In spite of the pouring rain, things seemed to go fairly well. Brian had dropped dead from malnutrition and hypothermia after about half an hour, but, ever the optimist, Kevin thought that, all in all, their plucky debut performance was not the total disaster that some had predicted it would be.
Daze of Our Lives

The Origin of the Big Bang: Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle famously coined the term “Big Bang” to characterize the single creation theory of cosmology in a series of talks he gave on BBC radio broadcasts in the late 1940s. Equally famous was Hoyle’s own view of the universe wherein creation of matter was continuous without beginning or end. To his way of thinking, the “big bang” was counter-intuitive to nature and more at home to theology. As he said in the third programme broadcast in 1949:

[My theory] replaces a hypothesis that lies concealed in the older theories, which assume, as I have already said, that the whole of the matter in the universe was created in one big hang at a particular time in the the remote past. On scientific grounds this big bang hypothesis is much the less palatable of the two. For it is an irrational process that cannot be described in scientific terms.

See Hoyle’s entire script for the programme below.

Hoyle responds to a couple of questions about his theories.

Here’s the transcript of his “Big Bang” talk as heard on the Beeb some time ago.

Monday, 28th March, 1949, 6.30-6.50 p.m. THIRD PROGRAMME

Tonight I want to tell you about some new work on the expanding universe. Together with two of my colleagues H. Bondi and T. Gold, I’ve reached the conclusion that the universe is in a state of continuous creation.

When we look at the sky on a clear night we see that the stars are mainly concentrated along the Milky Way. Astronomers infer from this simple observation that, here on Earth, we are situated inside a great disk-shaped system of stars. This system, which is usually referred to as the Galaxy, is of enormous size. To go right round it at the speed of light would take about two hundred thousand years.

Nor is this the end of the domain of the astronomer. In the nineteenth century the large telescope built by the Earl of Rosse showed that certain types of nebulae can be detected in all directions. For many years controversy raged as to whether these objects were small patches of luminous gas within our own Galaxy or whether they were great independent stellar systems having dimensions comparable with those of the Milky Way itself. The issue was finally settled by the American astronomers who found that they are indeed independent stellar systems. The number of these independent galaxies within the range of present observation is about a thousand million. It has also been found possible, largely through the work of Hubble, to establish a rough scale of distances. It turns out that light takes about two thousand million years to travel to us from the most distant galaxies visible in the largest telescopes. So the light we now receive from them must have started its journey at about the time the oldest known rocks on the Earth were laid down probably before the dawn of life on the earth.

At this stage it is natural to ask the question.

Where have these galaxies come from? It now seems very probable that they have condensed out of a uniform background of diffuse gaseous material.

Is this background exhausted?

Or can new galaxies still condense out of it?

It is my own view that the background is a very far from being exhausted. I would estimate only about one part in a hundred has been used up to form the galaxies. It is therefore to be expected that new condensations are continually being formed out of it.

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Mark Twain’s “Roughing It”: The Cayote

The following excerpt was the inspiration for Chuck Jone’s Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cat-and-mouse team created at the Termite Terrace studio at Warner.

Chuck Jones and Termite Terrace (inset)

Chuck Jones and Termite Terrace (inset)

Excerpt from Chapter V of Mark Twain’s Roughing It.

Along about an hour after breakfast we saw the first prairie-dog villages, the first antelope, and the first wolf. If I remember rightly, this latter was the regular cayote (pronounced ky-o-te) of the farther deserts. And if it was, he was not a pretty creature or respectable either, for I got well acquainted with his race afterward, and can speak with confidence. The cayote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The cayote is a living, breathing allegory of Want.

Illustration from "Roughing It"

Illustration from "Roughing It"

He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spiritless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely!—so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired, and pitiful. When he sees you he lifts his lip and lets a flash of his teeth out, and then turns a little out of the course he was pursuing, depresses his head a bit, and strikes a long, soft-footed trot through the sage-brush, glancing over his shoulder at you, from time to time, till he is about out of easy pistol range, and then he stops and takes a deliberate survey of you; he will trot fifty yards and stop again—another fifty and stop again; and finally the gray of his gliding body blends with the gray of the sage-brush, and he disappears. All this is when you make no demonstration against him; but if you do, he develops a livelier interest in his journey, and instantly electrifies his heels and puts such a deal of real estate between himself and your weapon, that by the time you have raised the hammer you see that you need a minie rifle, and by the time you have got him in line you need a rifled cannon, and by the time you have “drawn a bead” on him you see well enough that nothing but an unusually long-winded streak of lightning could reach him where he is now. But if you start a swift-footed dog after him, you will enjoy it ever so much—especially if it is a dog that has a good opinion of himself, and has been brought up to think he knows something about speed. Read the rest of this entry »

