The orange car has deployed a 16-valve engine configuration for this occasion that we've come to expect from their manufacturers - large pistons in a V8 configuration. The huge cubic capacity of this engine, combined with the symmetrically balanced layout of the pistons helps to give that amazing engine note and low-down torque that we're all so familiar with. In a radical move, they've opted for a suspension technology they're calling "leaf-spring", which they tell me completely removes the need for dampeners.

The grey car, on the other hand, has deployed an incredible 5-speed synchromeshed transmission system. Drivers have told me that the gear change is short-throw and very positive. Perhaps less exciting was their decision to stick with a familiar braking technology - drum brakes, rather than disc brakes. Sources close to the manufacturer claim this will definitely pay off in terms of higher speeds.

The blue car's manufacturers have been stressing the benefits of achieving a better power-to-weight ratio, and have managed to lighten their car by building the body of the vehicle out of plastic. They have also fitted the front and rear with a downforce-reducing technology they are calling "inverse spoilers". The manufacturers say this will significantly reduce the amount of weight on the road and "you'll see some serious performances at speeds over 80MPH".

And that brings my commentary on this event to an end.

Imagine if that was the radio commentary on a car race, and that the entire commentary for the duration of the race was like that.

This is the problem I have with a lot of economics journalism - and quite a few other types of journalism, too. The above 'commentary' may be interesting for people who know about cars (and the jokes might amuse), but surely even the biggest petrol head wants an occasional update on who's winning and which car is the fastest (or corners best, or even which is least likely to kill the driver). I'm not claiming that any of this is a brilliant metaphor for the current economic situation, of course.

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You cannot use the Twitter website without having JavaScript enabled on your web browser. Please re-enable JavaScript and refresh this page.

This is the misleading message that Twitter will sometimes show you if you attempt to read a Twitter feed using a browser with Javascript disabled.

To work around the problem, simply add a question mark, followed by any other character, to the end of the web address. Two question marks will work just fine. For example, if the URL for the blocked twitter feed in question is:

then changing the address to this:
will bring up the front page feed without having to enable Javascript.

The strange thing about this Javascript problem is that it seems to happen at random - one day a particular feed will work fine without Javascript, the next it suddenly throws up this barrier. In the interests of getting to the bottom of what causes this, I (shudder) created a Twitter account and spent half an hour playing with all the settings trying to cause the public feed to display the Javascript error message. None of the standard Twitter settings appear to be able to cause the error.* This suggests that it's either being caused by a third-party add-on to Twitter that some of the celeb accounts I've been monitoring (purely research purposes, of course) are switching on and off at random, or this is something that Twitter itself is causing to happen centrally.

If it's the latter, then it's just further evidence of how Twitter (along with other companies) appears to be determined to screw up the basic principle of internet content being universally accessible in its pursuit of money. They recently accused Google of unfairly promoting their own social network in its search results at the expense of other networks such as Twitter and Facebook. That's a bit cheeky considering Facebook's (quite successful) attempts to create a walled internet, and Twitter's attempt to do something similar by presenting an unstable interface to the internet and then effectively sealing off their links to all but the unscrupulous via 'nofollow' links and third-party URL- shorteners.

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Sifting and ranking millions of websites into a top 50 or so is difficult, obviously. (I say 50, because people probably rarely dig further than a few pages).

Most of the time, Google's algorithm works amazingly well considering the scale of the challenge, especially considering that spammers are constantly trying to take advantage of it.

But I think there might be room for improvement.

Google definitely seems to rely at least partly on the popularity of a site (as measured in click-throughs) to rank it. This is clearly open to all sorts of abuse, hence I think ranking should be more about the merit of the text rather than the number of clicks.

Popularity is all well and good, but just look at some of the things that are popular. I'm not being snobby about this - I can enjoy I'm a Celeb as much as the next person, but it would be a bit annoying if I had to craft a fiendishly complex search term or scroll down 1,000 results before I could watch Newsnight.

A choice of algorithms would help to fix this problem. One could search by popularity, another by subject or level of language used, and so on. I think it would be a good idea if there was a learning algorithm that was manually adjusted by actual people moving things up and down the rankings - experts in their field, perhaps, though obviously there'd be issues of staffing and bias to address. A textual meritocracy approach might also enable blogs to be ranked more fairly alongside traditional websites - at the moment, although they do appear in normal search results, they seem to be somewhat ghetto-ised into a specific blog search option.

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Facebook and Twitter are currently moving vast swathes of text, information and human interaction out of the reach of search engines. Of course, I'm not a Zuckerberg-style anti-privacy zealot, far from it. People should always be able to communicate conveniently and privately with their friends via computers. That's what email and instant messaging is for.

