Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Censorship? NO!

When, oh when will people learn that censorship is rarely - if ever - the answer?

Yes, I know that the whole Winterval thing was supposedly a big commercial exercise gone badly wrong, but the Political Correctness brigade have really got a lot to answer for. Is it any wonder we live in a nanny state when no-one can air their opinions or write conversations which might cause offence?

I will grudgingly accept that arbitrarily injected profanity can cause offence - and so arguably should be censored for main-stream broadcast. But, for goodness sake! Fairytale of New York is part of the Christmas furniture .. along with Jona Lewie, Wizzard and Slade. Changing or blanking the words now is a real horse-bolted-door-close thing. Surely, everyone's heard it by now? Even if they had not - the language is in context. This petty PC censorship is like putting a bra on the Venus de Milo. The song is an argument between two lovers - the words reflect the passion and heartache involved.

What're they gonna do next? Will tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol get disability benefit? Perhaps he shouldn't be disabled at all! What? That'd change the story? Who cares - as long as no-one's offended? Wrong! Wrong I tell you!

Right. I will now relax and look forward to Christmas - having got that out of my system. More port and stilton required, methinks.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Just because you can ..

... doesn't mean you should.

Depressed? You should be†.

I've ranted about modern medical science before; and I'll no doubt have cause to rant about them again in future. It is a classical example of a self-supporting argument. The whole industry is geared up to find solutions and then apply problems to them.

This one takes the biscuit, though. Exercise does indeed have huge benefits to sufferers of depression. What these scientists fail to realise is that this is only partly a chemical effect.

Chemicals cannot replace the satisfaction of having achieved something. Precisely the opposite: anyone taking these proposed medicines will become even more dependent on someone else - the very people indending to help. So-say.

For goodness sake! If exercise helps: encourage it .. don't try to bottle it!

† Note that I'm not trying to make light of mental illness here. In fact, I'm trying to point out that the "experts" appear to be doing their best effort to ignore the seriousness of the issues.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christ on a Bike .. it's the 12 Days of Kitschmas!

I do love a bit of kitsch .. in the right context. Being a child of the seventies, a bit of G-Plan furtinure and a shag-pile carpet always raises a wry smile.

So it is with great pleasure that I was introduced to the Ship of Fools' 12 Days of Kitschmas. I hasten to add that I'm not recommending any of these as anything other than something to laugh at ...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Testing Flock

So .. I've been trying Flock.

Currently at 1.0, I succumbed to the lure of the Facebook plugin - and the possibility that it'll not lock up like Firefox with the current (v3.0) NOD32 virus checker.

So far: so good. Visiting the recognized sites (YouTube, Flickr, Blogger, Facebook, etc..) captures your login details and adds the hooks - loke the people sidebar (which is now populated with all my Facebook friends) and the blog editor. Which I'm using, now. Adding the image above was a simple drag'n'drop affair and the posting was .. well, let's see   ;^)

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bloody Christmas

Don't you hate Christmas? All that hype .. the endless pretentious adverts for perfume .. and as for shop decorations - don't get me started!

I'm sure it gets worse every year. This time round there were sparkly decorations appearing before Guy Fawkes night! Now the streets are festooned with tinselled trees - largely artifical, but increasingly real - and twinkly lights.

Then again, I tend to leave present buying until at least December - on principle - which never leaves enough time. I can't bear to think about Christmas with a sixth of the year still to go, and I can't afford to leave it all until the last minute.

Chestnuts roasting on a open fire
Jack Frost nipping on your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

Come Christmas morning - fuelled with our now-traditional Bucks Fizz - I will feel different. The children will have eagerly opened their stocking presents and spread them and the associated wrapping paper all over the house.

Every year we do the same thing. Er - that is, Father Christmas does the same thing. We wrap all the stocking presents. Almost without fail, we sit down on Christmas Eve and wrap what feels like hundreds of little presents. The result gives the appearance of an explosion in a Christmas decorations factory. Which I somethimes think isn't a bad idea.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight

Ah, but the thought of suggling up by the fire after eating a hearty dinner - brandy in one hand and mince pie in the other - warms the cockles of my heart. By then, the trauma of fighting though the shopping centres and scouring the internet for that elusive Wii add-on will be all but forgotten. The cold hard reality of the vast overspend will not yet have hit and I will be at peace.

Except that I won't. I will be busily juggling being a parent and a child, fitting batteries and serving drinks, giving and receiving. The children, having been wound up to fever pitch by school and television over the previous months will be bouncing off the walls and fighting over something or other. There will be disagreements over whether we should be watching the Queen's speech or listening to the Christmas Carols CD. In short, it will be Bedlam.

They know that Santa's on his way;
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother's child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly

Boxing day, however, we always try to make sure we can relax. Food will be cold and/or simple. Snacks will be plentiful. Fun will be had. By order.

This is when there is always the visiting and the family. I could moan - but in truth I kind of like my family, really. Deep down. That's not so say it it all runs smoothly or that there is stress involved.

So: my advice for Christmas? Go with the flow. Make merry. Wine women and wassail and all that. Enjoy.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
A very Merry Christmas to you

Merry Christmas indeed. And I'm sure the next five weeks will fly past.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Japanese knotweed of festivals

.. as in an unwelcome import.

This really sums it up beautifully, for me.

I blame E.T. Before that, no-one in the UK went trick-or-treating .. it was something those weird colonial types did. We had Guy Fawkes Night.

These days, every child in the land wants to go collecting sweets. Everyone has second-hand stories about gangs of uncontrolled youths and eggs - or worse - being thrown. Luckily, round our way they are mostly chaperoned and relatively well behaved. We did have a few teenagers trying their luck - but I'm glad to say that they accepted sweets instead of money.

.. and that's where you have to draw a line. A gang of hoodies, knocking on someone's front door and demanding money is extortion, isn't it? Or demanding money with menances. Or something. Definately not right - and probably illegal. There should be a campaign to put more police on the streets for Samhain. Sorry, Hallowe'en. I should start one. I just can't gather together enough righteous indignation .. and won't someone please think of the children?

But there's more! What's all this? At work today, there is pumpkin-and-bat shaped bunting. The staff at the coffee cart are wearing masks and scary lipstick. It's all gone too far! I'm slowly going mad!! Even using three exclamation marks!!! Eeeeeeeeek.

Note that I strongly dislike the use of stereotyping anyone wearing a particular garment (or haircut, etc..) as being of a certain pursuasion. I onw - and wear - a hoodie. It was the best description which came to mind, however. Artistic licence and whatnot.

