2007-12-30

The military philosophers

I've already read books 10, 11 and 12 (in that order) of A Dance to the Music of Time and I've just finished book 9, The Military Philosophers. The order is unusual, but that's the thing with being disorganized.

Here are the things that struck me:

1. The Powell dude is incredibly cultured. The breadth and depth of his knowledge is astounding.

2. He's a consummate master of language. He then goes further and adds quirks that you can only do if you really understand the rules. I think this is partly because of the distance in time between him writing and me reading. In other words everyone talked like that then. The quirks I'm talking about manifest themselves in oddly contracted sentences. Far out daddy-o!

3. I find the whole thing quite cold and cerebral, with an elegiac quality.

Star of the Sea: Free markets

Sarah from work (knowing that I'm an advocate of free markets) photocopied some pages from Star of the Sea which contained a newspaper article that said that the free market was to blame for the Irish Potato Famine. I've thought about it on-and-off for several months and I've decided I don't know enough about the history of the period to comment on that particular case.

However in general it is true that free markets as described by Adam Smith did regulate the labour force by starvation. In other words, if the price of labour dropped below a certain point the labourer couldn't feed herself and died of starvation. This reduced the supply of labour, and so the price of labour rose again. It works, but isn't morally acceptable.

The good thing about free markets is that they are the quickest way to make your country rich; the bad thing is that the wealth isn't distributed evenly. That's why I think that government should stop taxing the poorest in society, and in this way redistribute the wealth a bit.

2007-12-22

Per capita CO2 emissions

Willem Buiter writes that per capita CO2 emissions aren't important. He's right that what we need is a global tax on every tonne of CO2Eq (carbon dioxide equivalent) emitted. But the revenue from that tax should be re-distributed among countries according to population size, according to the TaxBack idea.

2007-12-15

Own-Id: A reader writes

Ariƫn asked of Own-Id:

Why do you make people redirect to your domain? isn't it easier to add the meta
tags?

I think the easiest method of delegating your OpenId depends on several factors:

1. Do you have an editable web page under your own domain name?
2. Are you comfortable with basic HTML?
3. Do you know what to add to the html?
4. Do you know the URL of your OpenId server?
5. How easy is it to add a CNAME record to your DNS?

If the answers 1-4 are 'yes' and the answer to number 5 is 'not very', then it's easiest to go ahead and edit the html. If your DNS hosting company has an easy web interface (like GoDaddy) and you're a bit shaky on the other questions, then I'd suggest that http://www.own-id.com/ is for you.

2007-12-12

The Opposite of Sex

'The Opposite of Sex' would bear a second viewing. I think there's something wrong with my brain because I find it hard to follow sentences like, "she's my ex-boyfriend's cousin's sister". There seems to be more than average of that sort of thing going on in the film. It's enjoyable and achieves it's aim of avoiding predictable cliches.

Often people walk out during DVDs at my house. This time, nobody walked out!

Java 3000?

After reading a post on the increasing complexity of Java, I wonder if it may be time to have a Java equivalent of the Python 3000 project. I'd start off by getting rid of primitives.

2007-12-05

Was the Iraq war legal?

Willem Buiter's post gives me an opportunity to get something off my chest about the Iraq war. The question is: was it legal to go to war?

It's clear to me that to go to war you need permission from the UN in the form of a resolution of the Security Council. The UK tried to secure such a resolution, but was unable to. France in particular was against it. Since the UK failed to obtain UN authorization, it was illegal for the UK to then go to war. The people responsible for the crime are all the MPs that voted in the Commons for war.

2007-11-29

Imprimatur 012

The latest release of Imprimatur supports the HEAD method, and it has the option to follow redirects.

2007-11-26

The end of The-Elected.com

I had the idea for The-Elected.com in 1999, it would be a directory of the world's democratically elected politicians. I worked on it, and it came to fruition, but never really became popular. Then along came Wikipedia, and even though the information in The-Elected was marked up in XML ready for the semantic web, that distinction was too subtle for users.

The-Elected had one final incarnation where you could click anywhere on a Google map of the USA and Australia and it would take you to the Wikipedia page of that political constituency. I liked that idea, but again it never became popular. I've now decided to abandon The-Elected.

Even though it hasn't been successfull in its own right, it has taught me an immense amount about programming and the internet. Thank you The-Elected, and goodbye!

2007-11-21

The Birds (film)

When we watch a DVD at my house, it's not unusual for someone to walk out. This time it was Sarita that left. To be fair, she had seen it before and didn't like it the first time.

I felt that the sub-plot of Melanie Daniels arriving and her relationship with the family was added in to fill the story out to film length. That wasn't a bad thing, I'm just trying to work out the thinking behind the film. I'm not brainy enough to understand what the sub-plot was all about though.

I was expecting the special effects to be a bit clunky, but in fact they were really well done.

A good film. I'm glad I saw it.

2007-11-20

The Birds (short story)

I'm not a fan of short stories. I want a proper story; short story - short changed. With Daphne du Maurier's The Birds, I loved the story but it ended too soon. I couldn't believe it had ended. Can some talented writer finish it off please?

The thing I like about Du Maurier's writing is how she can evoke a dark mood in a very subtle way in everyday circumstances. John Wyndham's writing has a similar quality.

I'm seeing the film this evening. I gather that it's only very loosely based on the book. It'll be the first Hitchcock film I've seen!

PS. My question to you is; would modern double-glazing stop the birds?

2007-11-18

Own-Id: Yadis Document

Own-Id used to create it's own Yadis document for each domain. I realized this was ridiculous, and so now I've changed things so that the Yadis document is the one from the provider. All this should mean fewer glitches. Please let me know of any web site / provider combination that fail with Own-Id, but that work with the provider's own id.

2007-11-16

Own-Id

Just released a new version that fixes some bugs:
  • Now deals with fully qualified domain names
  • When pages aren't found, gives a proper 404 status code and message.

Also, 35 domains have now been set up using Own-Id.

2007-11-15

Disposal Tax

Regardless of how much or how little rubbish I throw away, I have to pay the district council a flat rate. This means there's no incentive to reduce packaging, and so there's no incentive to reduce the council's bill for disposal.

I've heard some say, 'Yes, we need to charge people according to how much they throw away'. This is crazy talk because:
  • People will just dump their rubbish in laybys.
  • It's not just a question of volume of rubbish, it's what's in there; and people don't have the time or expertise to differentiate levels of disposability.

My solution is to have a disposal tax on every product that will ultimately be thrown away. There would be a number of categories depending on how costly particular materials are to dispose of. For example a paper bag would be in a cheaper category than a plastic bag.

The tax would cover the entire rubbish collection budget, and so that element could be taken out of the council budget.

I've added this idea to the Political Manifesto.

2007-11-14

The importance of shopping

When I walked into Tesco's the other day, I felt slightly paranoid. JG Ballard's Kingdom Come will have the same effect on you too. The feeling was reinforced by the message on Tesco's loyalty envelope, 'Because without you, it's all pointless'. Okay, it's a pun, but it I'm sure Ballard would have pounced on it as a sign of the existential importance of shopping.

