Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Freedom Of The Press

Seen today:

Blogging and PCC Regulation – A Collective Response

My first thought: why on earth would anybody consider that what bloggers do should fall within the grubby remit of the Press Complaints Commission anyway?

But this is clearly a thought-through idea, however Bloody Stupid it might be.

Over-regulation is one of the bugbears of the Left, sadly. Pity: on most ideological fronts, I'm somewhat left of centre and have always mistrusted the party that Steve Bell once, not inaccurately in my view, renamed the SelfServatives.

This is an odd situation, in many ways. The PCC is toothless largely because it's mostly not in its interest to do its job properly. It probably feels that it could do a successful job of regulating bloggers, who are largely regarded as loose cannons and -- more importantly -- Competition, but of course the hidden (?) agenda is simply to preserve the status quo and prevent as much genuine freedom of thought in order to sell newspapers / paywalled news to a public who have an easily exploited tendency to sink to the lowest common denominator at the drop of an immigration issue.

Sign the thing, then, and do it now. It shouldn't have a hope in hell of passing, but inactivity has let stupid things happen before and there's no harm in raising public awareness Just In Case.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Courtesy of the Guardian: Spicy black bean quesadilla and anytime cookies

This just looks yummy.

Mind you, it might be necessary to find an alternative to the nasty avocado in the quesadilla.

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Friday, 12 June 2009

Customising Firefox

Sometimes, I realise that my most-used Firefox (my portable one, get your own copy from here) is better than everybody else's, and I rack my brains to remember just why. I try to remember just what addons I use when I'm using someone else's Firefox (or even one of my less portable versions) and usually fail. Do I let that bother me? Hell, yes.

There's a new Firefox addon that lets you make collections of addons. (That comes from here.) I've used it to put all my addons in one place -- primarily for my own benefit, I grant, but I've left the collection publicly available because if it's good for me, it must be good for everyone, right?

You can see the collection here.

However... my portable Firefox lives on a portable hard disk, not a thumbdrive. Firefox would probably take about a month to start, loaded from a memory stick and with this many addons. Call it bloated if you like; you can take your opinion and... er, anyway, I'd only suggest you use this lot from a nice, speedy hard disk -- unless you're particularly patient, anyway.

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Thursday, 30 April 2009

Political sensibilities and cod economics

For some reason, I've found myself trying to define my own political opinions recently.

Despite a fair amount of familial influence from the more right-wing side of the world of politics, I have never voted Conservative and would consider it a betrayal of what I consider to be my own feelings that the State has a responsibility to support its poorest and weakest. (Yes, that's a stereotype. But surely, the subject of politics is stuffed with stereotypes and the vast majority of voters are far more easily influenced by a pandering to stereotypical notions than anything actually analytical or genuinely intelligent?)

I don't often vote Labour either. There's a different set of stereotypes at work there; once, a vague feeling of disquiet that there was too much reliance on the theories of Karl Marx, and more recently a recognition that New Labour has largely sacrificed its principles in order to pacify the money men.

The LibDems? Well, I have a lot of sympathy for them. In particular, the view that very often, policies are better come to by consideration of the issues involved rather than the blind application of party dogma is one that I feel instinctively has to be closer to a good approach than anything else. And I do vote for them, probably more often than not, even though I recognise that their chances of power at Westminster are relatively small.

Thing is, lately, the centre's been getting crowded. It seems that both Labour and the Tories want the majority of the public to believe that they represent the interests of the majority. While they can't both be right, it IS clear (at least to me) that the incumbent, New Labour, government pays lip service to its roots but has served the Tories' traditional paymasters (the once castigated capitalist pigs of big business and banking) as well as the Tories themselves. The latter recognise, as well they might, that there's some benefit in cashing in on that, being past masters at looking after themselves before everyone else and pretending otherwise, and are also in a quite lovely position of having a government in power that is flailing around trying to sort out the crumbling economy while vainly protesting that it's not their fault.

It IS their fault, in a way. But only in a way. They weren't paying attention when all that money was flooding the place; they didn't notice that it wasn't real, that it was just numbers and there was nothing behind it except blind optimism and complicated calculations designed to make nothing look like something it wasn't. But nobody else was paying attention either. Nobody important enough to be paid any attention, anyway.