This is what in other places might be called a coffee shop. Here, it's where we go to buy "posh coffee". Go figure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ubuntu Upgrade

So .. three days on, how's the Ubuntu upgrade? [non-techies may safely assume this post isn't for them]

Regulars may have guessed that my weekend was spent upgrading Ubuntu from version 7.04 ("Feisty Fox") to version 7.10 ("Gutsy Gibbon"). The download and upgrade all executed without hitch. It did take longer than anticipated, but worked fine. I had downloaded the CD ISO image (and sharing via bittorrent - a very popular file!) before realising that there was an upgrade path. Upgrading meant downloading a whole CD's worth of updates ...

There have been a few slight wobbles with Firefox locking up and user switching getting confused - but no real showstoppers. Picasa still works - though users have to be added to the video group, now that AppArmour locks down the video devices. The icing on the cake is getting my printer working, thanks to discussion list help.


  1. test NTFS compatability

  2. migrate user directories to common Windows / Linux partitions

  3. encourage the family to try it out

Onwards to life beyond Windows!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Big Turn-Off

Digital terrestrial TV ("Freeview") has made the news once again today. The ongoing campaign to wean the viewing public off analogue technology has been tweaked up a notch by today's publicity around the first analogue transmitter to be switched off.

I'm all for digital TV. No, really. I look forward to being able to have multiple interactive channels available all over the house. I'm not convinced it'll be so easy, though. My analogue TV reception is terrible. My nearest transmitter is a mere mile and a half away, but t'other side of a hill. The only line-of-sight transmitter is over thirty miles away and that is just over a hill brow, too. It's not as if I live in a valley. Far from it, my bedroom window overlooks a valley and the hills beyond. It's just that all the transmitters are the other way.

Enter the marvelous Megalithia. Here, you can enter your OS grid reference, pick a transmitter and see the terrian along the line of sight - and work out how tall your aerial needs to be. The Digitalpy FAQ pages have been helpful, too.

This is all very well, but in the absence of a transmitter in the right place, I'll be relying on satellite TV - which means I cant afford to put a TV in the kids rooms. Pah. Maybe broadband TV will come to my rescue. Progress mumble mumble in my day mutter mutter all this was fields.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Great Storm

In 1987, those of us who lived on the South Coast of England were subjected to the biggest storm to hit Britain in living memory. In retrospect - and in comparison with, say, Hurricane Katrina - it was not so bad. It was bad enough to cause "significant loss of life and devestation". This has only come to liight as I stumbled across a page about it on the Met Office website. It'll be twenty years ago on Monday.

My personal memories are still clear. I lived in a ground floor flat across the road from the beach - a few miles from Shoreham-by-Sea. I was woken in the early hours - one o'clock or so - by the noise. It was very loud - like nothing I'd neard before. I had a gas fire against the chimney breast; it was humming and vibrating as so much air was being drawn though it. The french windows were rattling like something out of Close Encounters.

I cautiously looked out of the window to the garden. Normally, I propped my windsurfer against the wall. For some reason, I had left it lying flat on the grass. As I looked I could see it being picked up by the wind .. making it hover about. I got rather unnerved by the strength of the wind: I was worried the windows were going to give way. I could almost feel the strength of it through the glass.

In the morning, having got a little sleep as the wind had peaked, I cycled to work. The coast road was red with pulverized rof tiles .. as if someone had powdered them and sprinkled the dust all over the road. My route took me along the airport perimiter track. The scene is difficult to imagine without having seen it. The light aircraft and helicopters were scattered and broken like childrens' toys.

Many TV programmes have been made about that night - and everyone who was there has a story to tell. I'll certainly never forget it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Quasi Universal Intergalactic Deminonation

Go on .. lend us a quid.

"None of the existing payment systems we use on earth - like cash, credit or debit cards - could be used in space," said Professor George Fraser from the University of Leicester.

"Anything with sharp edges, like coins, would be a risk to astronauts while the chips and magnetic strips used in our cards on Earth would be damaged beyond repair by cosmic radiation," he added.

... 'nuff said

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Work of Genius

I am humbled. Ronnie Hazlehurst was a popular composer of TV music, I know. What I've just read though has brought a huge grin to my face.

The theme tune to "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em" spells out the title in morse code. No, really. A rumour was referred to in his obituary. Some bod (Jim) at BBC 6 Music has decoded it to prove it.

Now I know the theme to Inspector Morse did the same thing. But I reckon it's worth celebrating all the same.

Silly: probably. Fun: yes. Unique: well, no. Genius: definitely.

Rest in peace, Ronnie.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Stop Spam: Read Books

Now here's a piece of joined-up thinking:

You know that anti-spam thing - where you have to type in a random set of letters and numbers in an obscured image? Oh, go on .. you do. Well, some clear-thinking bods at Carnegie Mellon Uni in Pittsburgh have found a use for it. Translation from printed word to computer data.

The "random" text used in this idea is in fact the image of a word which cannot be confidently interpreted by OCR. This is already distorted - by age and distortion - and random "noise" is added for good measure. A control word is added, giving two words to "translate". The user then types in both words; if the control word is entered correctly, the translated word is stored.

By randomly assigning words to the millions of users online every day, the translation process is delegated to the world in general. Bit by bit, word by word, old texts are being computerised for posterity. All in the name of security. And, for free.

Everyone's a winner!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fun with USB Turntables

So .. what've I been up to?

Well, recently I've been mostly ... re-discovering my dusty old LPs. Having suffered enjoyed another birthday, I am now the proud owner of a USB turn-table. And jolly fun it is, too.

One of the entertaining fringe benefits to this is introducing the children to records. Now I'm not a DJ .. and no-one I come into contact with these days is either. My children aren't (quite) old enough to frequent clubs yet so they haven't really seen good ol' vinyl in action. My four-year-old is particularly amused by them.
"So .. how do they work?"

"What: you put the needle on it and it makes sound?"

Ho, ho, yes! I'm reminded of a conversation years ago when my eldest was about 2. We saw the shattered remains of a 7" single in the gutter. She pointed and said "CD-ROM, daddy!"

The turn-table ships with - and recommends - Audacity to do the actual recording and encoding. As I already have the latest version installed, this suits me down to the ground. The kids regularly play about recording themselves and speeding it up or adding weird effects. They make up skits and songs and all sorts. My hard-disk is filling up rapidly.

