I AM not sure whether prizes for academic achievement in the
Fifth Form are still awarded in today's educational system. But, if
they are, then I very much doubt the award would be a copy of
William Burroughs's drug-addled The Naked Lunch. It
explains a lot when one hears, on Heroin (Radio 4,
Thursday of last week), that such a prize was awarded to the author
and former drug-abuser Will Self.
And he was not the only one. The presenter Professor Andrew
Hussey received the same book for achievement in Modern Languages.
To the teenage boy, reflecting on his existential sense of
alienation, there could be no better inducement than the
narcissistic outpourings of the Beat generation to encourage
experimentation with illegal substances.
Not that The Naked Lunch or other literary escapades
involving drug abuse were actually composed while under the
influence. The writer's imagination, Self argued, was stimulated by
the process of drug withdrawal, not by the ecstatic hit itself.
And here is where Hussey's documentary faltered. For it is a
false comparison to treat writers and musicians in the same way.
Writers have to be clear-headed to write; musicians whose
performances entail a great deal of improvisation can operate while
intoxicated. So the jazz riffs of Charlie Parker are in a different
register from the literary riffs of the Beat, and all that Left
Any sense that heroin mightbe glamorised by talking of its
creative influence, however, was carefully nuanced. Heroin, Hussey
declared, had taken more than it had given. But, in a sense, that
is the appeal - the narcissistic self-destruction is all part of
Somebody who knows how it feels to be on the outside is the
Norwegian computer expert featured in Invalid Password: The
password, a history of failure (Radio 4, Monday of last week).
This self-confessed geek spends his days studying password-security
systems, and has more than 200 different passwords himself.
But thank goodness somebody cares, because we ordinary folk
clearly do not. The most popular passwords remain "password" and
"123456"; and hacking technology is so advanced that to be fully
secure we would need to create passwords that, because of their
length and sophistication, were completely unmemorable.
This programme was first aired in November last year; so we can
be pretty confident that the computer capable at that time
ofgenerating 350 billion password-guesses per second has already
been beaten. This is a system that can crack a 54-character
password in an hour; and, in case we were not already impressed,
the presenter, Tim Samuels, demonstrated our vulnerability by
allowing his own password to be hacked by his guest, sitting in an
ordinary café, and using an ordinary laptop and Wi-fi. It took the
expert less then a minute.
Biometric systems are being developed, but at the moment they
appear weak. The latest iPhone with fingerprint scanner could, we
were told, be hacked using a dog's paw-print. So it looks as if
good old-fashioned paper, kept under lock and key, is best, after