2007-11-13

APAP

Went to see the sleep specialist this morning. It seems I may have a mild case of sleep disordered breathing. I'm going to try an APAP machine to see if that does the trick.

Science Cafe: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

We started off with a nice clean cosmological model, and since then it's had to be patched up with dark matter, dark energy and inflation. I think we're due for a new theory in cosmology, akin to Kepler's theory of eliptical orbits that replaced the previous cumbersome theory of circular orbits, within orbits, within orbits...

That was the thought from Jocelyn Bell Burnell that stayed in my mind after her talk at the Science Cafe yesterday. We've had lots of interesting people at the Science Cafe, but as the discoverer of pulsars, Bell stood out as a figure of historical note. I'll be able to boast in the pub, 'Yes, well of course I attended a talk by Jocelyn Bell in person...'.

2007-11-12

Good Energy responds to BG Zero Carbon

In a previous post I wrote to Good Energy asking them to respond to the British Gas Zero Carbon tariff. Thank you to Owen Broadway of Good Energy for responding. His reply to my enquiry is below, and I've made some comments below that.

Tony,

Thanks very much for your enquiry. We appreciate the time our customers take in looking at how relevant we are to the ongoing battle against climate change. We also appreciate the opportunity to air our credentials in a public forum such as the one you have provided.

Although British Gas has launched 2 new green tariffs; they withdrew their Green Electricity & Climate Aware green tariffs in the spring of 2007 after the National Consumer Council found that they added no additional environmental benefit and were lacking in consumer transparency.

To really look at the efforts British Gas are making we need to look at exactly how the electricity they supply is made. In 2006 just 3% of the electricity British Gas supplied came from renewable sources – less than the government requires them to do, and Centrica, owner of British Gas, is building new power stations that run on coal – the most carbon intensive fossil fuel.

The Zero Carbon tariff offers to reduce a household’s carbon emissions to zero - this is being achieved mainly through carbon offset schemes. Although carbon offsetting offers a bridging solution, reducing electricity consumption and replacing the way it is generated are the primary solutions to combating Climate Change.

Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity NOW; cutting your carbon emissions from your electricity consumption immediately.

It is true that British Gas’s new Zero Carbon tariff plans to retire Renewable Obligation Certificates above the government obligation. Good Energy has always retired additional ROCs, helping to raise the market price for renewable generators and attracting further investment into the renewables market. This has led to us consistently being recommended by Friends of the Earth, The Good Shopping Guide and Ethical Consumer Magazine.

Similarly, Good Energy has also always held onto 100% of its Levy Exemption Certificates (LECs) to ensure that the renewable benefits of the electricity supplied are not double counted.

Good Energy is unique in the UK because ALL of the electricity we supply comes from renewable sources and is backed by 100% Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGOs), as opposed to one tariff from a company supplying millions of other consumers with fossil fuel created electricity.

I hope this goes some way to answering your questions, if there is anything I can offer more detail on please do not hesitate to give me a call.

Regards,

Owen Broadway
Head of
Sales

It's me speaking again. Good Energy are a great company, I've been a happy customer of theirs for years. However I think they've just been out-greened by BG Zero Carbon in the key area of ROCs retirement. My plea to Good Energy is to make the bold move of retiring 100% of their ROCs. I'm aware that this will increase the electricity price hugely, but I for one would pay up, knowing that the electricity was truly green.

One of Owen's points against BG Zero Carbon hits home, and that's the carbon offsetting element. Carbon offsetting is dodgy and I'd rather avoid it.

Another genuine problem with BG Zero Carbon is that it's only available with dual-fuel. I intend to stop burning fossil fuel gas, and signing up to something that involves burning gas seems a backward step.

If British Gas were serious about climate change, they'd stop burning fossil fuels. However, if they come up with the greenest tariff, then it's still the right thing to do to sign up with them despite the rest of the company not being green.

In summary I'll not be switching to BG Zero Carbon for the time being because of their carbon offsetting nonsense and dual fuel racket. However, Good Energy must retire more of their ROCs because they're not as good as BG Zero Carbon on this most important point. I'd also like to see Good Energy publish their ROC retirement percentage prominently on their website (I couldn't find it anywhere).

2007-11-10

Good Energy versus British Gas Zero Carbon

Bob at work pointed out an article in the Ends Report that suggests British Gas's Zero Carbon electricity tariff is greener than my Good Energy tariff. I wrote the following to Good Energy:
I read in the August 2007 Ends Report that British Gas retires 12% of ROCs above its legal obligation for its Zero Carbon tariff, whereas Good Energy only retires 5% above its obligation. I'm a very happy customer of Good Energy, but I'm tempted by the Zero Carbon tariff. Is there a reason why I shouldn't switch to British Gas?

2007-11-08

Own-Id: DNS propogation bug

I was going through the Own-Id error log and found a bug that affects new users only. It occurred when the DNS propagated to the user's browser before it reached the Own-Id server. I've now changed the code so that no DNS look-up is ever done on the domain name that the user is trying to set up.

Viable low energy replacement for halogen spot lights

In B&Q's GU10 white LED lightbulb I've finally found a low energy replacement for my halogen spotlights. The LED bulb is 1.2W, compared to the 50W of the halogen. The amount of light from the LED isn't as great as that from the halogen. It's also a much whiter light, and makes the halogen look yellow.

2007-11-07

Own-Id: Bug fixes and future

Yesterday I released a new version of Own-Id which fixed all the outstanding bugs. The main bug was not correctly picking up the OP Endpoint URL, which affected claimId.com ids. There were also some minor bugs, such as handling fully qualified domains properly. Thank you to the people who reported bugs and such, it is much appreciated. If you find anything wrong with Own-Id, please do let me know.

What's the future for Own-Id? The next thing is to allow people to have a link to their homepage on their id page. What do you think?

2007-11-04

Pot-Bouille

I originally heard an excerpt of a dramatization of a Zola book on Radio 4, and that piqued my interest. I got Pot-Bouille from the library and found the book interesting and enjoyable (with a grim bit at the end) while delivering a strong moral message.

I think the purpose of the book is to highlight the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie in their sexual conduct. Published in 1882, the book made me wonder if the problems that Zola raised have been solved by paternity testing, contraception and child support. My view is that the main physical problems have been solved, but there's still potential for psychological problems. What do you think?

2007-11-03

New Own Id setup instructions

In response to Hugo Hallman's comment I've changed the instructions to make it a bit easier to set up a domain name. Thanks to Hugo for his feedback.

I've also changed the XRDS document so that Own-Id now supports all versions of OpenId.

Btw, we now have 13 users (domains).

2007-10-27

HTML discovery in OpenId 2.0

The OpenId 2.0 specification is intended to be backwards compatible. However in the latest draft (12), the recommended markup for HTML discovery gives the 'rel' attribute in the 'link' element the values 'openid2.provider openid.server' and 'openid2.local_id openid.delegate'. In OpenId 1.x the values for 'rel' were simply 'openid.server' and 'openid.delegate'.