Say what you like, the gold standard had a major advantage; you always had the gold. Abandoning it effectively rendered meaningless the promise printed on your paper money: "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of..." because, of course, there's only another, identical piece of paper to give you back when you ask for the promise to be fulfilled. Money now works only because we all agree that it's worth what it says it is.

Where was I? This started as politics and has turned into cod economics.

Oh yes. So Labour will need a miracle if it's going to win the next election. It's got a Prime Minister with the electoral appeal of last week's leftover porridge. Blair might have been many things, and he was certainly far too fond of George Dubya for anybody's good, but he had charisma oozing from every pore. He was electable because he was photogenic, believable and -- at least apparently -- sincere. Brown is none of these things. He has intellectual qualities but no ability to sell them to us.

What will I do, come the next election? Follow Lazarus Long's advice "if you can't vote for, then at least vote against", perhaps?

I'm still just idealistic enough to believe that there might still be the vision in Labour to do what (sorry) it says on the tin. But I think they need time to sort themselves out, a period in the wilderness so they can go back to their core values (which, excepting the nonsense at the extremes, ARE the ones I generally believe in) and find someone new who can sell them to us. Maybe a Milliband; maybe someone less apparently manipulative but with the intelligence to understand that while idealism needs to be tempered with pragmatism, the complete acceptance of the free market has consequences, not least to our most vulnerable people.

Capitalism with a social conscience, perhaps.

Pragmatic socialism, perhaps.

Does this define the Lib Dems? It might, it might.

But they're still not electable.

Even so, I don't think I can vote Tory.

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Thursday, 9 April 2009

Imperfect memory

Yesterday, I was confronted with the news that someone in the organisation who recently left was being replaced by someone I was pretty sure was a name from my past.

I was right about that, but I affixed the name to the wrong person.

It's not the biggest deal -- the latter was lots more senior than the name's true owner but in a completely different field -- but the fact that I had a bit of a pessimistic view of the appointment has, strangely, not been changed by my realisation of the mistaken identity. The person to whom the name belongs used to use me and my then boss (we're going back a couple of decades here) for technical advice on IT strategy which, if my admittedly faulty memory isn't leading me too far astray, he used to comprehensively ignore.

I feel irrationally embarrassed at having mixed him up, strangely, even though I misidentified him in a relatively secure environment and nobody would probably have known either way anyway.

He's taking on a poisoned chalice, though: better him than me.

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Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Okay, maybe it is just me.

Not only do I think that phoning a colleague to ask for details relating to the date of the (recent) death of another colleague's husband is particularly unethical when the first colleague is somebody with access to a database that might well contain that information but no other reason to know it and the colleague with the recently deceased husband isn't someone the telephoner ever has anything much good to say about, but I also think that asking a colleague to behave unethically is itself acutely unethical.

I'd say something, but I haven't been asked for my opinion (probably because I'm not known for breaches in confidential information) and the only reason I heard the conversation is because it was happening, loudly, less than six feet from me.

I wish I didn't have to share an office with anybody.

Am I oversensitive?

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Tuesday, 3 March 2009


I'm currently listening to a work colleague telling someone about a friend who's just had a cancer diagnosis, in great detail. Whoever she's talking to doesn't know the person she's talking about, but she's just told her the name, diagnosis, symptoms and goodness knows what else.

I'm uncomfortable hearing it.

I'm almost sure I know who she's talking to -- someone who works with cancer data but is an administrator not a medic.

Ignoring ethical issues for a minute, there seems to me to be an element of voyeurism going on. Look at me, my friend's got cancer, isn't it upsetting, poor dear?

Oh, now we're getting details of who the person worked for, when she retired and other bits.

I strongly suspect if it was me with the diagnosis, I wouldn't want my colleague for a friend.

Maybe it's just me?

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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Catch 22 strikes servers

Here's another thing. The computer system I manage has been running, rather badly, under VMWare for the last couple of years. As a result of an entirely different problem (well, sometimes it's just necessary to get people to focus for a while on one problem to bring up all the others as well) I'm now in a position to move it back to a real, honest-to-goodness, physical server.

