in retrospect it may be closer to 10. Now it turns out she lives about half a mile from me, although neither of us lived in this area at the time. Small world and all that.

Friday evening, things were a bit more lively. The train was crowded and a girl was sitting on her boyfriend’s knee in the middle of one of the benches, both of them eating a McDonalds. Two other girls were standing near the end of the opposite bench, and when the people nearest them got up, were headed for the free seats. However, by the time they’d let the people pass, the couple (who must have seen the two girls) had dashed across and sat in the seats. I didn’t think much of it, but it did colour my view of the couple. A few minutes later I can hear voices gradually getting raised. A woman sitting next to the couple must have said something about them eating their smelly burgers in the packed carriage, and the argument was getting a little heated. Just as it started to calm down, a guy sitting next to the woman chimed in and asked them to keep it down — somewhat ironic given I’d been able to hear his iPod just before. Instead of calming things down, though, that just inflamed the argument and whilst the girl and the woman had eased off, now the two men were shouting at each other. At Leytonstone, the man that had challenged the couple got off the train, as did the other guy, with his girlfriend hot on his heels. Next thing I know there’s alot of raised voices going on, and the girlfriend and a couple of bystanders are ushering the man back in the carriage to avoid it turning physical. For the rest of the journey until they got off, the man sat on the end-seat, sulking in a child-like fashion (perhaps he was trying to look mean and moody), whilst his girlfriend talked a bit more amiably to the people opposite. It came quite close to getting violent.

So, people do talk to each other on the tube, maybe I’m missing something when I ride into work on my bike!


September 16th, 2006

I’m sitting here watching a broadcast of the concert I missed earlier. Not only the Scissor Sisters, but introduced by Kylie.


I could have been there.

There’s no point in going any further, my command of the English language isn’t sufficient to prevent it dropping into obscenities.

Is it worth it?

September 16th, 2006

One of the parts of my job is that about one week in every five I am on-call. This isn’t usually too onerous and more often than not it just means taking it easy and ensuring I’m near a computer and somewhere with mobile phone reception. If there are events that make it awkward to be on-call, I can swap with my colleagues.

So earlier this week I sent a message out asking for someone to help cover this evening, Saturday, as a friend had won tickets to tonight’s Scissor Sisters concert in Trafalgar Square. Nobody replied, but the guy I’m on-call with said not to worry, as long as nothing major happened he’d be able to cope.

8am I start getting pages indicating a major network fault. Guess what? I’ve had to let down my friend and spend all day, and now this evening, in front of a computer instead of being at a one-off gig. I get paid a reasonable amount for being on-call, but is it worth it? I’m starting to think not. I’m not feeling very charitable towards the company that let us down today and caused the problems.

Party Political Broadcasts

April 18th, 2006

I wish more politicians would watch “The West Wing.” The recent election portrayed there showed the candidates, both of them relatively upstanding men (as politicians go) making every attempt to refrain from using negative campaigning. Of course, that eventually broke down, but the sentiment was there.

This evening I saw the Labour Party’s first Party Political Broadcast for the upcoming council elections. You might think that in these enlightened times it would have let us know how good Labour councils are in providing local services (regardless of whether they truly are or not — this is an election broadcast after all). No such luck. Instead the entire time was spent talking about a chameleon called “Dave.” For those of you outside the UK, this refers to the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. They even have a website, Dave the Chameleon.

Does this encourage me to vote Labour? No, if anything it turns me off them. Why should I vote for them? Because they can call somebody else names? There were plenty of kids in the schoolyard that could do that. I’m having difficulty seeing who the broadcast was aimed at. Conservatives? I can’t see them taking it seriously. Floating voters? Would anybody fall for such a cheap trick? Nope, the only people I can see it amusing are the insiders, and their mind is already make up. What a waste of time and money. I’m all for a bit of sarcasm (I’ve even been known to use it myself on occasion), but please, make it worthwhile.

To top it off, one of the links opens a Microsoft Word document. Not HTML, not even PDF, but good old MS Word. XP helpfully reminds me, “If you do not trust the source, do not open or save this file.” Well, do I trust the website of any political party? What do you think?