So to really be compatible with previous versions, the markup should be the same as in OpenId 1.x. I urge the authors of the specification to change it back. In my experience with OwnId if you stick to the specification on this, you break compatibility with previous versions.

Come to think of it, I don't see why a link to the server is needed at all. Can someone explain this to me?

2007-10-21

Down with passwords!

There's a new version of OwnId:
  • No password to remember, authentication is done with OpenId.
  • Now supports version 2 of OpenId.

We've now got 3 users, including me!

2007-10-17

A common tax rate on all forms of capital income

I always look forward to Willem Buiter's posts, and his latest, on a common tax rate on all forms of capital income is absolutely spot on. In fact I've added it to my manifesto.

I especially like the added justification on the end:
[stop the] privately profitable but socially unproductive labour from tens of
thousands of tax lawyers, tax accountants and other tax efficiency experts and
free them for socially productive labour

2007-10-16

Atonement

It was uncanny the way that every scene was exactly as I had imagined it when reading the book. Very moving, I was embarassed to be tearful several times during the film. The theme of typing, cleverly hinted at the fact that this was Briony's narrative. This device ran the risk of cheapening the film by being rather heavy handed, but just about trod the right side of the line. I used vouchers given to me by my brother, so thanks to him!

2007-10-14

New site - Own Id

We've got a new domain name, and redesigned the site for http://www.own-id.com/. We're sort of trying it out at the moment, so let me know what you think.

2007-10-07

A Deepness in the Sky

This is the second Vernor Vinge I've read, and it came up to the same high standard of the first. Again his imagination stands out as exceptional.

In this and many other sci-fi books, democracy is ignored. Why is that?

2007-10-04

Own Id

I've put up a gadget that lets you use your own domain name (e.g. id.tlocke.org.uk) as an OpenId identifier. The code is released as Free Software.

2007-09-28

Burma: air-drop satellite internet devices

It says on the news that little information is coming out of Burma. Mobile phones cut off, internet cafes shut down etc. Regimes shut off the flow of information so that they can commit attrocities without anyone knowing. To get the information flowing again, why doesn't the UN fly over Burma dropping hundreds of thousands of Satellite internet access devices?

2007-09-13

South West Trains and buck passing

The chocolate / crisp vending machine at Bath Spa train station took my pound coin. I've got a Pavlovian reaction to being on the platform, I buy a Bounty bar. This time it took my pound coin and without thinking I lost another £1.10 trying to dislodge the first pound coin. The notice on the machine said not to complain to the station staff if the machine wasn't working, so I complained to the station staff. They said it wasn't anything to do with them (South West Trains). However, they were pretty good about it and put an 'out of order' note on the machine.

It seems to me that this is a microcosm of the buck passing you see on the railways as a whole. The rail companies should take full responsibility for everything that happens on the railways, from vending machines to accidents. To achieve this, the train operating companies should own Network Rail.

A Fire Upon the Deep

When Janos lent me Player of Games, he also lent me 'A Fire Upon The Deep' by Vernor Vinge. Janos is like Amazon Recommends! Vernor's book is good, very imaginative. One problem with the book is that it hasn't been properly proofread. Really, all books should be written as wikis and then these things could be corrected.

In the book, difference regions of the galaxy have different physical effects. These effects seem only to affect 'machines' and not evolved minds. To me this is an interesting idea, but doesn't stand up as how the world could actually work. The point is that a human brain is a machine, and is subject to the same physics as any other machine.

Grey goo

What's the difference between a nanobot and a virus? The answer from the Science Cafe talk at the Raven on Monday is that a virus is biological and a nanobot artificial. So I take this to mean there's no intrinsic difference, it's just how they come into being. This has implications for the grey goo idea. The question is; why hasn't the grey goo already happened with viruses (evolved nanobots)?

2007-09-01

Imprimatur 011

Ooops, found a bug in Imprimatur 010. Released Imprimatur 011.

Leave it to the free market

Often people use the phrase 'leave it to the free market'. This applies whether or not they are in favour of free markets. For example:
  • We're in a mess with global warming, and that's what happens when you leave it to the free market.
  • Look at all the problems with the NHS, it should be left to the free market.

For me, this indicates a misunderstanding of the idea of free markets. A free market is a way to maximize society's wealth, given the following constraints:

  • The laws of physics.
  • Laws of the land, where society's morals are translated into rules that everyone must follow or be punished.

Examples of laws of the land are:

  • Don't murder or physically hurt people.
  • Don't pour mercury into rivers.
  • Don't steal other people's property.
  • Don't sell toys painted with lead paint.
  • Do give 30% of your income above £10,000 to the government.
  • Do give £10 to the government for every kg of CO2 from fossil fuel sources that you emit.
  • Everyone has freedom of speech.

A free markets takes these constraints and gives a system that optimizes society's wealth. Implementing a free market involves extra laws. For example:

  • Any company or individual is free to start up and offer any service anywhere to anyone.
  • No cartels for fixing the price of services or labour. In other words, companies or individuals can't get together to fix a price for their services. They must compete on price.
  • No monopolies. A company can't buy up all the other companies providing the same service.
  • In the employer-employee relationship, if one party wishes to end the relationship, they can.

The point that I want to make in this post is that the free market solution that you end up with depends on the laws of the land. There is no single free market solution. For example, if it's against the law to pour mercury into rivers, then your free market solution won't result in rivers polluted with mercury. If it omits the mercury law, then you probably will get mercury pollution.

Going back to the quotes at the begining:

  • We're in a mess with global warming, and that's what happens when you leave it to the free market.

I'd answer that free markets are just a way of solving an optimization problem. If you want the solution to involve reduced CO2 emission, you have to pass a law that makes it more costly to emit CO2.

  • Look at all the problems with the NHS, it should be left to the free market.

This implies that there's a single free market solution to health care. This is wrong. You have to work out a complex system of regulation. Each system of regulation would result in a different outcome. The free market is just a way of maximizing society's wealth given the laws of the land.

2007-08-31

Imprimatur 010

This new release removes the element, and replaces it with a element. The element is the same as the element, but the value of the control can be put in the 'value' attribute or the element content.

The reason for the change is to deal with whitespace better. It's hard to put a script as an attribute, but if you use element content for everything, then whitespace gets changed by editors formatting the XML to make it more readable.

2007-08-27

The Fortunate Pilgrim

I've very grateful to my friend Bert for lending me the 'two books in one volume', The Godfather (see previous post) and The Fortunate Pilgrim. In Pilgrim an italian immigrant brings up her family in pre-war USA, struggling through life's vicissitudes. It's triumph is to avoid descending into sentimentality.

The Godfather is an anarchist

Many films (and some books) would be exceptionally boring if one of the characters had made a timely phone call to the police. The Godfather manages to make it plausible that the police aren't called. For one thing, the police may be controlled by another mafia family!

So as I was reading the book, I began to see it as a story of what happens when groups set up in parallel with the state. The mafia is really an alternative government, a law unto themselves. The Godfather is an anarchist.