Well, almost in a position. Obviously, there's some testing to to, and some bits to install and tweak before golive. And what we find is: since setting the previous incarnation up, Active Directory has reared its ugly head. (The Ivory Tower has to find things to justify its existence: last year's thing was AD.)

In order to follow AD policy, I have to login to the server using a non-administrative login and do everything, once I'm logged on, using "Run As..." to do things that need administrative privileges. Painful but achievable, I guess.

Thing is, policy also says that I can't login via Terminal Services (aka Remote Desktop) if I'm not an administrator. And there's no other way to login.

Sometimes, people who think they know what they're doing just don't think things through...

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Monday, 23 February 2009


I'm not going to go into great detail here, but here's a thing.

My daughter hates me.

The reasons for this are long and complicated and maybe even irrational -- there's a professional opinion or two that suggests she has paranoid schizophrenia or some other personality disorder, whatever that easy phrase may mean -- but I no longer have any option but to avoid all possibility of any sort of direct contact for fear of what she might accuse me of next time.

Recently, she's started sending me text messages. It's nearly her birthday, she reminds me, and she's prepared to be "civil" if I am.

Odd word, that. Mostly, nobody uses it except as a word to describe somebody who isn't it. Or somebody who is, but only just, perhaps through a desire not to spill blood in public or through some misguided view of the concept of "duty."

It's a word used by someone who's spoiling for a fight. It's not a word used by someone who's looking for forgiveness for past wrongs, it's just too unemotional to contain the stuff that'd be associated with the resumption of a relationship that went where she took ours. It's a word that restarts something; not a relationship but a confrontation.

She's trying to achieve something here, of course. She's performing, perhaps, for her friends (here's me, showing forgiveness and the b^!^*%$* won't give me the time of day) or she's scared all her sources of never-to-be-repaid loans away and she doesn't know where her next packet of fags are coming from so she's wondering if the father she tried very hard to destroy might have forgotten some of the things she said and did. Her subtlety doesn't extend very far, though. She's after a birthday present and if she's also working an audience, it's a bonus for her.

Civility, even in its dictionary form, isn't a word that comes to mind, in this context. Nor, sadly, is forgiveness. For what she did to me; to her brother; to the son of her mother's friend; to her mother's ex-boyfriend; or to her mother; forgiveness is very, very hard to consider, even as an intellectual exercise.

The few friends she has left, by all accounts, are known as "emo" people. A flavour, perhaps, of the goths whose beginnings were rooted in the musical subculture that surrounded me, half my life ago but while I liked the music, I didn't live it!

I can't speak with any authority on this subject, but according to the boy she bullied all his life, they invent dreadful stories of how appalling their lives are then cut themselves in search of the twisted emotional release that pain brings.

There is much here I don't understand, I admit. But I completely understand the potential consequences of resuming contact with this damaged person; while she needs events that fuel the manufacture of the ersatz sympathy that feeds her disorder, it is completely unreasonable to enter that whirlpool myself.

So no, I won't be "civil."

She's in Coventry for good reason; she can't leave and I won't visit.

For her birthday, she can have the day she has made for herself. I hope she will one day be able to understand what she has done.

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Wednesday, 11 February 2009


Okay, thumbdrives are ubiquitous. Roomy, convenient, and with the growth in portable applications can be a really useful way to carry a familiar working environment around with you.

But they're not quick, are they? Even the fast ones aren't as quick as you want them to be.

Introducing my new toy: a 2.5 inch drive enclosure and a 40Gb hard disk from a dead laptop. Total cost: about six quid. Five times as much storage as my thumbdrive and far, far faster. So I copy everything off the thumbdrive and treat the new gadget just like my old thumbdrive.

One small concern: will I hit more problems with the NTFS format than I did with FAT32? Maybe I should have made two partitions. Maybe I'll do that before I go too much further... also, it needs two usb ports to give it enough power, but I think I can cope with that in most situations.

First impressions, though: marvellous. We'll see if I still feel the same way when it comes to carrying it in a pocket.

