Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nanny knows best

I should applaud the recent report which reinforces a ban on the use of mobile phones whilst driving. I've long held the belief that it is dangerously irresponsible. It is fine inasmuch as it highlights what is fairly obvious: that distraction reduces the ability to concentrate. This applies to holding a mobile phone conversation, eating, drinking (no, it took me a while to realise that "drinking and driving" didn't mean literally that) or listening to passengers.

That last one is where I start to have problems. Anyone with common sense will know that to drive safely, distractions should be kept to a minimum. Try carting four noisy children around when it's dark, pouring with rain and there are two other lanes of card doing the same thing.

My particular beef is that the report suggests that "whether your (sic) on your mobile phone or a hands free kit, you're four times more likely to have a crash". This may be true - what what sensible conclusion can be drawn from that? Surely, by inference, any conversation will also significantly increase the likelihood of a crash. Do they really expect everyone to travel in silence?

I've also held the belief (for even longer) that smoking whilst driving is dangerous, but I see no move toward banning that. I guess the tobacco lobby is as strong as ever.

I think a much more sensible approach is to educate and inform drivers that - when distraction is unavoidable - they should probably slow down, or stop. Certainly, when distracted, more care should be taken - as a courtesy to their passengers and other road users. DAMNIT! Now I'm starting to sound like Victor Meldrew.

Just use a bit of common sense, people!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Big Brother: reviving careers the easy way

I'm glad to say that I didn't get hooked on this latest season of Celebrity Big Brother. As Channel 4's director of television was reported as saying after the racism row "This was in danger of being the most boring BB that we'd had in many years, maybe ever". I'm greatly amused to discover, however, that the winner was not the big name she was presented as.

My conspiracy theory sensors are tingling again. What if the whole show was a vehicle for boosting flagging careers? Certainly, Channel 4 was accused of manipulating the racism issue to boost ratings. The way in which the show is edited makes it a doddle to swing the votes whichever way the director wishes. They even fiddled the final vote, for goodness' sake! The programme makers could have planned Shilpa Shetty's victory from the off - perhaps her agent bought it for her. Shilpa was introduced as a big Bollywood star; it now transpires she was a "B-grade" actress. Big Brother has now made her a pukka star .. in the UK, at least.

It's been said before: don't go on Big Brother unless you've nothing to lose. Perhaps that's true - unless you have pre-arranged the outcome ... fame and fortune, anyone?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A picture's worth .. oh, hang on

Scientists store whole image on a single photon. How does that work, then?

"An entire image's worth of data has been encoded into a single photon, without information being lost" says the article.

Now I'm obviously no expert - but that image looks a bit dodgy to me. If there's no loss of information, and it's equivalent to a 6 megapixel camera on a single photon, how come the image isn't a wee bit better?

Call me Old Mr Cynical.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Error Message Gems: #1

This is the first in what will no doubt become an extensive series of posts.

On logging in to our company rewards system, the user is asked to enter a new password to replace the system-generated one. I did so and was greeted with this gem:

Validation Error(s)
  • The new password word does not meet the security requirements

That's it. No further information; no clues. I guess I'll just have to figure out what the security requirements are for myself. Maybe it's a test.

Hey: here's a thought: initiative test interviews:

My first comedy sketch idea.

Scene: a busy city street. A hopeful looking job candidate checks his tie and rereads the job interview letter. He checks the address, then looks up. In front of him - at the nominated address is a travel agency. He looks puzzled, but enters anyway. The two occupants of the travel agency: one man tapping at a computer and a woman apparently trying to book a holiday. As he approaches the desk, the man pulls a gun and aims it at the candidate, while the woman rolls off her chair and appears behind the candidate - holding him is a half-nelson. The candidate throws off the woman using a "Ippon Seoinage" judo throw and rolls under the desk, disarming the man with the gun. They all stand up and the candidate is patted warmly on the back and told he's got the job. "Welcome to MI5" says his new boss.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The listening government?

Subject: Government response to petition 'privatecopy'
Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2007 14:21:43 +0000
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
To: me
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
From: "10 Downing Street" <>

You recently signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to "create a new exception to copyright law that gives individuals the right to create a private copy of copyrighted materials for their own personal use, including back-ups, archiving and shifting format."

The Prime Minister's Office has responded to that petition and you can view it here:

Prime Minister's Office

Petition info:

Whether the weather is sunny ...

What a difference a day makes
Twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain

Spot the difference:


EGNX 181450Z 26042G55KT 9999 VCSH SCT042 10/02 Q0985
29 minutes ago, at 14:50 UTC, the wind was blowing at a speed of 21.6 meters per second (48.3 miles per hour), with gusts to 28.3 meters per second (63.3 miles per hour), from West in East Midlands. The temperature was 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), and the pressure was 985 hPa (29.09 inHg). The relative humidity was 57.5%. There were scattered clouds at a height of 1280 meter (4200 feet). The visibility was > 11.3 kilometers (>7 miles). Current weather is Nearby Shower(s).