One may ask, what's wrong with that? Why can't they go their own way? The problems come when they interact with the rest of society. They are parasites on society. They make money from protection rackets, not by making their own contribution to the economy. If anyone stands between them and their revenue stream, they use violence to get their way, whereas legitimate business has to compete on a level playing field.

2007-08-26

Gun Crime

My friend David Andrews has a plan to cut gun crime. Read his idea, then read what I think about it...


How to cut gun crime

By David Andrews

The present concern about high rates of illegal gun ownership and associated gun crime can be solved very simply in the same way that illegal whiskey distilling was stamped out in Scotland in the late 1700s, by offering huge, for the day, rewards for information leading to the discovery of illegal stills, whereas in Ireland it was merely made illegal where it persists to this day.

In the UK police could similarly offer a no questions asked hand-in fee of say £2000 pounds for any person who brings a gun into a police station. At the same time a reward could be offered of twice the hand-in fee ie £4000 for information leading to the prosecution of any person found in the possession or control of an illegal fire arm. And £4000 for each and every weapon.

One of the main purposes of holding such illegal weapons is to let others know that you have them, by behaviour and reputation spread by acolytes or fearful potential victims of tacit intimidation.

Thus a little thought will show that the illegal arms user and dealer will have little choice but to throw away, hand in, or not let anyone know they have such weapons, since any holder for the purposes of status or intimidate, will know that he is liable to be grassed up by multiple persons, who will calculate that sooner or later someone else will go to the police, and retribution is likely on all of the many people in the position of victim. May as well be the first to at least take the cash because retribution will be coming.

If the holder decides to keep the possession a secret then their main use – intimidation and status is denied. They will of course still be used for armed robbery but that is a very rare crime and what we are after is to cut street gun culture.

As soon as he tries to sell a weapon, more than a few times, he risks his customers or those who he has advertised his services to, ( the latter will always be more than the former) picking up a £4000 fee for his trouble.

It will not be the case that an industry will develop feeding guns to the police, since they will still retain all their normal investigative rights. Existing and new gun smuggling networks will be rendered extremely dangerous due to the bounty any party could obtain, and of course, whilst guns could be fed to the police by a series of low level associates, the police would simply have to home in on these peoples backgronds.



My response to Dave's idea

I think the weakness in the idea is the £2,000 paid out if a gun is handed in. It would mean that people would import / manufacture guns for £500, then sell them on to the police with a £1,500 guaranteed profit. The country would soon be awash with guns, and the police would be too poor to do anything about it!

By all means have a £4,000 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of a criminal, but please drop the idea of the police paying out cash for illegal guns.

Car Free

Hurray! I sold my car today. £525 on the nail. Down with climate change! Plus I can get my bike and lawnmower in and out of the garage!

Actually, now I've got a bit of space in the garage, does anyone know how I can use the space to make money? It's a shame just to have a half-empty garage.

2007-08-14

Freecycle

Everyone seems to know about FreeCycle except me. It's a brilliant idea. If you want to get rid of useable stuff, don't take it to the tip, post it on FreeCycle and someone who wants it will come and collect it. I've done this with my unwanted TalkTalk modem. We'll see how it goes.

Btw, my car still hasn't sold. Maybe FreeCycle it...

2007-08-12

Holier than thou

'The God Delusion', is an enjoyable polemic against faith in god. I agree with Richard Dawkins that the best scientific explanations of the world are superior to god-based supernatural explanations. I begin to diverge from Dawkins when he makes the claim that being an atheist makes you a better person than if you have faith in God. Just because you're right, doesn't make you a better person!

I would go as far as saying that being an atheist doesn't necessarily make you any worse than anyone else, but it doesn't necessarily make you any better either.

Jehova's witnesses occassionally call at my door. I'm pleased that they do, and we have a conversation about what we believe about the world. I explain that I take religious texts in two parts, physics and morality. The physics part of all religions I've heard of is rubbish. Souls, spirits, virgin births, God etc. are really bad explanations compared to quantum mechanics, evolution etc. The morality part of religions is a mixed bag. I think 'do as you would be done by' is a pretty good idea. A lot of the other stuff is a bit grim though.

Imprimatur 009

A new version of Imprimatur has been released. The only change is with <parameter> elements. They used to look like:

<parameter name="emailAddress" value="adam.smith@localhost"/>

but now they look like:

<parameter name="emailAddress">adam.smith@localhost</parameter>

This is so that you can conveniently have parameter values with line breaks.

2007-08-05

The Hawking Fallacy

It's amazing how dated the story has become. Set around 1987 when I was at school, Clifford Stoll talks about how he single handedly tracked down a hacker in 'The Cuckoo's Egg'. The internet seemed like a new thing and there wasn't a WWW.

Stoll paints himself as a long-haired leftish alternative type, wearing an old pair of sneakers (his only pair of shoes) and a beat-up jacket. He's obviously a bit of a know-all. I've met plenty of people like this. What really annoys me is when they talk about recipies for food.

Anyway, the book is very readable. I felt that it was as much about his lifestyle as the chase. Hunting down the hacker was good too, both aspects of the book complement each other. Stoll doesn't have a car, he cycles everywhere. So do I! It doesn't make me a computer genius, that would be to fall for the Hawking fallacy (not everyone with motor neurone disease is a brilliant theoretical physicist).

Note: My friend Bill lent me this book (note to Bill: pick it up on Tuesday if you're coming round). He warned me not to look up the accompanying video clips on U-Tube, they'll destroy your illusions apparently!

2007-07-22

Stop taxing the poor!

My friend Andy has published his Andifesto. The section on tax made me revisit the section on tax in my manifesto.

2007-07-17

Come buy my luverly modem!

I'm getting carried away with Google Base. I've now put my unwanted TalkTalk modem up for sale (only a fiver).

2007-07-15

Used Rover 416i for sale

I've put my car up for sale! I've used Google Base for the first time, I wonder how well it'll do. As I've said before I'm a cheapskate, so why use eBay at £13 / month, when Google Base is free.

2007-07-11

Sinclair C5 is a straw man

On Monday I went to the excellent Bath Science Cafe, where the talk was on the science of replacing oil with biofuels in transport. The greater part of the evening is a discussion with everyone in the pub and people are encouraged to put questions to speaker. I asked, 'What's your view of electric cars as a competitor to biofuel powered cars?'. The reply was, 'I really don't see people driving around in a Sinclair C5.' This is of course the straw man fallacy.

I turned to my friend Bill and bet him that in 10 years there will be more passenger miles travelled in electric cars than travelled using biofuel powered cars. The number for electric cars doesn't include hybrids, but 5% biofuel mixes and the like do count, but for only 5% of the passenger miles, if you see what I mean. Bill is still considering accepting the bet, but I've mentioned it to several other people and I've recorded which way they've bet.

I'll wager

I hate it when people with opinions don't put their money where their mouth is. I've put up a page of bets to record my wagers. Actually they don't specify what the loser has to pay out, really it's just reputations that are on the line!