Speaking of which, I have another on-going project. Tagging MP3s. I have ammassed some 3300-odd tracks on my jukebox at home - from ripped CDs etc.. It makes more sense to have them in one place and in a format I can take anywhere. It also leaves me the legacy of tagging them all. Over 2000 were unlabelled.

In steps aTunes. A delightful clone of iTunes .. without the DRM nonsense.

So now I'm listening to "Up the Junction" .. ah, memories.

in reaction to the recent report that the English language is losing the hypen, I have made a concious effort to sprinkle this post with them. I'm like that; draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Not *Another* Millenium!

Ethiopia, we learn today, celebrates the Millenuim a little later than the rest of the world. Today, in fact.

I'm amused to see that an inability to count is not limited to the western world. What am I talking about? The old 2000-is-not-the-Millenium thang again. Need a detailed explanation? Read someone more authorative than me explain it. It's pretty simple, really. Start counting at 1 .. continue to 10. The start of the next decade is 11; not 10. The start of the next century is 101; not 100. The start of the next millenium is 1001; not 1000. The start of the next millenium is 2001; not 2000.

End of.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A little BATty

For those who don't know, Belper Against Tesco Store is a group set up to oppose the planned Tesco Store [the clue's in the name]. The proposal has cause much controvery - as such proposals do.

Now every action, it has been said, has an equal and opposite reaction. I was amused, then, to see the recent poster campaign around Belper.

A new protest group against a Tesco superstore in Belper has been putting sarcastic posters up all over town. The group's name TABS, Tesco Against Belper Shops, is a play on BATS protest group Belper Against Tesco Superstore.

The poster is advertising a family day trip this Sunday (September 9) to Tesco's store in Alfreton.

It says: "The aim of the trip is to show Belper people what they could have built on some scrubby waste ground, just far enough away from the town centre so people will never have to walk up King Street again."

A spokesman for BATS, the group that is protesting the Meadows Edge site development, said TABS are nothing to do with them.

Whether you are for or against superstores - and specifically this one - you gotta love the noble art of parody.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Security Check, anyone?

I've returned from my self-awarded summer sabatical to find a letter from the police. Not as scary as it sounds: scarier - and in a different way. I'll explain ...

Some months ago - before I changed jobs - my employer arranged that we were all submitted for Police Security Check (SC) clearance. One specific county force had set themselves up as a central bureau for handling the checks. We filled our forms in and sent them off.

Shortly after I switched jobs. My previous employer said they'd see if they could stop the check for me, as they needn't pay for it. I thought that was the last I'd hear of it.

A couple of months a go I received a letter from the Police vetting unit requesting more information about an address I'd supplied. The letter was addressed to me, but began "Dear Mr Pearce". Odd. I phoned up and explained the situation; they said they'd stop the process. Again, I thought this was the last I'd hear about it.

A week before holiday, I received a Security Check certificate through the post: valid for 3 years.

The most recent letter is reminding me that they had asked for more data and not received it. Methinks they are in a bit of a muddle. I'm now more than a little concerned for the validity of the whole process. If I am given clearance, when I've specifically asked not to get clearance and without the appropriate documentation - what's it worth?

Answers on a postcard ...

Monday, August 06, 2007

News Gems #1:

The First Rule of Design ... build yourself a way out.

I came across this wonderful piece of all too public humiliation this weekend: "Farmer gest lost in his crop maze".

"He spent several minutes trying to find his way out of the five-acre maze before being forced to drive over his carefully tended crop."

You couldn't make it up! [Did they spell "crop" correctly?]

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reality TV

So the other day there was a report that ITV have apologised for a drama about Alzheimer's. Apparently, the scene which portrayed the victim dying in fact showed him slipping into a coma. He died two days later.

There are some things we don't need to know. He had a terrible desease. He died. The fact that we didn't see him die is, to be honest, a comfort to me. There's transparency .. and there's TMI. This rediculous pursuit of perfection will inevitably be at the cost of understanding. The worst part is that it is not done for the benefit of the viewer - but for political reasons. Where will it end?

"The channel apologises for the recent programme implying that hospital is the safest place for a mother to give birth. In fact, this is not true: studies have shown that mothers who give birth at home are more relaxed and have better outcomes."

I'd love to hear the NHS response to that one!

Last night there were a good ten minutes devoted to the documentary on Alzheimer's. Following it was a short article on the misleading reports about the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and another about the US military misleading the families of a soldier killed by friendly fire. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this prioritisation a little skewed.

The point is .. if there is one at all .. that channels apologising for ripping people off by stealing their money is fair enough. But, guys: you can stop there. We dont have to be told of every inaccuracy on TV .. there just isn't enough air-time! I for one am happy to believe in artistic license and take everything with a pinch of salt.

Life Imitating Art

Is it just me - or is there something wonderfully ironic in the Cornish shark story? Did anyone else notice that Jaws was screened on Saturday night .. just as the shark reports were being made public?

What's even more fun is the capture of a small shark, the reassurance that the beaches were now safe, and then more shark sightings. I kept expecting Richard Dreyfuss to pop on screen saying "I think we need a bigger boat".

Still, at least no bikini-clad teenagers have been half-eaten ...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Music to my Ears

It appears that the powers that be have rejected requests to extend music copyright to 70 years. The likes of Roger Daltrey and Sir Harry Webb (AKA Cliff Richard) have campaigned for the current 50 years to be reviewed.

I have to say I'm glad the copyright hasn't been extended. Successful musicians make an awful lot of money. Royalties are really money for old rope. Yes, the creators deserve credit and money - it is their livelihood after all. Not forever, though. After 50 years, any piece of music has lost its novelty. Most pieces which have remained popular this long have been rehashed and used as inspiration for other pieces by then. In short, the creativity has been paid for.

It's easy for me to say, sure. I'm a musician who'll never make any money out of it. I don't exepect to still be receiving credit for software I've written in 50 years' time. Why should musicians expect this?

The real sting here (no pun intended) is that these people really don't need any more money. Successful pop stars can earn a shocking amount of money if they're clever enough. Can't they get a pension like everybody else?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

That tone of voice

It's crept into the news reporting now. That tone of voice. You know the one - where the narrator Stresses Every Word to Drive Home the Importance of What He's Saying. And is always is a bloke.

It started with those "Police! Stop!" programmes imported from the states. The voice over hyping every incident into world-shattering criminal activity. Something like two kids in a clapped out hatchback, having jumped a read light; the narration makes it sound like they're hardened criminals, threatening the lives of all around them.

.. and then, the felons attempt to escape on foot - abandonding the car without a second thought for the other read users. It all goes to show .. there's no escape when you have a broken headlight.