EGNX 191420Z 23012KT CAVOK 10/05 Q1013
26 minutes ago, at 14:20 UTC, the wind was blowing at a speed of 6.2 meters per second (13.8 miles per hour) from Southwest in East Midlands. The temperature was 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), and the pressure was 1,013 hPa (29.91 inHg). The relative humidity was 71.0%. There are no clouds below 1,524 meter (5,000 feet). The visibility was >10 kilometers (>6.2 miles).

(I love weatherpixie, me)

It doesn't look much, perhaps - but it doesn't half feel different!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What is Racism?

I'm pleased to have ignored Big Brother so far .. but this furore over alleged racism is too noisy an issue to ignore. What is unclear is whether any comments or behaviour observed is, in fact, racism. This brings the question: what constitutes racism?

Is "Goodness Gracious Me" racist? There is certainly caricaturisation of "Englishness" in there: mocking English behaviour and accents. Personally, I'd say it's very funny and probably well deserved. There was that "blacked up men" routine that hit a slight nerve, though.

Dictionary definitions usually refer to the belief that physical traits and cultural differences are determined by (biologically distinct) "race", and that this may in turn imply or define superiority or inferiority. The American Heritage Dictionary puts this rather succinctly as "Discrimination or prejudice based on race".

So the point about racism appears to be prejudice. If an individual or organisation pre-judges another based on their race, that is racism. Referring to an individual by their race is not, in itself, racist.

With this in mind, let's examine the alleged racist behaviour in the BB house.

Jackiey Goody's behaviour is questionable - but could have been triggered by personal disagreements. An inability to pronounce foreign names (and arguably some native ones) is not racism. Imitating an Indian accent is IMHO not racist either (otherwise so is "Goodness Gracious Me").

Jo O'Meara's suggestion that Indians were thin because they were always ill as a result of undercooking their food is probably not racist - but certainly an unjustified slur.

Danielle Lloyd's comment "You don't know where those hands have been" must be viewed as dodgy, though. Whilst it could be argued that it was personal, without specific grounds for questioning Shilpa's cleanliness it sounds clearly racist.

I think the main problem is that it is easy to brush over such incidents and to explain away the prejudice. Humans have, I beleive, an instinctive need for "us" and "them". As social animals we have to define a "them" in order to know who "us" is. This is all well and good, but in a shrinking world in which we all have to co-exist, prejudice must be tackled. Most important of all, we should not as a society permit such prejudice to be explained away.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Software Archeology

A colleague and friend of mine in a previous job often said his favourite job title was "Software Archeologist". He has the curious accolade of having possibly the only online video recorder museum. I have long been impressed that not only does he maintain this site, but actually has all the exhibits stored at home. But I digress.

For those who, like me, have an interest in the business of software - and in particular, programming languages - might like to visit the Encyclopedia of Computer Languages (subtitled "HOPL: an interactive Roster of Programming Languages").

Memo to me: must get to grips with Ruby.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The iPod: deskilling the nation

Long ago, when motoring was new, if you wanted to drive from London to Brighton you had to know how to fix the car if it broke down. And break down, it probably would - at some point. Witness the annual veteran car run.

More recently, manufacturers have improved reliability to the state where most owners never need to fix the car. And so they don't know how.

Recently, I tried to help my next door neighbour solve a problem with his new car. It didn't believe the tailgate was shutting - and so kept sounding the alarm. Keeping us awake - but that's not the point. The engine-bay was so neatly packaged that nothing could be examined without special tools. They obviously didn't expect - or even want - the owner to maintain the vehicle. As has happened with music and film, the buyer no longer owns the product. But that's a different rant - for another time.

My point here is that by making products inaccessible to the owner, and in less need of owner maintenance, we are in some ways worse off. Sure, the consumer will tell you that they want more reliable products; that they want to be able to use things without having to know how to fix them. Since when has the consumer really known what they want?

The iPod typifies this approach: a monobloc device, with pretty much a single button to operate it. Its runaway success was due to this neat packaging. It does exactly what is says on the tin - as that advert went. But: it's a disposable product. If (heaven forbid!) it goes wrong, it cannot be mended. Not by the owner, anyway.

My main problem with this is not the waste, or the advance in technology, but the dumbing-down of the people. These are just examples. There is a general trend; the same process can be seen in many walks of life. As a people we used to be capable and so able to adapt and survive. We are rapidly becoming slaves to our gadgets, and the worse off for it.