The first bet is with Toby. He writes:

Due to greater understanding of the brain damage sustained whilst heading the ball in football, you suggested that within 50 years (by 1st January 2057) this practice will be abolished in the game. I suggested this is nonsense, and even if the awareness and nature of the risks involved increased, this would not happen.

2007-07-08

Ivy league

I previously wrote on the wiki about how it's a good idea to grow climbing plants on the walls of your house because the shade and insulation keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter. It's cheap and it's easy to install (you just plant it!). However, I made a mistake in that I chose Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston Ivy) which isn't an ivy at all but a member of the grape family; meaning that it's deciduous and so not good for insulation in the winter.

So next I bought a real ivy plant, a plant of the genus Hedera. The shop only had Hedera colchica, so I got that. After a while I did a bit more research, and realized it wouldn't grow tall enough to completely cover the walls of my house!

My research said I needed to buy Hedera helix (Common Ivy), which can grow up to 20-30m high. I mentioned it to my Dad, and he said he had plenty. We dug some up and I've just planted it in my garden.

I should add that family (except my Dad), friends, professionals (and friends who are professionals) all think I'm mad to grow an ugly, invasive, poisonous weed that will rapidly destroy the fabric of my house while absorbing heavy metals from the atmosphere.

2007-07-05

Patient choice in the NHS

I listened to a government spokesman this morning talk about how they were going to improve the NHS by empowering clinicians. This is no doubt a good idea, but I believe that what increases quality is giving users choice, and therefore competition between providers.

The NHS should still be free for all at the point of use, but health services should be funded and regulated by the government but not run by them. Private companies and other organization should run hospitals (Virgin, Tesco, Hilton etc.) and the patients should be able to choose between them.

2007-07-01

About A Boy

Just recently my friend Zoe was moving house and she had a stack of books that people could take, as she was going to throw them away. I took The Watcher and Nick Hornby's About A Boy. I saw the film ages ago and liked it. I like the book even better. The book is more complete and coherent. The film has the best ending though. It's brilliant the way the boy casts doubt on the Hugh Grant character's choice of trainers. Hugh Grant rolls his eyes saying, 'I've created a monster'.

I've lent the book out, it's one of those books you know that everyone is going to like.

2007-06-22

Abandon patents!

Emily sent me an article on GM crops which at first plunged me into confusion. I find the whole GM thing very complicated and hard to think about. Then it struck me that the whole situation would be simplified and improved if the idea of patents were abolished.

One of the dangers of GM is that the GM companies own the patents surrounding the technology, and can lock farmers into a monopoly arrangement. This is analogous to the software world where 'proprietary lock-in' means the customer is forced to deal with only one vendor. I think it's clear that software patents should be abolished, but maybe all patents should be abolished!

2007-06-21

Player of Games

I found out that Janos was a fan of Iain Banks. I asked him, 'what's your favourite Banks sci-fi book then?', he said it was Player of Games. I thought I'd read them all, but when he outlined the plot I realized I hadn't. Excellent!

PoG is an excellent book, second only to Use of Weapons in the Banks oevre. There's no tedious navel gazing, no wasted words, the tension is maintained throughout. Brilliant insights into the relationship between humans and other sentient machines. I think the best writing is where the author has a lot to say, and a relatively short space to write it. That isn't to say I'm blindly in favour of short books. As Einstein said about scientific theories, they should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. In fact this maxim also applies to software.

PoG was written in 1989, and as I was reading it I was listening to a Pixies best-of CD, which I remember from the early 90s. I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia for the days of listening to the Pixies at my friend's house while we played snooker (he always won).

Anyway, I think Banks has played Risk and games like it. They're a feature of his writing, and he writes well about them. Does anyone want a game of Risk?

2007-06-18

The Seymour Tapes

I saw Tim Lott on tv once, he was taking part in a discussion on one of those arts review programmes. He dominated the argument, talking forcefully, almost agressively. Armando Iannucci was there (seemed a bit unsure of himself) and also Andrew Davies. Davies was Lott's main opponent, but no match for him.

In The Seymour Tapes, Lott writes about a bloke who secretly films his family. At one point he had a dilemma in that he saw a misdemeanor by his child, but couldn't confront him with the evidence because that would reveal how he obtained it.

This is similar to the government's problem with phone tap evidence. In the government's case they should either do nothing, or they should go ahead and present the evidence.

2007-06-16

A Graveyard for Lunatics

I fancied reading one of Malcolm Bradbury's campus novels, but what caught my eye in Bath Central Library was Ray Bradbury's A Graveyard For Lunatics.

Ages ago in the summer, probably 1992, Steve from Uni invited me out to his parents' house in France. There were two books there that I read, Whitley Strieber's Communion and a book of short stories by Ray Bradbury.

A Graveyard For Lunatics is written in a theatrical manner, where all emotion is exagerated, characters are extreme, and events move much faster than in real life. It's set in the 1950s and I think Bradbury is old enough to remember that era. The frenetic, knockabout dialogue doesn't to me have the ring of the 1950s, but what do I know? I'd have said Catcher in the Rye sounded too modern but it was actually written round about then wasn't it?

I have one query about the plot. Why didn't they go and see the 'blind' woman who was with the beast at the restaurant straight away?

Which reminds me of a plot flaw in 28 Weeks Later. Have you seen that film? It's great! The problem is, when the father comes to see his wife when she is strapped down in the hospital, there is *nobody* guarding her, and no nurses in attendance!

2007-06-14

Corporations are amoral...and that's ok

I intended to write how corporations are amoral and only concerned with profit, and this isn't a bad thing. Corporations are best seen as a force of nature like the sea. We rightly compel corporations to follow laws, and it's the laws that convey our morality, and the laws that channel this force of nature for society's benefit.

However, Terry Macalister's article, 'In it for the money' says it much better than I can.

2007-06-10

Public Transport 2.0

I've long been annoyed at how bad public transport is, and I've long been mulling over an idea to make it actually work. I've put up an article called Public Transport 2.0 explaining the idea. Let me know what you think.

2007-06-08

The limits of free speech

Andy left a comment on EU holocaust denial ban, that really posed the question: what, if any, are the limits of free speech? I remembered an interview with Noam Chomsky where he said:
In brief, speech should be protected up to participation in imminent criminal action. So if you and I go into a store to rob it, and I say "shoot," that's not protected.
I think I'll go with that.

2007-06-05

The Watcher

My friend Zoe moved house recently, and was offering people books that otherwise would be thrown out. One of the books I took was 'The Watcher' by Jane Palmer. I think I'm probably missing the point somewhat, but it read like a children's book. Not that that's a bad thing, but was it Palmer's intention?

It kept my attention engaged, and there were some genuinely humorous moments. At one point the android is reprimanded by its creator:

'You did nothing You are totally useless. You will dismantle yourself and cease functioning. You cannot even be trusted to collect elementary information about the planet.'

'I can walk under water. [...] And I've got a good job in the police force.'