It reminds me of Stephen Tompkinson's character in "Drop the Dead Donkey" .. where he places a cuddly toy in shot and then turns to camera and says ".. and in the rubble .. a child's teddy bear." It's all so fake. The programme ends up skewing the truth to the point where it bears no relation to reality.

I was listening to the news reporting on the flooding in Gloucestershire last night. Arrgh! Why, WHY does it have to be sensational? It's bad enough as it is - without hyping it all up. Do they have an inferiority complex .. that our floods are nowhere near as bad as the aftermath of hurricane Katrina? Is it a competition? Is it an attempt to extract sympathy from an audience numbed by constant bombardment? I would feel more sympathetic if the reporting sounded at least a little sorry for the victims.

When I rule the world .. such reporting will involve public flogging. Now there's sensational!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Age is scary

I've just read the scariest thing. It started innocently: an article about Brian May (yes, that Brian May) finally preparing to submit a PhD thesis abandoned in 1971 when he joined Queen. Then the bombshell:

... the 60-year-old ...

Sixty? SIXTY? No way. Brian May is sixty?

I'm going to lie down for a while until it all goes away.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The search for the perfect ... CMS

I have built a few relatively small-scale websites in the past. Originally hand-coding in HTML, I have progressively adopted server-side technologies to create more interactive sites. In the attempt to reduce the amount of coding I have to do, I have tried a few well-known frameworks. Here is a taster of my discoveries so far - and a taste of what is to come.

HTML is all fine and good. A well though out combination of HTML and CSS can product an attractive, accessible and flexible website. With the right approach, the HTML can be tweaked to ensure it looks OK in all the major browsers and reads well without the styling. The down-side is that when there are more than a handful of pages, the maintenance becomes a real headache. A simple page layout change becomes a major reworking excercise.

Step in the CMS. Content Management Systems are, as the name implies, designed to manage website content. Typically, they allow the presentation to be separated from the page contents by using some form of templating. Most will offer on-line page creation and editing. Some are tailored towards simple blog sites; some are designed for complex business or community sites and include forums, and collaboration tools such as project management. For my own reasons - hosting, etc.. - I have stuck with frameworks implemented in PHP.

At the simple end, I have used Exponent. This offers online page creation and maintenance, to build a hierarchic site with automatically created navigation. Each page is effectively stand-alone and can include any number of page "modules". The supplied modules range from simple text to calendars, forms and forums. Exponent is easy to use, and has some 3rd party support - but is not very well known.

At the other endof the scale, there is Mambo. This is a large and comprehensive CMS. Content is abstracted from pages and can be listed blog-style, shown on "news" pages or single, full-page articles. Content is tagged by sections and categories. In addition to content, applications ("components") are supplied - including forums, polls and news feeds. Modules are also configurable and may be placed in "channels". Each channel corresponds to a position in the page template. Menus are managed separately and page templates can be associated with menu items - meaning that the same page may be presented in a totally different format by two separate menu items. All in all this is the full bells-and-whistles solution, but should be used with care as anything less than a fully thought-through deployment can look a total mess! A conservative deployment can be seen in natality. Mambo is very well supported by a hige number of 3rd party developers and is one of the best known CMS available.

My needs are somewhere between - which is why my search continues. Both of these offerings are mature and have been well developed. The down-side is that there are few innovative features, and almost no AJAX-type interativity.

The nirvana (NB: did you know "Teen Spirit" is a brand of deodorant in the US?) is a small, lightwieight, easy-to-use PHP framework which produces an attractive, accessible website which works in non-JavaScript browsers but adds all the interactivity for modern browsers. Maybe I'll have to write my own ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No Smoke Without ...

Right. This global warming clap-trap has gone quite far enough. Cleaning up the environment? Fine. Reducing pollution? Fine. More energy efficiency? I'm all for it. But putting a stop to bonfires? Madness! (Come back, Los Palmos 7 - all is forgiven.)

Sure, there's smoke'n stuff. CO2, even. But, really: how often does bonfire night come around? And is it really worse than any "alternative entertainment"? What're they gonna replace it with - which doesn't consume a huge amount of power?

OK, I'm a bit of a traditionalist. But surely, a Guy Fawkes celebration can't be a proper Guy Fawkes celebration without a good ol' bonfire? I grew up near Lewes - where bonfire celebration are taken very seriously, indeed. No bonfire? Not if I can help it!

Also: who's gonna stop them? Round our way, there's a fire in someone's back garden most days. If they stop the annual flame-fest, they'll just burn it all at home anyway.

The bonfire celebration is particularly English. Not the fire itself .. most countries do that. Not the fireworks - they're Chinese or somesuch. What's wonderful about it is that the whole country celebrates an attempt to blow up parliament. That says something about us. I'll accept your suggestions as to what this might be ...

Friday, July 13, 2007

News Stories You Wish Were True: #1

Bernie Ecclestone admits: ‘Podium Champagne is just Cava in a fancy bottle’

I do so hope so. Champagne is so overrated. Maybe I'm ill-educated, but I can't help thinking that a decent Cava is preferable.

And, if it is *so* special - why waste it? Would you pay fifty-quid a time for a shampoo? Oh. Ignoring the Women for a moment, then. But you know what I mean. Do they have food-fights with beluga caviar? They do? I give up.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

No moral compass

I read through some of the comments on today's "Have Your Say" on the BBC site titled "What should children learn in schools?". I was struck by how many of the messages posted argued against teaching religion. These may well be the same people who will complain about declining moral standards. Some of these poeple may well be the victims of crime, driven by disaffected youth. Why do they think, I wonder, our society is crumbling?

Now I don't think of myself as a particularly religious person. I don't feel strongly connected with the church, but I was brought up to be Christian. I can see the argument that the Church of England and Christianity in general is out of touch with society. I agree. I don't think the answer is to disregard religion, however. In fact, the opposite is true: I think English life would be much improved for involving religion more. Whether this is the responsibility of school, I'm less certain.

But if the church is not going to give us a moral compass - who is? Would you rather be told by politicians or by the Police what is right and what is wrong? I know I wouldn't.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Up that creek .. without that paddle

I've been working on my first project at NewWorkTM for a few weeks now. I was made clear that there would be no project manager - for the first phase, at least. I have been putting together the high-level design, by talking to lots of people and bringing together their expertise and ideas. It's been rather fun - in a weird sort of way - and a great way to get to know who's who in the company and how the company ticks. FWIW, I've already been branded the team eccentric due to using a real china mug and a cafetière [did you know they were called "French Presses"?].

