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.


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...



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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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


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.


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!


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.