One of the things I didn't like was the idea of people having spirits. It reminded me of the agent detection theory of God and spirits that I first read about in Stephen Pinker's 'How the Mind Works'.

del.icio.us

It seems a good idea to store your bookmarks on the web, then you always have them with you, whatever computer you're on. I had a look at bookmarking websites some time ago, and for some reason decided they weren't that good. Sarah at work got me thinking about them again so I signed up to del.icio.us. It's working well so far!

2007-06-03

Single sign-in for the web

One of the tiresome things about the web is remembering so many different usernames and passwords, and having to enter them all the time. Today I just signed up for an OpenId with MyOpenId.com. It'll mean that for participating web sites I'll only have to sign in once. Great!

There are a lot more opportunities that arise from having a web identity. I haven't really digested the implications yet...

2007-06-02

Should I sell my car?

My car sits in the garage unused. It's in good working order and I've got a licence to drive it, it's MOTed and insured and everything. I've got two reasons for selling:

1. My car runs on a fossil fuel and so contributes to global warming.
2. One could easily have (cause?) an accident.

and I've got two reasons for not selling:

1. Life requires the use of a car from time to time, and I'd inevitably end up getting lifts from other people and not be able to give them lifts in return. I'd feel bad about that. Yes, I could always hire a car, but that would rule out spur of the moment trips, which is one of the joys of driving.

2. Everything involves risk, and I don't want to fall victim to the runaway train fallacy.

I think that since my car is unused it means I've already made up my mind. Now it's just wasting money.

2007-05-30

The non-collaborative wiki

My website is a wiki. I'm the only one that can edit it, so you might ask, 'What's the point of it being a wiki?'. The point is that wikis are the quickest and easiest thing to edit, and they keep a track of changes. I had a go with Google PageCreator, but it was way too cumbersome and didn't keep a change history.

Today most wikis are collaborative, but I predict the rise of the non-collaborative wiki. They will displace many web sites build with the Page Creator model.

I'm writing this now because I've just changed from Wikispaces to Wet Paint. Wikispaces is great, but you have to pay if you want to use your own domain name. I'm a cheapskate, so I moved to Wet Paint where it's free to use your own domain name. It's worth mentioning that from my point of view the Wet Paint editor is inferior to the one in Wikispaces because one can't control the HTML very well (page fragments in links is one example).

There's a lot to be said about what should and shouldn't be charged for on a web site. But your attention is starting to wander, so I'll leave it for now.

Green electricity in 'The Independent'

Thanks to Emily and Bob for pointing out an article in the Independent about green electricity that's relevant to my post about Good Energy. The article seems to support the view that the extra greenness that Good Energy gives is the retired ROCs.

2007-05-28

The Steep Approach to Garbadale

I always look forward to an Iain Banks but I'll never pay for a book. So books are either given to me or borrowed from the library or friends. If someone lends me a book, I'm pretty good at giving it back (but not perfect, I've still got Vox by Nicholson Baker that was lent to me by some bloke at Uni. I can't remember his name but I remember discussing with him setting up a businness based on airships.)

The Steep Approach to Garbadale is one of Banks' non-science-fiction ones. His gentlest yet. An aga saga even. Perhaps he's now the male Joanna Trollope? The Banks trademarks are still there. Strong female characters, theme of betrayal, fascination with aristocracy and wealth, a real understanding of the importance of technology and something I pretentiously call 'intellectual realpolitik'. There's also a plot similarity with 'A Song In Stone'.

As Banks matures, there's a sense of him handing down wisdom. This is not unwelcome. He doesn't preach. One of my favourite bits is when the main character compares Sophie to a personal religion. Long live Banks!

A Dance to the Music of Time: Winter

Blimp was surprised that I hadn't read 'A Dance to the Music of Time' so I thought I'd give it a go. The language is sophisticated, and I think I missed a lot of cultural references. Powell sometimes constructs sentences in an odd, contracted manner. The collection I read was the last three books in the series, collectively called 'Winter'. It would probably have been better to start at the beginning, but I was impatient and this was all that the library had.

The characters are drawn in a subtle and engaging way. This type of story reminded me of War and Peace, although DMT doesn't have a historical agenda as W&P does. It's entertaining to be drawn into the intrigue and interplay of the characters. The reader is immersed in the flavour of the period and I found myself at times taking on the style of speech in the book. It made me sound pompous and daft.

I reckon I'll be looking out for the other books in the series...

2007-05-21

Gongoozling

Here are a few photos from my rock 'n' roll weekend. We walked from Bath along the Kennet and Avon canal to The George pub.


This is my friend Liz and me.

Thanks to Rahul for these photos.



Rahul had bangars and mash at the pub, but unaccountably lost his appetite just before they arrived.

Rahul was too coy to release a photo of himself, but he had no such compunction when it came to ducks and swans.

2007-05-19

The Precautionary Principle

It was my friend Bill that started it. 'Come to the Science Cafe', he said. That was ages ago, and I've been to every one since (apart from the one on football). Monday saw Dick Taverne talking on the theme of his book, The March of Unreason. He delivered a polemic against the Precautionary Principle.

The format of the Science Cafe is a half-hour talk, followed by questions. All of the questions were sympathetic to the Baron. He is an accomplished speaker, and his arguments so compelling that nobody was willing to risk ridicule by challenging him. Then an earnest red haired student asked, 'if not the Precautionary Principle, then what should guide policy?'. The Baron answered, 'scientific evidence should guide such decisions'. I asked, 'What do you do in the absence of scientific evidence?', he paused on the horns of a dilemma. If he said, 'you go ahead anyway', then that's obviously reckless, but if he said, 'you don't do anything until the evidence comes in', then that's the Precautionary Principle. In the end he gave a non-answer, waffling.

Having said that, I agreed with much of what Dick Taverne had to say. He argued that we should take science seriously, and I totally agree with that. Where he veered off course was when he conflated science and morality.



Warning: Threat to belief system. In thinking of the challenges it was possible to make to Taverne, I saw the openings of problems with David Deutsch's ideas in 'The Fabric of Reality', on which I have based my entire world view.

2007-05-15

Consultation on draft Climate Change Bill

Bob sent me a link to the consultation on the draft Climate Change Bill. Here's the response I sent to Defra:

1. I'm concerned that by raising the cost of carbon emissions in the UK, countries with lower emissions costs will come to see their unregulated emissions as a competitive advantage. This would have the overall effect of making global emissions reduction less likely.

However, if we are going to go ahead with a reduction in emissions then:

2. I like the idea of making GHG emissions limits legally binding. It gives the certainty needed for investment, and may lift the issue above short-term party political interference.

3. I favour the idea of a national carbon levy. The revenue raised by the levy would be divided equally among the population through the income tax system. This would mean that the levy would be tax neutral. The size of the levy would be set annually by a committee with the remit of keeping to the national carbon budget. The committee would work in a similar way to the Monetary Policy Committee.

2007-05-13

Kerckhoffs and Swire's disclosure matrix

Every public electricity supply in the UK has a unique MPAN number, the last digit of this is the check digit. I tried to impress my dad with this knowledge, and he gamely showed interest. 'You mean a check digit like on the end of credit card numbers?', he asked. I confirmed it was the same idea, but calculated in a different way. 'So', he went on, 'you don't want to be telling people how that works do you!' (careless talk costs lives etc). Excellent! This was an opportunity for me to show off even more.