PHPBB3 Spam Control Mechanism as of version 3.0.6

In the article, PHPBB 3.0x Registration Spam Control Mechanism, a guide was presented on how to tighten up access to the well-known bulletin board software, focusing on the registration component where anyone can sign up as a new user. The scheme was meant to make it more difficult to automatically sign up using common exploits. At the time of writing, the software version of interest was 3.0.4. As of the current version, 3.0.6, the scheme described will not work, owing to changes in the software. This article will briefly go over a new scheme that suits the newest version.

The image verification method has been incorporated into its own class and is located in the normal install directory, here: /includes/captcha/plugins/captcha_abstract.php. This class affects both registration and anonymous posting, unlike before, when the code was specific to the target areas. So, in addition to registration access control, anonymous posting will receive the same treatment with the following modifications to the file (line numbers are approximate):

25 class phpbb_default_captcha
26 {
27         var $confirm_id;
28         var $confirm_code;
29         var $confirm_char; // mod
30         var $code;

41                 // read input
42                 $this->confirm_id = request_var('confirm_id', '');
43                 $this->confirm_code = request_var('confirm_code', '');
44                 $this->confirm_char = request_var('confirm_char', ''); // mod
45                 $refresh = request_var('refresh_vc', false) && $config['confirm_refresh'];

308                                 AND confirm_type = " . $this->type;
309                 $result = $db->sql_query($sql);
310                 $row = $db->sql_fetchrow($result);
311                 $db->sql_freeresult($result);
313                 if ($row)
314                 {
316                         $this->code = $this->confirm_char . $row['code']; //mod
317                         $this->seed = $row['seed'];
318                         $this->attempts = $row['attempts'];
319                         return true;
320                 }
322                 return false;

The lines of code, added or altered, shown above, are marked with “//mod”. So, lines 29, 44, and 316 are the mods. Line 44 is the bit that retrieves the symbol randomly generated in the functions.php file (see previous article for more details). Line 316, having a slightly different look from the previous version, is the section of code where the symbol is integrated with the CAPTCHA code during the verification stage. These changes replace those described in the previous article affecting the ucp_register.php file located in /includes/ucp.

The changes to the templates described in the previous article are basically the same, but now include the template for anonymous posting, for example, posting_editing.html. The javascript code placed originally in the ucp_register.html template should go into the head portion of the overall_header.html template. The latter would cover both contingencies. The call to the dencoder function might also be placed in the footer template, but seems benign enough in the respective templates for registration and posting anonymously. Of course, depending on your theme, you may need to refresh the templates after you’ve made changes to these files. Needless to say, the image verification service should be activated.

Richard II’s Preferred Blancmange Recipe

This page, showing a recipe for Blancmange (Blank maunger), is from Fourme of Curye, compiled by master cooks to king Richard II of England, part of the Medieval Collection at the library of John Rylands University, Manchester.


Original BBC story located here.

Blancmange Final Match Play

BBC Eraser Heads

This post is dedicated to the memory of tapes erased by the Beeb. They erased at will nearly everything Spike Milligan had done. They erased everything Dudley Moore and Peter Cook had done. They would’ve erased the Monty Python Flying Circus tapes, but time was on the side of that lot. This practice was carried on in the name of saving money on video tape. You’d think the war had still been on and rationing was in force. According to this authority,

The BBC routinely erased tapes to use them over again, and Python almost fell victim to the devastation. It was apparently saved because of two reasons. First of all, the shows were in color, rather than black-and-white. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was one of the earliest BBC comedy shows to be recorded in color; most of its predecessors (including programs by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan) were routinely wiped. And, American interest in running the series also gave the BBC reason to think that they might be able to squeeze a little more life out of the shows before giving up on them. Fortunately, they were correct.

According to Terry Jones,

the BBC execs initially didn’t particularly like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and that the BBC had a habit of wiping old shows to make room in their archives. “The shows nearly got wiped,” Terry is quoted as saying. “I smuggled the tapes out of the BBC before they could be erased. I copied them on to a Phillips VCR, the only home video then available. For a long time I thought the copies in my cellar would be the only evidence of the show.” Of course, the original tapes survived and have since become one of the biggest international selling videos and DVDs.