But where would we be if every little question asked and answered vanished into the depths of Zuckerberg's private network? What if, one day, you wanted to look up that strange error message your computer was giving you (or, to take a more life-and-death example, imagine you needed to know how to cook a haggis) and the only results that came back in Google were those spam sites that are increasingly clogging up the internet - because no-one was talking on forums or contributing to public comments any more?

No doubt there's also a lot of text stored in Facebook that is of no value whatsoever, and the internet would be a poorer place for having it, but that's the job of search engines - sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Not only is text vanishing from the internet, but so is information about that text. If hyperlinks to interesting content are increasingly shared via non-searchable social networks, then search engines will be increasingly starved of information used to determine what is popular or useful. Facebook delivers a double blow to the internet - not only is it siphoning off content, it may also be making search engines less able to sort the information they already have.

It's not just Facebook. Many websites are increasingly making use of facilities that can't be seen or used without enabling Javascript. This is annoying for people like myself who value their online security and therefore use NoScript, but it creates a much greater problem. For example, look at the comment facility on this very website, provided by IntenseDebate. It's convenient for me to use because I didn't have to write the comments system myself and all the processing is stored and handled by IntenseDebate's servers, elsewhere. But because it uses Javascript, it can't easily be indexed by Google, nor any search engine for that matter. The comments left on this website do not appear in any search engine.

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A Guide to Security and Privacy for Windows XP Home Edition

A complete set of instructions for installing and configuring Windows XP for maximum security and privacy.

This article may also be useful for other versions of Windows, it's difficult to say - Windows XP is the only version of Windows that I run. Why? Because it's a good, solid version that still has a few years left in it (support for Windows XP ends April 2014) and it has quite modest demands in terms of how modern and fast a computer it requires. The less your computer is being overrun by Windows' demands, the more of its resources are available to the actual programs you want to run. That's why, if you look at the minimum hardware requirements for computer games, software developers tend to specify more memory and processor power for Vista and Windows 7 than they do for Windows XP. In many ways, it pays to stay with the oldest version of Windows that Microsoft still supports that also meets your requirements.

Follow this advice at your own risk, and remember that with today's delightfully complex operating systems, there is no such thing as a completely hack-proof, internet-connected computer. No, not even a Linux or Apple Mac PC. I've tried to make this article as understandable as possible, though you will need some familiarity with various IT concepts. In an attempt to offset this, I'll try to provide helpful links to explain things where I can. Be sure to read and understand the entire article before attempting to follow the steps.

The Quick Version / Checklist / Table of Contents

Get a clean copy of Windows
Download all relevant security patches and service packs
Install Windows - Formatting, partitioning and other considerations
Install Windows - Initial network settings
Install Windows - Setting usernames
Install all Security Updates
Disable unnecessary services
Disable remote assistance and switch on DEP
Disable Autorun
Finish network settings and install firewall
Set up and Secure the user accounts
Disable hidden file extensions
Secure BIOS
Remove unwanted software / List of default Windows processes running on a minimal system
Connect to the internet and run Windows Update
Secure Web Browser
Configure Email
General security and privacy hints and tips
Advanced Security Issues
The Problem of asking an operating system to check itself and the bigger picture
List of useful free software

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Cars are increasingly being fitted with GPS screens, trip computers wired into the engine management computers and on-board entertainment systems that can display TV, play MP3s, and even connect to the internet.

All great stuff, but computer security can be really complicated, so I hope car manufacturers' software engineering is more rigorous than that often found in the home computing sphere.

It's fine if all these systems are separate from each other, but convenience, interoperability and efficiency suggests that all of these systems will get knitted together into one in-car IT system. Once this happens, a vulnerability in one system could open the doors to exploitation of all the other systems. For example, a music CD burned with some encoded malware might be able to instruct the engine's fuel injection system to shut down, disabling the engine. In my opinion, engineering and diagnostic functions should never be accessible via a method that could be potentially invisible to the car owner. The possibilities for a car equipped with mobile internet connectivity could be horrifyingly endless.

I like in-car gadgets, but I hope the car industry has learned from the mistakes of other sectors and are keeping their various systems completely separate, or at least keeping the security and engine management systems apart from everything but immobilisers and diagnostics.

I'll be surprised and impressed if we don't hear of cars being hacked within the next few years.

From the standpoint of someone who makes some effort to keep up with the very fast-moving world of IT (sometimes needlessly fast, in my opinion), car manufacturers often seem very slow to innovate. Maybe this is as a result of being cautious of new technologies and extensive testing and engineering.

Progress is generally a good thing. Few people today would want a car that had to be started with a crank handle because it lacked a starter motor. Similarly, most people would not want to be without an engine management computer, as the computer can generally adjust the fuel/air mixture better than a human operating a manual choke, and manage a number of other engine parameters better than the old mechanical methods that were used.