I wore my tongue to a stump talking about 'security through obscurity' and Kerckhoff's principle. He then said sarcastically, 'So I should provide a map of my house to burglars, should I?'. To which, in a triumphant know-all manner, I brandished Peter Swire's Disclosure Matrix!

2007-05-12

Imprimatur 008

Announcing a new version of Imprimatur. The two main changes are:
  • Fetches the test script DTD locally if there's no network connection.
  • Fixed a bug where an '@' would incorrectly appear in URLs to test.

2007-05-11

Lyrical Rhetoric: Syllepsis

There's a good example of syllepsis in Dignity by Deacon Blue:

And he takes no lip off nobody
And litter off the gutter

2007-05-08

EU Holocaust Denial Ban: II

In an earlier post I argued against a law prohibiting the denial of the holocaust.

I've just listened to a programme on Radio 4 where the leader of the BNP used the threat of extradition to France as a way of evading the interviewer's questions on the holocaust. The French law has the effect of sheltering people whose opinions should be subjected to public scrutiny.

2007-05-07

Was I right to change to Good Energy?

Some time ago I switched my electricity supplier to Good Energy, thinking that it would mean that my electricity use wouldn't be contributing to CO2 emmissions. On Saturday my friend Bill came up with an argument that made me rethink green electricity.

In the UK, thanks to privatization, customers can choose their electricity supplier. This means it's possible to switch to green electricity. The question is; what difference does it make if I do?

Under the Renewables Obligation every electricity supplier in the UK has to buy a certain percentage of renewable electricity (about 7% at the moment I think). Electricity that qualifies as renewable receives Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). ROCs can be traded separately from the electricity.

Bill's point was that if you change to a green tariff, it won't cause any more renewable energy to be produced because the electricity demand of people on a green tariff is under 7% of total electricity demand, which is no more than suppliers have to do already by law!

I thought hard about this and I think he is only right if your green supplier only holds on to the minimum number of ROCS.

Another way of putting it is that the greenness of electricity is soley determined by whether you retire the ROCs for it, rather than selling them. My electricity supplier, Good Energy, retire some of their ROCs, so I think that my electricity is a bit greener than the 7% national average. I'd like Good Energy to retire all their ROCs. It would cost more but I'd prefer to pay the extra and not contribute to global warming.

I can think of two other considerations for how green electricity is. People say to me, 'At peak times, wind turbines can't generate enough electricity and you have to use electricity from fossil fuel sources. Okay, your supplier does offset this with giving other people renewable energy at off-peak times, but it's still not entirely green'. I think this is a minor point compared to the ROCs one, but still I think it is valid. I'd like Good Energy to not do offsetting if possible.

The other consideration is non-energy costs. I've been told that only about 60% of an electricity bill goes on the actual electricity, the rest goes on wires, transformers, administration, meter reading etc. What are Good Energy doing to reduce the carbon footprint of this aspect? Perhaps they could have meters that communicate wirelessly, rather than have a person drive around in a van?

I conclude that I was wrong to think that electricity from Good Energy would be completely free from carbon emmissions. However, I was right to switch to them because the associated emmissions are significantly lower than those from a brown electricity supplier. Also, if you try a thought experiment where all electricity is supplied by Good Energy, the UK's electricity would indeed be entirely renewable!

2007-05-03

Vote early, vote often!

Dear reader, today is election day in Trowbridge. I voted before work, and there was a trickle of people at the polling station. Both West Wilts District Council and Trowbridge Town Council are up for election. I'm ashamed to say that I'm ignorant of the candidates, and local party policies. In fact I know more about the French presidential election (I'd vote Sarkozy).

I read through the various leaflets that landed in the hall, and I ended up voting for the party that had the fewest grammatical errors in their campaign literature (Liberal Democrats).

In order to make a really well informed choice I think one would have to follow local politics week in, week out. I'm just not that interested. I think the thing I care about most locally is the architecture.

2007-04-24

The wisdom of James Surowiecki

I've always instinctively loved the idea of markets, and in The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki gives a very readable exposition of the idea of groups making decisions. It could do with a bit of proof reading though. To remain true to the ideas he champions, Surowiecki should really have published the book as a wiki, and then all his readers could have made corrections.

I was gripped by Nick Hornby's 'How To Be Good'. Kept on reading it. People describe him as a comic writer, and he does excel at humour, but I found the book sad and uncomfortable as well.

I realize that in these notes about books I'm nearly always saying how good they are. But The Rotters' Club really is good. A few months ago I read 'The House of Sleep' and that made me seek out other Jonathan Coe books. The character Paul in the Rotters' Club is my favourite. He's a precocious, annoying younger brother, 9 years old. I'd like to transclude some of his dialogue but the book isn't published electronically under an open content licence, and there isn't a good and generally available way of acheiving transclusion.

2007-04-09

The thoughts of his mind were of the gloomiest dye

'The thoughts of his mind, besides, were of the gloomiest dye, and when he glanced at the companion of his drive, he was conscious of some touch of that terror of the law and the law's officers, which may at times assail the most honest.'

That was one of my favourite bits of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Another great paragraph is:

'I have brought on myself a punishment and a danger that I cannot name. If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also. I could not think that this earth contained a place for sufferings and terrors so unmanning; and you can do but one thing Utterson, to lighten this destiny, and that is to respect my silence.'

The book is chilling, an excellent example of Victorian darkness. How much of Robert Louis Stevenson is in this book? I'd like to read a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, can you recommend one? I think he lead quite an unusual life. Had poor health. Apparently he had a rather dissolute lifestyle when he was young, and in the book Utterson looks back on his life and says that he did things that were barely acceptable and nearly did worse.

'The Ex-boyfriend's Handbook' by Matt Dunn is completely different. It's the male equivalent to chick lit. In fact it was on my desk at work and Emily asked why I was reading a girl's book, the cover sort of gives that impression before you look closely. It's a straightforward blokey book, really a feel-good book. Thanks to Irina for recommending it.

I think I've read all of Iain Banks' non-genre books except for Canal Dreams, and I've read all his sci-fi books. I'm so a fan. 'Walking on Glass' was a disturbing read. Banks' books seem to follow a pattern of starting off in an upbeat clever, bounding-along-happily sort of way. This sets you up for a descent into nightmare that doesn't contradict the beginning, it just cleverly reveals it as being part of the horrific whole.

I think Dean Koontz wrote K-Pax. I've seen that film twice, excellent. Is he an alien? I came to a conclusion after watching it but I can't remember the conclusion. Anyway, I've just read Demon Seed. This is another scary book. It seems to me though that people assume an AI will have a human-like set of motivations. But just because something is intelligent and conscious doesn't mean that it will have the same basic drives and feelings as animals.

I'm currently reading 'A Dance to the Music of Time'. I'm starting with the last part, is this a good idea?