I'll just consult my PDA for my next meeting and .. argh! I can't find my phone. But I need to find out what's in my Google calendar. What'll I do now? I can't live like this ...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


All done. Quite painless. I even got my "factoid" widget back in there ...

Now to go back through my 100-odd posts, adding labels. Watch this space ...

Upgrading Blogger

'tis time. I can put this off no longer. I'm going for the upgrade.

New Blogger was in beta for quite a while, but now I'm going to assume that it is mature enough to make the jump. Please do not adjust your sets ...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

You know .. when you've been plutoed

Feeling devalued? You've been plutoed. "In its 17th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “plutoed” as the word of the year ..."

Don't worry, there's a solution: salsa! "Salsa dancing might help tackle depression, experts from the University of Derby have suggested."

Friday, January 05, 2007

Dawn of a New World Order?

A number of thoughts have come together .. and I can now present my thoughts on what the future has in store for society and government.


The recent furore over illicit phone-cam images of Saddam Hussein's hanging highlighted an inevitable truth. The media is devolving. No longer are we fed news from companies large enough to place reporters in the field and publish nationwide. One man with a phone can let the world see the truth. A truth, at least.


A similar story is can be told of the film and music industries. In the last new years, and last year in particular, these popular media streams saw successes come from nowhere - without the help of large corporations. The likes of Lily Allen and Sandi Thom rose to fame: not as a result of Max Clifford's efforts, or with the backing of EMI or whoever, but directly via their Myspace pages.

An increasing number of bands now have pages on myspace. My 15 year-old daughter is, I guess, typical. She finds bands I've never heard of, downloads their music and teaches herself to play them on her guitar. No big publishers. No copyright malarkey. Just as it should be.

Software Patents

Yesterday I read news that a once-dead company has risen from the ashes to sue Apple, Google and Napster, using its patent for a "Digital entertainment service platform". Just about everyone can see that this is not novel.

The level of software evolution at the moment means that companies are patenting the equivalent of bricks and mortar. The main problem as I can see it is that the people granting such patents do not understand the technology and so cannot understand what the patents are actually about. Anyone with a wad of cash and a good enough grasp of positive spin can get a software patent. Witness Eddie Van Halen's patent for a "Musical instrument support".

This situation has led some to call for an end to the patent system altogether.


All of these are trends in the world of computers and electronic communication. That's my world, and these are the trends that I can see. There will, of course, be others that I'm unaware of.

What I can see in the future is a diversification beyond anything seen before. A real democracy: right on the edges of anarchy. A much-needed reversal of the trend for fewer, large companies. The end of the world as we know it ...

We'll see.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother 5 Begins

Despite myself, I am already interested in the latest "reality TV" horror that is Celebrity Big Brother. Not hooked. Absolutely not. I could give it up any time ...

I was indifferent as the contestants were introduced one by one and descended into metaphoric hell.

Jermaine Jackson: not as big a name as his kid brother. Not quite sure how they persuaded him to go on the show.

Danielle LLoyd: 'nuff siad

Carole Malone: abhorrent attention-seeker, sold out in the name of more fame

Jo O'Meara: some interest here - on a musical and lecherous level; she was, after all, the one who could sing

Ken Russell: what the ...? Doing a Michel Winner, I suppose. Surely, he doesn't need publicity?

Shilpa Shetty: really disappointed by her vanity and self-centred image of the show

.. and then came Leo Sayer. Oh no! Now I'm going to have to watch it. He's gotta win, surely?

Donny Tourette: presumably someone at Endemol thought they were being really humorous here

Cleo Rocos: pleasantly surprised by how polite and put-together this icon was

Ian Watkins: who? Oh, yes. Greeted Jo like old mates - which I presume they were. Soul mates there, then

Dirk Benedict: no way! This guy really impresses me. He is so laid back, and doesn't appear to take stuff too seriously. Maybe Leo has a rival ...

So ... this wasn't supposed to be a run-down. I was going to rant about how pointless the whole charade is .. but it's too late. I'll no doubt moan about how much of my life I wasted watching it when it's all over ...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year, 2007

A belated Happy Christmas, Happy New Year and any other festivities you have been celebrating.

I resisted the urge to create a list of favourite Christmassy songs before my self-awarded sabbatical. In its place, here's my Yuletide breakdown:


Several. All gratefully received. Some edible; one rather saucy; one which will soon be providing freshly brewed beer.


Plenty, though - curiously - not to excess. There's bottles left over to enjoy ...

New Year's Resolutions

None. I made one a while ago to never make New Year's Resolutions. I have, however, decided to subtly change the content of this blog.


Song lyrics as blog post titles. This will, I know, reduce the hits on this blog .. but the "accidental" hits never read it anyway. I retain the right to include snippets of song lyrics and/or poetry as the urge takes me.


More opinion: release the inner grump. This was after all intended to be my Two Pennies Worth.