So I've been rudderless .. providing my own steer by dipping my toe in the water. [I could start to enjoy this analogy.] It's been plain sailing so far [oh, come on .. it's to do with boats] and I've been able to find support from other quarters.

Now I find, due to an unexpectedly early maternity leave and someone else's holiday that I am totally without support. I'm tantalisingly close to a documented solution - but that final paddle [would have been "sprint" but that would have spoiled the theme] is not straightforward. I am not really up the creek .. but I have no rudder, and now no compass.

I'll keep moving forward to avoid sinking [OK, that's enough with the aquatic thing] and ponder on how companies organise themselves - and whether leadership is actually necessary, or whether good teamwork is enough.

Is there a political undercurrent? Not intentionally. Am I saying that us'uns don't need them'uns? No. I believe that in a well structured society, most people add value - to a greater or lesser extent. Some will take advantage and abuse their advantages. Some will not take the opportunities which pass their way. On the whole, leadership is required to guide the boat. Just guide: the sailors make the ship go, not the captain. It's a balance thing.

I was once told that French government is set up with the clear mandate that it serves the people. I like that. They work for us. We pay them, they help us. Long may that be so.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Come on, Lewis!

Despite the disappointment of Lewis Hamilton's lack of pace on Sunday, I think it was a good race. Certainly there was more anticipation; more excitement. After the dazzling last-minute pole position, and the fact that they were back on British soil, it was an edge-of-the-seat start.

The press have made a big thing of his premature leap from the pits - but I don't see that any time was lost there. Sure, it could have been a real disaster. He narrowly avoided the embarrassment Christijan Albers suffered at Magny-Cours last week. I think the crux of the problem was his choice of set-up and perhaps the race tactics, too. He chose a different car from Fernando Alonso - which appears to have be a costly decision. I also think that the decision to refuel earlier than Kimi Raikkonen lost him the race.

Still, he is still 12 points clear of team-mate Alonso and McLaren still leads the constructor's championship. So: go Lewis and go McLaren!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pensioner used live shell as doorstop

I love stories like this:

"Royal Navy bomb disposal experts were called to a house in Paignton, Devon, after a tip-off that 68-year-old Thelma Bonnett was rather ill-advisedly using a live First World War German shell as a doorstop ..."

Monday, July 02, 2007

Minor Kitchen Setback

... meanwhile, the kitchen re-fit goes ahead. The old hob and oven have been removed - along with the unit and worktop it sat in. The gas pipery has been reworked, ready for the new cooker. The new cooker arrived, and was (almost) installed. It was at that point we realised that we'd ordered the wrong cooker. That is to say, the description on the website lead us to order a cooker which we didn't want. Double cavity oven apparently doesn't mean double oven. It means an oven with two spaces. A subtle difference? In this case, it meant one was a separate grill. Bum. Back to the shop it goes ...

So now we're playing at camp in our own kitchen. The double-burner gas stove is doing quite well so far. All the roast dinners have been filed in the freezer and it's fry-ups for this week. It's only a matter of time before the gas bottle runs out, though ...

Otherwise, the bit-by-bit approach is working. It does mean there's lots of clutter for a long time - but regular dump trips help. Oops: that should be "recycling centre" trips. [Call it what you like: it's still a dump to me - even if you *have* stuck plastic flowers in the grass border.]

And now there's a brief gap in the rain - so I'll trot along and do me shopping.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Your face .. an an F1 car

.. at Silverstone! For Cheridee!

1. Go to www.facesforcharity.com
2. Pick a car (David Coulthard or Mark Webber)
3. Pick a spot
4. Pay your £10 (plus a donation if you wish)
5. Upload your photo
6. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lies, Damn lies .. and surveys

Notice on a station platform:

Passengers travelling on the Derwent Valley List train service were surveyed on 9 days between 29 September and 26 October 2007.

Now, I've always suspected that survey figures were played with to show the "right" information, but this takes the biscuit!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kitchen Fitting .vs. Architectural Design

Fitting a new kitchen is like architectural design. They are very different jobs, but like many things in life there are similarities between them.

During the day I am a software architect. I am finding that the deeper I dig into a problem, the more work there appears to be. I start by looking at the process now, then work out how to change it to something different. What I usually discover is that the change cannot be made without changing other processes, too.

In the evenings and weekends, I am refitting our kitchen. I am finding that the deeping I dig into the task, the more work there appears to be. I started by looking at the kitchen layout now, and worked out how to change it to something different. What I discovered is that the change cannot be made without changing the water pipes, the gas pipes, the electricity routing, ...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dumbing down education

Firstly, the links: An open letter to the AQA and the Department for Education (from Wellington Grey .. from a blog of very little brain

This is all very unnerving .. as a family who has just rejoined the schooled masses. I've had a number of conversations recently - arrived at from a number of different topics - all coming to the conclusion that the way schools are examined and tested these days is the cause. I once interviewed a guy who used a wonderful phrase (feel free to use it): Analysis Paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis
an informal phrase applied to when the opportunity cost of decision analysis exceeds the benefits. Analysis paralysis applies to any situation where analysis may be applied to help make a decision and may be a dysfunctional element of organizational behavior.

To my mind, schools are pretty much in analysis paralysis. So much effort is spent testing and making sure they're doing TheRightThing, that no time is left for doing TheRightThing. TheRightThing being educating the children, of course. It is a widely believed fact that children are taught to pass exams. This is not TheRightThing. It's like that old teach-a-man-to-fish saying.

The sooner the politicians who control state education realise this, the better. The recent focus on testing is seeking to solve a symptom. It will not help greatly. The current climate of distrust and fear - particularly with anything to do with children - is crippling. Until we as a society can learn to have a little trust and let people get on with their jobs, we will constantly disappoint ourselves.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Back to School II

After three years of home educating, we are now, officially, no longer. Our eldest started back at school a year ago - soon after we moved. Our younger daughter started back at school a few weeks ago. Today, our elder son started back at school and our youngest son has started a "pre-school" playgroup; he will begin school in September.

These are all their own decisions (with the exception of our youngest). It was never our intention to educate them at home forever. Their being back in school will not, we hope, dampen their enthusiasm for learning .. too much. Some dissillusion is inevitable. Above all, we pray that the children will continue to seek knowledge in their own time. They will be tired when we see them now, of course, and they will have little enthusiasm for "work". I am optimistic that some residual enjoyment for learning will not disappear. The major difference is that they know that there is an alternative - that they are not trapped within the system.