2007-03-25

Poor Things

This is supposed to be a note on some of the other books that I've been reading, but I can't get my mind off 'A Man in Full' (see my last post). The problem with philosophies is that they never seem to be able to encompass everything. It's the equivalent of Godel's incompleteness theorem in maths. I think this is linked to the problem of heirarchies of knowledge. That's why I think Wikipedia has it right in not having a heirarchy of articles in its URL structure. All articles are at the same level. In the same way, David Deutsch says that theories such as quantum mechanics, epistemology, the theory of computation and the theory of evolution don't have a heirarchy, each one can be seen as emergent from the others.

Anyway, Alasdair Grey is another author I've been meaning to read for ages, ever since I heard about Janine. I was given Poor Things by a friend, and her judgement was excellent as it is a brilliantly written book. It also raised lots of philosophical questions, but don't get me started. I recommend the book.

My aunt gave me Vanilla by Tim Ecott. This book is clearly based on painstaking research, and gives an exhaustive history of vanilla. The history is leavened by anecdotes of his travels on the trail of the plant. In fact, if I was his publisher I'd suggest it would be really interesting to focus on the anecdote part of his writing for his next book.

The first Bridget Jones book was awesome. The title of the next book 'The Edge of Reason' led me to think that it might be about her losing her mind. It isn't. It is very funny. I remember Helen Fielding's photo from the first Bridget Jones book, and she looks completely different in the dust jacket photo on this book. Incidentally, the author photo of A Man in Full shows Tom Wolfe in a sort of southern gent outfit.

A man in full possession of his writing talent

A Man in Full is the first Tom Wolfe I've read. I've always intended to read The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test but never got round to it. Part of what happens in AMIF is that characters get into desparate situations and are then helped by the philosophy of the Stoics, in particular Epictetus.

Wolfe has the character Conrad explaining, 'Epictetus said that Zeus has given every person a spark from his own divinity, and no one can take that away from you, not even Zeus, and from that spark comes your character. Everything else is temporary and worthless in the long run, your body included'.

But surely we know that this isn't really how things work. A person's character arises from the particular configuration of the neurons in their brain. Okay, well let's say that Epictetus was using 'divine spark' to mean the human spirit (not a supernatural thing). The bit about nobody being able to take away the 'divine spark' just isn't true. Epictetus obviously hadn't seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

2007-03-04

Replacement for 50w halogen GU10 lamps

In the kitchen, bathroom and sitting room I've got 50w halogen lamps with a GU10 fitting. Btw, most people say 'bulb', but apparently in the trade they say 'lamp'. I think it's like in the Navy they never say 'boat'.

Anyway, I'm trying to find a low energy replacement. I've bought two lamps from:

http://www.yourwelcome.co.uk/acatalog/copy_of_GU10_Low_Energy.html

The first one is the 'GU10 5w Cold Cathode lamp' for 7.99 GBP. This works really well. It comes on straight away and is close to the brightness of the halogen ones. The two drawbacks are:

  • The quality of the light isn't as warm as the halogen (but still not too bad).

  • It's bigger than the halogens and so doesn't fit in some sockets, and those where it does fit, it sticks out.

The second one I tried is the 'Luxeon LED lamp' at 10.99 GBP. The good things are:

  • It looks really good.

  • It's exactly the same size and shape of the halogen lamps.

  • It only uses 1W (yes, 1W!)

The bad points are that it isn't very bright, and the quality of the light is slightly odd. My Dad called it 'ghostly'. It's very white with a very slight greenish tinge (to my eyes anyway).

2007-02-18

New The-Elected.com

The-Elected.com is completely different now:

http://www.the-elected.com/

let me know what you think. I've given up on the idea of having The Elected hold information like areas, institutions, offices etc. because they are already in Wikipedia. The only advantage was that the information in The Elected was in a structured form, but that wasn't a big enough advantage.

The new The Elected is really a database of constituency boundaries that is combined with Google Maps and Wikipedia to hopefully create something useful. Please send me any links to geospatial data of constituency boundaries and I'll put them on the site.

2007-02-02

The Lent Jewels

Hughes has a big thing about dreams. He thinks dreams go into a supernatural archive and then:

At the last, having thereby made a unique contribution to something beyond us, each of us was to die into that insubstantial but immortal nowhere.

Absolutely barmy.

The story is of his search for faith, told partly through the lives of two victorian figures. Archibald Tait, an archbishop, and Walter, author of 'My Secret Life'.

Throughout, Hughes uses religious language to describe modern, mundane things.

Freakonomics

I loved this book, although of course I didn't agree with all of it. Take the swimming pools versus guns thing. Levitt says that swimming pools are statistically more dangerous to kids to have at a house, than guns. That may be, but swimming pools are fun and so shouldn't that come into the equation?

That said, the Levitt approach and results will stay with me. Thanks Bob for giving me the book for Christmas!

Speech and writing is digital

In my lifetime, everything's gone from being analogue to being digital. These terms are usually used when talking about electronics, but they needn't be.

I think of digital as being where a range of values correspond to another discrete value. In his book, The Digital River, Richard Dawkins says that DNA is digital. That's because even if you bend and twist the DNA around a bit, the order of the proteins stays the same, and it's the order that counts. When the DNA is copied, the copy isn't nearly the same like a photocopy, the information in the copied DNA is exactly the same, like a copied computer file.

I think that speech and writing is digital too. When I've played Chinese whispers, it's been disappointing because the phrase never changes. If one were to play Chinese pictures (I'm sure there is such a game) with art that didn't contain symbols, the change would be immediate.

This is because with speech, a large variety of sounds map to a single word. It is digital. Also with writing, a large variety of marks on paper map to a single letter. It too is digital.

2007-01-23

The Scale of the Problem

Limescale is starting to fur up the boiler in my house. The cheapest solution is one of those magnetic water conditioner things, but I'm doubtful that they work. There's an interesting article from Cranfield University that suggests that that anti-scale magnetic water treatment can work. I think I'll give the Water Imp a go as it has supposedly undergone testing by the University of Bath.

2007-01-18

EU Holocaust Denial Ban

I heard on the radio that someone's come up with the idea of making it illegal to deny the holocaust in Europe.

I think that the holocaust did happen. Why do I think that? I'd like to be able to say that I've done a thorough review of the historical evidence. I haven't, because I don't have the time, money or skill. In fact, it's such a huge undertaking that no single person can fully investigate it on her own. The reason I believe it is true is that I'm relying on peer reviewed research where knowledge is built up by open argument and evidence gathering.

If there were a law that forbade the expression of a particular opinion, this process of open discussion couldn't work. Therefore, this proposed law would cause doubt about the facts of the holocaust.

Future posts coming up on these two questions...

1. How should we treat holocaust deniers, racist political parties etc?
2. What, if any, are the limits of free speech?

2007-01-03

Disquieting behaviour

Reading http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/conformancing reminded me of a similar thought I had. There are plenty of things that are socially unacceptable, but that are not morally unacceptable. I think that behaviour that fits into this category is disquieting because it implies that the person might disregard all social norms, including those that are morally important.