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More Info on the Raspberry Pi Linux PC

Since my last article on the amazing Raspberry Pi miniature computer, the Raspberry Pi team have been extremely busy.

The specifications as reported in my original article have now changed, and there are now two different models planned.

Both models are equipped with a 700Mhz ARM11 processor. I did some rough calculations around the time of the Raspberry's announcement and decided the processing power would probably be roughly equivalent to a Pentium III running at about 600Mhz. Delvings into the Raspberry Pi website suggest it might be closer to a PII or PIII@250Mhz. However it should be noted that it's very difficult to fairly compare the performance of different processors against each other in an easy way. The proof of the Raspberry Pi will, of course, be in the real-world feel of how it performs - something we might discover by the end of November, which is the earliest mentioned launch for their initial 10,000 unit production run.

Both models are based on a Broadcom BCM2835 board, with a surprisingly powerful on-board OpenGL ES 2.0-capable VideoCore IV graphics processor (my rough guess is that it's somewhat better than an old Nvidia GeForce 2).

The Raspberry Pi running Quake 3

This means that the RasPi will probably be capable of running all my favourite Linux games.

The graphics card will share the memory available to the system, and the amount of RAM it reserves (and removes from the memory available to the system) will be variable and can be customised depending on need.

All versions of the Pi will come with a full-sized SD memory card slot. This will provide a solid-state hard drive and swap memory facility. It could also be used like a video game cartridge slot, since the graphics chip will boot whatever Operating System (OS) it finds on the card.

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Lessons from History - Part 1: Economic Depression in 1930s America

While looking for a book to read, I found one of my old History textbooks. Having read the section on the great depression of the 1930s, I thought I'd share it. Hopefully the original publisher's and author's drive to educate will outweigh any temptation to enforce copyright, should they stumble upon this page.

It's interesting to compare the current economic slump to what was written about the 1930s'. There are a number of common elements, but many of the locations, players and types of debt and speculation have changed somewhat.

Extract from Mastering Modern World History, Second Edition, by Norman Lowe, published by Macmillan - pages 111 to 113. The numbering and use of bold and italic type are from the original text.

(a) What caused the great depression?

(i) American industrialists, encouraged by high profits and aided by increased mechanisation, were producing too many goods for the home market to absorb. (in the same way as American farmers). This was not apparent in the early 1920s, but as the 1930s approached unsold stocks of goods began to build up, and manufacturers produced less; since fewer workers were required, men were laid off; and as there was no unemployment benefit, these men and their families bought less. And so the vicious circle continued.

(ii) There was a maldistribution of income, which means that the enormous profits made by industrialists were not being shared evenly among the workers. The average wage for industrial workers rose by about 8 per cent between 1923 and 1929 but during the same period industrial profits increased by 72 per cent. An 8 per cent increase in wages meant that there was not enough buying power in the hands of the general public to sustain the boom: they could manage to absorb production for a time with the help of credit but by 1929 they were fast approaching the limit. Unfortunately manufacturers, usually in the form of the super-corporation, were not prepared to reduce prices or to increase wages substantially, and so the glut of consumer goods built up. This refusal by the manufacturers to compromise was shortsighted to say the least; at the beginning of 1929 there were still millions of Americans who had no radio, no electric washer and no car because they could not afford them. If employers had been content with rather less profit there is no reason why the boom could not have continued for several more years while its benefits were more widely shared. Even so, a slump was still not inevitable provided the Americans could export their surplus products.

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It's a long-standing argument, and no doubt there's a lot of truth in it. Local businesses seem to manage to stick around, but it must be difficult to compete with the power and resources of the supermarket giants.

Supermarkets succeed for various reasons, but the most important one is that most people prefer to shop in a supermarket rather than trail round the local shops. I like the idea of supporting local business, but supermarkets are more convenient, usually have a better range and thanks to their massive buying power, they're often cheaper.

The solution seems obvious - become a supermarket.

No one market trader or local shop owner could do it alone, of course, but if they got together and pooled their resources perhaps they could rent or buy a town centre location or a big plot of land out of town and make their own supermarket.

So why isn't it happening all the time?

I really don't know. I can think of various reasons, but I'm not sure any of them are correct. It actually does happen to some extent (most of the major retailers started out as market traders or small businesses), but not as much as I might expect. Near me, there's a nice little indoor market. If all of those people got together, they'd have the basis of a proper mass retail business. I suppose an indoor market is already almost a supermarket, but it would be better if it worked more like a proper supermarket, with shopping trolleys and a place to pay at the end, after the shopper had gathered everything they wanted.

That indoor market space could act as the start of a business conveyor belt: The existing businesses move up to being a proper supermarket, and the space gets filled with a new generation of market traders, who eventually save up enough money to go on to make the next supermarket.

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