They had different reasons for deregistering from school, but they have pretty much the same reason for starting back again: to make friends. We satisfied many of their needs whilst they were learning at home. Some subjects were hard to resource, but on the whole we did well, we feel. They regularly met up with other children - in social groups far more true to real life than those available in school - but this was not really enough for them to feel that they had made friends. In particular, those meetings were in other towns, so they had no "play time" outside schooling hours. School will provide more social contact opportunity than they will need, and an environment where subject experts and resources are on-hand to help them learn.

Looking back, I'm immensely proud of our decision to home-educate, and our achievements - as a family - in making it a success.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

That London 2012 Olympics Logo

Have you seen the revised London 2012 logo? Isn't it awful?

According to the BBC it was inspired by Tiswas. 'Nuff said. I think my kids could've done better. They would not have produced anything so carefully thought-out - but, I think that's the point. A logo should be simple, clear and easily recognised. This is a hideous monstrosity. A year to produce the design? £400K? Words fail me. Should have given the job to school and/or college kids.

Go on: sign the petition!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A different perspective

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows, the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away on the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

From a Railway Carriage - R L Stephenson

The bike is being fixed. Most of that 60 BHP is unusable when only one of the two cylinders is firing. Darn. So I'm travelling by train.

I'm struck by the difference between the quiet town where I start my journey (well, quiet at 8 o'clock anyway) and the noise, dirt and bustle of The City. This makes the return journey all the more pleasant, watching the concrete disappear behind as I head through fields towards home. Ahhh. It's good to be in the middle of the lively atmosphere and amenities offered by The City - but it's great to go home again.

.. gotta be slightly worried about the sign on the station, though: "fast trains pass through the platform". Keep back behind the yellow line? Sounds like you're better off somewhere else entirely!

Monday, May 14, 2007

... and another one opens

First impressions should not be underestimated. I have developed a theory, that you can tell what a company will be like to work for by using their toilets. Thinking back on companies I've worked for, they all lived up to the first impressions I got from their toilets.

OK: this may sound a little mad - but bear with me. I thought back to my interview for the job I've just left. I should have trusted my instincts. I've nothing particularly bad to say about them, but the slightly shabby toilets show the same disregard for the employees that the rest of the company does. It's all about attention to detail. If a company can't even manage to get its toilets looking clean and smart, you've got to wonder about how much effort they'll spend making sure the workers are comfortable. A company that spends the effort to ensure the toilets are well put together and well maintained is more likely to make sure their employees are well looked after.

Today, I found my new work lived up to its toilets. So far, so good ...

Friday, May 11, 2007

One door closes ...

I've got that last-day-at-work malaise. People are being nice to me - which is always off-putting. We've been to the pub for lunch and there's no pressure - but there's something of an anti-climax to today. Not with a bang .. and all that.

I am looking forward to Monday morning - with a mix of eager anticipation and trepidation. Meanwhile, there are presents to wrap and a very-nearly-four-year-old to get calm enough to sleep tonight.

Onwards ...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New Job Titles

Talking of new jobs - which is on my mind from some reason - how's about this lot of trendy job titles? I'm not sure they beat "Technical Solutions Designer", though.

What ever happened to "Software Archaeologist", eh? &e?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em ...

Communication is an underrated skill. This is the conclusion I've come to. And we Brits are not very good at it.

The few OFSTED inspection reports I've read - particularly those for "failing" schools - comment on the quality of communication channels. Clearly, they see this as a key factor in maintaining an effective organisation. I agree wholeheartedly. In my experience, a business can succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to communicate effectively. Among the problems, is the fact that inadequate communications are rarely detected (as the people who run the business don't get to hear about the problem .. a classic gotcher).

It's not that people are not willing to communicate - or necessarily that the company culture is bad. Mostly, it's because different types of people talk different languages. The technical departments often talk themselves blue in the face, warning management of the likely disaster as a result of some business decision. To often, this is in vain as the product management or accountants listening cannot understand the problem. Likewise office staff typically feel dissatisfied with decisions made by their management. This is often due to their lack of understanding of the issues involved.

I'm often struck by how much can be achieved by setting up effective communication channels. In times of stress - when a release is imminent and we're facing the proverbial all-nighter - I have on a few occasions pulled the metaphoric rabbit out of the hat by walking up and down the office all day, passing messages back and forth. It's truly amazing the difference this can make.

What is needed is a translator: a mediator. Someone who can speak to each in language they can understand. How many people do you know with this job function? I can think of none. There's nearly always a requirement for "effective communicator" in any job spec, but this never translates into any real-world responsibility.

So: the solution? Ensure that middle-management do something useful and make sure everyone understands what everyone else is saying. Or hire people who can.

In my new job, I shall be mostly ...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Back to School

My youngest daughter is going to school today. She's 8, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. She's not been to school for three years, however.

We've enjoyed home educating our kids. It's been hard at times, but on the whole it's been a fulfilling experience. We've connected with our kids in a way most parents don't have the chance to.

Our eldest has decided a year ago that she wanted to go back to school. She's made the transition and whilst we have our concerns about her performance, she's doing well. Now the others will start back at school over the next few months. I feel heavy-hearted about this, but feel proud privileged that we took the chance to teach our own kids for a while.

Home educating is a heavy responsibility and is not an easy job. It is worthwhile, however. There are sacrifices, and an adjustment to lifestyle is necessary - but the rewards are beyond calculation.

Monday, April 30, 2007


With the start of NewJobTM now only two weeks away, the roller-coaster of emotion gathers pace.

Among the thoughts running through my head - along with "I know I saw a can vending machine .. but where will I get coffee from? - is the concern that I'll be incommunicado at my new desk. The thought fills me with dread. Currently - thanks to some inconsistency in company policy, legacy installations and a little tunnelling - I can access MSN, AOL AIM, Yahoo IM, GoogleTalk, ICQ and Googlemail. I use these tools on a daily basis. These, plus general access to the web enable me to research, study and, yes, talk with my family and friends.

Is it reasonable to expect communication with the outside world? Is it reasonable to cut workers off from the outside world? I've long been in the, perhaps, privileged position of being trusted. I hope that I've rewarded that trust by not abusing it and be being a good, productive worker. Between the chats with the missus, of course.

All this brings me to an interesting thought: will the next generation change attitudes to the exclusivity of work? My experience of modern teenagers is that they are rarely - if ever - out of touch with their social group. My daughter is often texting, IMing and MySpacing several friends. Simultaneously. How will she cope with an employer who bans outside interruptions? She soon starts a week of work experience. I'll listen with interest ...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bloody Sky+

For the second time now, we've lost all our Sky+ recordings. Do we get any compensation? Do we buggery.