Granted, there have been recovery of historically significant video, often owing to resources in Australia, for some reason. Archival footage of 1960s Not Only, But Also was found there and distributed as a DVD relatively recently.

The Beeb is not alone in the practice of degaussing prime video material. Last July, NASA admitted the loss of the original television taping of the first manned lunar landing mission.

NASA admitted in 2006 that no one could find the original video recordings of the July 20, 1969, landing.

Since then, Richard Nafzger, an engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who oversaw television processing at the ground-tracking sites during the Apollo 11 mission, has been looking for them.

The good news is he found where they went. The bad news is they were part of a batch of 200,000 tapes that were degaussed — magnetically erased — and re-used to save money.


[T]here may be some unofficial copies of the original broadcast out there somewhere that were taken from a NASA video switching center in Sydney, Australia, the space agency said. Nafzger said someone else in Sydney made recordings too.

Instead of picking up the phone and calling Sydney, the bloke had a Hollywood studio restore material from secondary sources. No rocket science going on there. Un-effing-believable.

The Bing Search Engine Worthy Successor to Google

Back in the late 1990s, I discovered a very interesting new alternative in search engines, called, Google. They were still testing out their new search engine and I remember making suggestions for improvement at the time. I remember they appreciated those suggestions. Eventually, Google overtook every other search engine in popularity, the measure of which was the transformation of their brand into a verb.

In more recent times, Google has become an engine for spammers, with search results cluttered by utter dross with little coherence or relevance. It is a signal to, once again, reevaluate the options. One promising candidate comes from the evil empire, Microsoft, who invented the malware, called, Windows. The newest incarnation of their search engine is called Bing. It is a very respectable achievement and Microsoft is to be commended. The search results tend to be far more relevant and quite free of spam. It’s possibly another example of copying someone else’s creation and making it better.

Give it a go. Make it your new search home page in your preferred browser. And remember, no search engine is forever. That is especially true for Google.

Update: Bing maps seem more up-to-date than Google maps.

Badware Cops Make the Bush Doctrine Their Own

As of the date of this post, the website is subject to the iron-fisted pre-emptive actions of what is called the Badware Website Clearinghouse. In a partnership with Google, they seek out websites that could be potentially harmful to visitors in terms of hardware, software, and data. They’ve peremptorily branded this site as a badware site. Who are these people? seeks to provide reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to help consumers to make better choices about what they download on to their computers. They aim to become a central clearinghouse for research on badware and the bad actors who spread it, and to become a focal point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping badware.

The Badware Website Clearinghouse currently has more than 182 thousand reported URLs. You can search the URLs that have been reported to them by their partners and view statistics from their top clearinghouse pages. If you are a site owner and you are flagged by Google and you would like to review the inclusion of your website in the Badware Website Clearinghouse, you can request a review by filling out their form.

Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute are leading this initiative with the support of several prominent tech companies, including Google, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems. Consumer Reports WebWatch is serving as an unpaid special advisor.

John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center and Harvard Clinical Professor of Law, and Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law Visiting Professor and Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University (who not long ago wrote his best seller “The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It”), are co-directors. The Advisory Board also has some “big names” like for example Vinton G. Cerf, who is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. But he is more known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” he is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet.

In other words, they’re really big shots in the industry.

Their intentions may be sincere and aboveboard, but the execution of their mission is not all it’s cut out to be. For one thing, there’s no early warning that a site is being targeted by them. They just swoop down and strap a boot to the wheel, without so much as a by your leave. In most cases, webmasters are not aware their wards are under attack, but they pay the price of being locked out by an organization acting as law enforcer, judge, and jury, all in one go and with equal stealth.
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PHPBB 3.0x Registration Spam Control Mechanism

Forum registration is the gateway to all manner of forum spam and staunching spam at the front door is the most effective policy. In the case of PHPBB forums, a particular method has been developed that is not unique in concept, but perhaps in execution.

The method in question basically imposes the requirement of additional information to be included with CAPTCHA code. Early versions required only a particular character to be prepended to the confirmation code value retrieved in the PHPBB3 forum file, ucp_register.php. However, the further enhancement described here involves random characters that are to some degree cloaked from detection by spam bots.

The cloaking method used is based on this article on cloaking emails. The character, itself, is generated by the following method

#random generator of non-alphanumeric ascii characters
while (is_numeric($randchar = chr(rand(33, 64)))) { continue; }

This random value is passed to a template variable in url encoded form. When the template is downloaded, a javascript decoder function found on Eric Meyer’s web site, converts the character back.
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