[Later] okay, I'm a coward. But I've repartitioned the drive (using the always excellent Paragon Partition Manager to do all the work) into a 27Gb chunk, converted to FAT32, and used the 10Gb remaining as an encrypted partition, created with TrueCrypt to replace the half gig Truecrypt volume I previously kept all the things I wouldn't want falling into the wrong hands. I'll probably never get close to filling it, but it's a sensible use for the space and, that way, I don't lose another drive letter.

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Thursday, 5 February 2009


It's my birthday in a couple of days.

I shall be <cough>

Sorry about that. A slight tickle in the throat.

I'm going to achieve the grand age of <ah-choo>

No, it's no good, I can't say it. They tell me I don't look my age. Mind, I can't easily see the grey hairs certain people have a habit of noticing on the sides of my head. I don't try too hard, either. But I try not to think too much about it either.

I remember working out, when I was a kid, just how ancient I'd be when the year 2000 arrived. Ancient, I thought. One foot in the grave, I thought. I was very, very wrong, but late thirties seems like a stone's throw away from long white whiskers, forgetfulness and reading the Daily Telegraph to anybody under ten; perhaps that's how it should be.

But why am I shy about it? The most formative years of my teens were spent listening to music that was, both spiritually and practically, revolutionary. I wasn't a proper punk, I suppose, given the apparent requirement for hard drugs for true appreciation, and I definitely got interested in the more experimental stuff that wound up being called "New Wave." (Although anything with swearing in it was always a bonus. Anyone remember "Johnny Won't Get To Heaven"?) Completely irrelevant, of course, to the age thing except that the moment I start remembering out loud the early days of The Sex Pistols (who were already past their best by the time they were at their most notorious) it's a bit of a giveaway.

I shall be 47, okay?

My MP3 player (I don't have an iPod, I've got more self-respect than that) is loaded with the music of my youth mixed liberally with the music of other people's youth and even quite a lot of modern stuff. (The oldest track on there is probably something by the Hollies or the Rolling Stones, the newest is probably by The Feeling. And there's a podcast or six but perhaps that's something that you have to be a bit crusty to get.

Anyway, my technophile nature has several desires for birthday presents -- things like a very portable hard disk caddy so I can stop worrying about the comparably limited lifespan of my thumbdrive, or a shiny new MP3 player that's got a bit more room for Stuff. But presents that are purchaseable by non-experts, non-geeky and reasonably affordable? Harder.

Roll on Saturday. Whatever else might happen, it'll be a good birthday because (a) it's at the weekend, (b) I can have a lie-in and (c) I'll be spending it with Bec.

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Friday, 30 January 2009

Scott Adams' cat

Yesterday, I read this:

As a cat owner -- we have two, Sirius (aka OtherCat) who is smart but strange, and Padfoot (aka Pads), who is strange and, well, to be fair, not very smart. Pads had a period of illness a couple of weeks ago -- off his food, lethargic, nothing obvious but worrying, probably a hairball. After a few doses of vet-supplied meat-flavoured petroleum jelly followed by the consequences I'm sure I don't have to go into -- except, perhaps, to say that the smell's really nasty -- all was well again. But there were a couple of days that we were really worried that he might have something potentially fatal going on and, for all his strangeness (did you ever meet a cat that wanted to shake paws with you?) I'm not entirely sure what our life would be like without him.

So Scott Adams' story of his cat touched me deeply. I might even have shed a tear. Maybe even two.

I mentioned the story to Bec, who said she'd like to read it.

Bec read it.

Without deconstructing everything in massive detail, she read it three times, cried after the first two and managed to control herself enough on the third read-through that she "only" had to suppress a lump in her throat.

She's taken a printed copy of the story into work with her, today. She says she needs evidence to point at when people ask her why her eyes are a bit puffy this morning.

I think there's at least a fair chance that productivity at her workplace will be a bit on the low side, today.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Why would I blog?

Perhaps because I write a lot -- emails, mostly -- and sometimes, just sometimes, feel that I just made a point that I'd rather shout from the rooftops. So this is going to be about me saying things. Sometimes, they'll be things about me or my life. Sometimes, they'll be off-the-wall things that irritate or impress me. I don't know what else, yet, or even whether I'll keep it up, but it seems like something I ought to know how to do and what better way to find out than to do it?#

So here we are. Hello, hello Scribefire, this is me. Shall we begin?