The first time was soon after we took up the service. Our Sky+ box was unable to record a programme whilst watching another, and any attempt to record two programmes simultaneously resulted in one failing. It transpired that one of the aerial inputs was not connecting properly, and the technician sent to resolve the problem ended up snapping off the wire in the socket. This meant that we had to have a replacement Sky+ box - and transferring our recordings was not an option.

Just the other day, we returned home from an evening out. We settled down to watch a recorded programme - to be told that there were no recorded programmes. The day before there was only 4% left - so we knew this was wrong. It quickly became apparent that our Sky+ box was acting as if we had no Sky+ subscription - we couldn't record anything or set reminders. Having spent half an hour on their 087 support number I was told that the only course of action was to to a "full system reset" - wiping the hard drive.

Now I know that the copyright rules mean that you're only allowed to "temporarily" keep programme recordings - but the kids are devastated. All the recent Dr Who episodes have been lost. A number of files we'd wanted to watch have been lost. Lost has been lost. It turns out they're "upgrading" the Sky+ boxes for the new "Sky Anytime" service. Some improvement.

All this comes during the end-of-warrantee phase where they're shassling us (three letters, now) to take up some £100/year extended warrantee. We're seriously considering jacking in the whole Sky thing and going Freeview.

Friday, April 20, 2007

New Job

What's that sound? It's the sound of a cat being let out of a bag, that is. That being done, I can (finally) announce that I'm leaving CurrentJobTM for NewJobTM.

This is - I hope - a step in the right direction (away from disorganization and frustration; towards fun and reward). Certainly it is a step change for the better in job function, and I believe (watch this space) a step back towards a working environment I really loved.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


My eldest daughter hates me, now - apparently.

It seems it's not every teenage girl's dream to be aired on YouTube. Despite what the popular meedja would have you believe. (MySpace is currently *the* communication medium of choice among her cohorts.)

I had originally tapped in a rant about inappropriate use of communications media here. In particular the choice of using email to warn the students at Virginia Tech that a gunman was on the loose. However, I feel it's better to pause for thought and reflect on the tragedy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Static Shock

The kids have invented a new game this weekend. They haven't named it, so I'm calling it "Static Shock".

To play, you need a large trampoline with a man-made fibre mat and a warm day. The aim of the game is to give your opponent a static electric shock. The tramp mat gives the source of charge - but beware! while you're charging up, your opponent will be after you!


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Week away

.. in the sun. Revisiting old haunts and meeting up with friends we've not seen in a while.

I'm glad to say that I do not feel a desire to go back. I'm glad to say that I felt happy to be home again afterwards. In fact I was glad that I was glad. If that makes sense.

I guess we're still reassuring ourselves that we belong where we do, now. And we are reassured.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I aten't dead

.. just restin'.

When I say restin' .. I mean highly stressed working towards a release build of the latest version of our product.

I'm taking a much deserved rest, next week.

[Just thought you might like to know ;^) ]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Whose money?

stack of coins
It seems the government - not content with running our lives for us - want to put our money "to better use". All those pennies stashed away in account which we've forgotten about or choose to leave alone ... will soon be appropriated and redistributed.

.. isn't that embezzlement?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Spring has sprung. Official.

My senses tell me it's Spring. The season has changed.

Evidence the first:

Last night, on my way home from work: the first insect of the year. There on my visor. Splat!

Evidence the second:

My hips are aching today. Every year since I was a teen my hips ache when the season changes to spring or autumn. Sure-fire sign.

However ..

The grass has not, yet, riz. Our garden is still a quagmire.

Roll on summer ...

There would be a photo .. but I couldn't get the damn thing in focus. Pfff: amataeurs.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Not a free country, any more

I realised yesterday what turns me off British politics. What I mean is I realised what really bugs me about those interested in British politics.

There's a class of people who are interested in, knowledgeable about and who have influence over British politics. They are always up to date with the latest initiatives, acts and gossip. They expand on every detail - extrapolating the effects of every twitch.

What they seem to miss, however, is the bigger picture. Our government seem dead set on doing away with our every civil liberty. They almost abolished parliament, for goodness' sake! We will soon be - of we are not already - living in a police state. I am saddened to say that I no longer believe we can honestly say that we live in a free country any more.

Meanwhile, the politicos concern themselves with who will be the next deputy Prime Minster - as if none of this mattered.

I despair.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

IT for the masses

Hear, hear! I came across this article on why "programmers can't program" these days. Strictly, it's about why interviewees can't program, mainly.

I, too, use simple tests - often as questions in a telephone interview .. but sometimes face-to-face. I figured they'd be viewed as archaic skills, and some of my colleagues have commented to that effect in the past. I believe, however, that programmers are more effective if they understand the machine they're programming. So: a sample of my simple questions:

  1. What is significant about the number 255?

  2. How does a computer store a floating-point number?

  3. Using a bitwise boolean operation, what is 6 & 3?

  4. How are parameters typically passed in to a function call?

  5. Describe the implementation of a linked list

  6. What is recursion?

  7. What is the stack; what is the heap; and how to they differ?

  8. What is packing or alignment in data structures?

  9. What is an atomic operation? Describe a typical use of one

I found that 8/10 candidates comprehensively fail to demonstrate an understanding at this level - and that none ever answered all correctly.

So why can this be? Schooling.

When I were a lad .. our school bought a Commodore PET. I imagine they felt the new technology might benefit in some educational way - but I reckon they didn't know what to do with it. So they gave it to the head of maths. I guess they figured it was a big calculator. We started a computer club and pretty soon we were learning about algebraic logic and iteration using BASIC computer programs. Before the year was out, we knew far more than the teacher and had progressed to writing routines in 6502 assembler. I seem to recall the 2nd cassette port at address 826 was a safe location for such code. By the time I left school, I knew by heart all the powers of 2 up to 65536 and could do simple hex arithmetic in my head.

These days, as far as I can tell (from questions asked at open days) "IT" is no more ambitious than learning how to format paragraphs in Word, or sum a column in Excel. This is appalling for two big reasons: Firstly, it is just button-pushing. There is no skill in knowing where the "centred" option is for paragraph justification; it does not foster creativity or organised thought. Secondly it is very application-specific. Now I know you've got to start somewhere, and arguably the most common software is a sensible place to start, but does it really have to be Microsoft? Let's face it, despite their many (many) faults, Microsoft have invested a lot of money in usability to ensure their products are intuitive and easy to use. So how can spending lesson after lesson poking at it be justified (not left or right or centred .. just reasonable .. OK)?

