2010-12-28

Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey is the first book I've read on my new Kindle. I got the book from Project Gutenberg so it is free in the sense of Free Culture and also free of charge.

It's a very buttoned-up book. Agnes is a bit of a goody goody. Puerile as I am, my idea is to re-write Agnes Grey with frequent references to bodily functions.

Having said that, she is also very honest, which makes it such an engaging read. There are few books where the author conveys so clearly their own thoughts, feelings and actions. While reading it, one really feels one knows what it's like to be Agnes Grey. I think it's safe to say she's an introvert, happy when reading or walking alone, but social life is still very important to her, and life without her friends is unthinkable.

I really should be grateful that I live in an age where social interaction is so easy. In Anne Bronte's time you couldn't just text someone, you had to wait for weeks to 'accidentally' meet them while out walking.

Kindle For Christmas!

My brother and his wife very generously gave me a Kindle for Christmas.

I first want to talk about the plug. Duncan tells me that the iPhone plug works like this as well, but the Kindle is the first place I've seen it. The adapter is built into the plug, and the plug has a USB port. That means you can use the same lead for connecting the plug to the Kindle, as you use for connecting the Kindle to the computer. I think that's just brilliant thinking.

The Kindle directs one to buy a proprietary book from their website. I'm a Free Culture zealot, so instead I searched for Agnes Grey on Project Gutenberg and downloaded to to my laptop. Then using the aforementioned cable copied into the 'documents' folder on the Kindle. Reading is a fantastic experience. The outstanding feature of the Kindle is the screen. It just doesn't look like a screen. It looks like printing on plastic. If we ever get any sunlight, I'll let you know how it performs under those conditions! I'm enjoying Agnes Grey btw, it's a caricature of my experience with my lodgers!

2010-11-30

The Golden City

It was at the end of The Golden City, the last of the Fourth Realm trilogy, that J12H made a privacy argument that I thought had something going for it. In Gabriel's climactic broadcast, he says:
And some of you may ask: 'Is there any value to privacy?'
All new ideas are dependent on some kind of mental privacy - the potential for peace and reflection. The Vast Machine provides information about us and gives the authorities a wide variety of ways to manipulate our thoughts with a subtle power. Everything we hear and see can be shaped to create certain prejudices. Free will - that is, our ability to make real choices about significant issues - becomes an illusion. Gradually, we are surrounded by targeted messages that destroy the opportunity to make our own decisions.
Powerful stuff. A strong argument against my view that privacy can be abandoned. My response is that 'peace and reflection' requires preventing write access, not read access to one's brain. It's true that the more people know about us, the easier it is to manipulate us. But it's at manipulation itself that we should draw the line, not the ability to manipulate.

2010-11-29

Grandet, A Warning To Misers

In Country House, Blur sing:
He's reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac
It's a helping hand that makes you feel wonderfully bland
Oh it's the centuries remedy
For the faint at heart, a new start
Eugenie Grandet is my first Balzac and I very much enjoyed it. He has fairly long descriptions, but they aren't tedious! EG is set in the Loire Valley, where Balzac was born / brought up I believe. I spent a holiday in the Loire Valley last year, and it made a great impression on me. I'd like to go back. It sounds incredible, but it hasn't changed all that much since Balzac described it at the beginning (?) of the 19th century.

EG has a more modern feel to it than the contemporaneous Jane Eyre. Why more modern? I don't know. I don't get paid to write this stuff you know. Apart from the ads, but they're very small beer.

Anyway, the story itself. It's a bit of a cautionary tale in a way. Casaubon in Middlemarch is a warning to me. I try to avoid things becoming a Key To Mythologies. In the same way, the figure of Grandet might help me to curb my miserly tendencies. The thing is, I kind of admire his cunning, and he did create wealth through the diligent management of his land and assets. He put the accumulation of wealth and love of money above everything. Not good.

I'm away to watch the new series of V now. Are you watching it? It's really very good you know.