Basically, no-one teaches computer programming in school. It's a shame, because it can be a vehicle for all sorts of subject matter. It's also a shame because I find it very hard to get the "right" candidate.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hands free

Today brings higher penalties for using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving. There is much discussion over whether this will have any affect on the problem. I have my doubts, personally. This is clearly an attempt to encourage drivers to adhere to a law which is unenforceable. Were it possible to enforce this law, it would have been done, and all these drivers would have been stopped and fined. I reckon the being stopped is more of a deterrent that the fine, personally. The increase only raises the bar in theory, as the culprits know they won't be caught.

I find myself wondering whether the use of mobile phones is really such a problem. Certainly it reduces the driver's ability to concentrate - but as has been discussed before, this true whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free. So: what could be worse than using a mobile phone when driving? I suggest (in no particular order):

  • Having a screaming argument with a passenger - particularly a passenger in the back

  • Applying make-up

  • Listening to an engaging radio show - especially very funny ones

  • Programming a Sat-Nav

  • Taking clothes off - e.g. a coat

  • Following too close behind the vehicle in front

  • Erratically and frequently switching lanes in slowed traffic in a desperate attempt to get ahead or other vehicles

  • Driving right behind the vehicle in front to prevent another vehicle merging into your lane

  • Being too tired

  • Blogging

Here, I lay down the gauntlet: top these!

OK .. that last one isn't a common problem, to my knowledge.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

You're nicked

So: I'm not the only one who isn't convinced by our Tony's response to the ID card petition. Luckily, some have penned a more eloquent analysis of the flannel mailed to the "almost 28000" signatories.

I can see how having everyone's dabs on-file is the police's dream. I cant help thinking, however, that criminals can easily evade the law by wearing gloves. It is also fairly clear that if the main data gathering is through passport biometrics, and a main leaver of fingerprints at crime scenes is itinerant yoof - who don't have passports - fuelling their oft-reported DrugHabitTM then the whole thing is a waste of our time and money.

My solution? Put the power and responsibility for keeping law and order back in the hands of the people. Ensure that citizens can chastise bad behaviour without fear of lawsuit. No .. encourage citizens to chastise bad behaviour. Create opportunities for legal recreation without high price tags. Encourage a reversal of the ever-increasing population density in the South East of England. Bring back society.

I'll keep dreaming ...

Monday, February 19, 2007

ID cards - the official response

To paraphrase:

You want to scrap ID cards? No.
-- Tony

Anyone who is in any doubt that we live in a police state: read the second paragraph.

E-petition: Response from the Prime Minister

The e-petition to "scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards" has now closed. The petition stated that "The introduction of ID cards will not prevent terrorism or crime, as is claimed. It will be yet another indirect tax on all law-abiding citizens of the UK". This is a response from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The petition calling for the Government to abandon plans for a National ID Scheme attracted almost 28,000 signatures - one of the largest responses since this e-petition service was set up. So I thought I would reply personally to those who signed up, to explain why the Government believes National ID cards, and the National Identity Register needed to make them effective, will help make Britain a safer place.

The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services - who have the task of protecting this country - believe.

So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs - particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.

In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.

But first, it's important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities - up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.

Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.

Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.

These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.

If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.

I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.

The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don't recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.

As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Leave them kids alone ...

Oh, for goodness sake! Now they're banning play. My only grain of hope is that this is an isolated incident, reported to highlight the ridicule of the situation.

The worry is: how on earth did this school allow a head teacher who doesn't understand why children play? The whole point about play - and I know that assigning purpose to play kind of defeats the argument - is that it allows those playing to explore situations and understanding without consequence. A kind of "dry run" for life.

Of course, there have to be rules - and violence must be reprimanded - but let the kids play in their own way, purleease.

An interesting day

Friday was an interesting day .. as in that proverbial Chinese curse.

I should have guessed how the day was going to pan out - not in detail, of course, but generally - when I had to re-attach my speedo cable before setting off for work. This isn't the first time I've had to re-attach the bugger, but it screws in up under the fairing and I can't reach it well enough to do it up tightly enough for it to stay done up. Grrrr.

I almost got to work safely. Almost. But not quite. I got to the car park .. into the car park: right up to the door where I swing right to park the bike. That's when I found the black ice. As I rolled along, I leant the bike over and turned the bars to make the turn - but the bike just hit the deck and I slid about 10 feet along the tarmac with the damn thing on top of me. Luckily, it's not too heavy and despite the slippery surface, I managed to get it upright again. Aside from a badly bruised knee and a really stiff neck I escaped injury. Luckily. The bike wasn't too badly damaged, either. The indicator got ripped out of its socket - cracking the fairing in the process. The indicator stalk attaches to the fairing with a rubber grommet, so it popped right back into place - but the fairing is still cracked. I also found once I got the bike home that the forks had twisted a little. I managed to straighten them out, too; but getting home wasn't as straightforward as you'd like, either ...

About half-past four in the afternoon it started to snow. Quite large, wet flakes which looked ominous. I'd been brooding all day about the morning's entertainment so I got concerned pretty quickly. I decided to cut and run, so left just before five.

I took the main road option for safety, so made over half the journey OK. I had trouble seeing properly with the visor huffing up inside and the snow sticking to the outside. From there on, the road get smaller and smaller: so I went slower and slower until at last I was doing about 15 miles per hour. I made the road along the flat, and then met up with a queue of cars trying to get up the hill past a church into a village I go through. The snow was, by now, about 2" deep and icy underneath.

I noticed the car in front spinning his wheels every time he tried to go forward. At first I was OK, but soon my back wheel was spinning, too. We all slipped and slithered slowly up the hill - taking about 20 minutes to make the hundred yards to the village pub. By this time, there was about 2½" of snow. The next two hundred yards was flatish - but the road has a terrible camber.

The hill climb out of the village is twisty, however and I had to give up the vain attempt part way up. I couldn't even make it across the road - as cars coming down the hill couldn't stop. Luckily a friendly neighbour came to my rescue. The bike got manhandled up their drive and stayed there until Sunday morning. I then had the small matter of a three mile trudge through 3" of snow and ice. Two hours and fifteen miles after leaving work, I arrived home to be greeted by relieved faces and the opportunity to strip off, finally. I was sweltering with all the warm bike clothing!

Here's to boring journeys. And staying shiny-side up.