2010-11-25

Ubuntu Laptops For Sale

I wondered why there weren't any cheap Ubuntu laptops for sale, so my business partner Nicky and I have posted the following advert on Gumtree:
Brand new laptop for sale, running the latest Ubuntu operating system.

Model: Novatech W12
Screen: 12.1 inch LED
Processor: AMD Neo MV40
RAM: 2GB
Disk: 500GB SATA Hard Drive
Graphics: ATI Radeon 1250
OS: Ubuntu http://www.ubuntu.com/

Comes with Firefox web browser and OpenOffice software for spreadsheets, word processing and presentations (compatible with MS-Office Word, Excel and Powerpoint files).

Also available: Netbook with 10 inch screen £265, laptop with 15.6 inch screen £355. Get in touch for more details!
What do you think? Know anyone who's looking for an Ubuntu laptop?

2010-11-24

Imprimatur-019

Patrice pointed out that the HTTP HEAD method in Imprimatur doesn't work, so I've fixed it in Imprimatur-019. Let me know if you have any problems with it.

2010-11-20

Fish Fight

I got a bulk email from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall advertising his Fish Fight campaign.

The campaign is asking people to sign the following letter:
To Commissioner Damanaki, Members of the European Parliament and all member state governments,

I have seen images of dead and dying fish discarded in European waters.

I understand that the current Common Fisheries Policy leads to discarding on a vast scale; for example, half of all fish caught in the North Sea are being discarded because of the current quota system imposed by the CFP.

I want this senseless waste of food to end. I want you to use your influence to stop this unacceptable and shameful practice.

I am supporting the Fish Fight campaign to help bring about this vital change in our seas.
I have signed the letter, but it doesn't provide any solutions. I think a first step would be stop the EU fishing subsidies. From 2000 to 2006 the EU fishing subsidy was 6bn EUR.

2010-11-18

Into Eternity

Sitting alone in the Rondo theatre on a cold and misty Monday evening in November, a few weeks before my 39th birthday, preparing to watch a documentary on nuclear waste disposal in Finland, I wondered what my life had come to.

The waste in the film has to be stored for 100,000 years before it decays to a non-radioactive substance. The experts say it can stay for around 100 years on the surface, but beyond that it becomes impossible to predict what might happen. The solution is to bury it deep in the rock so that it could only be exposed by people with the technology to understand the dangers of radiation.

My prediction is that we'll be able to transmute radioactive waste into harmless elements in a few decades. That shouldn't be relied upon though, and any company wanting to build a nuclear power station should be required to build a long term storage facility beforehand.


2010-11-14

Imprimatur: application/xml-dtd

Thanks to Patrice for pointing out that the URL of the Imprimatur DTD http://imprimatur.sourceforge.net/imprimatur-008.dtd is returning the wrong content type. IIRC it used to be text/plain, but then it must have somehow changed to text/html, I've now changed it to application/xml-dtd which I believe is correct.

Me Looking A Bit Weird

Sparkler Signature

Julia writing her name on Bonfire Night.

Charles Hendry - Tilting The Rules In Favour Of Nuclear

The UK energy minister Charles Hendry has called for (among other undesirable things) a capacity payment for low carbon electricity. Capacity payments are a market distortion that increases the cost of electricity. The way it works is that you're paid for being available to generate electricity, even if it's not used. It's being put forward by pro-nuclear lobbyists who know that they can't compete with other energy sources on a level playing field, and so are trying rig legislation in their favour.

2010-10-26

Tax Child Benefit And Keep It Universal

I disagree with the government's decision to remove child benefit from higher rate tax payers. They should have taxed child benefit instead. As Stephanie Flanders writes:
Mr Osborne could have [...] raised a similar amount, £1.1bn - by simply taxing child benefit.
This would have meant that:
  • The benefit would still be universal, and money wouldn't be wasted on means testing.
  • The higher your income before tax, the higher your income after tax. In other words, you're never penalised for earning more. There must be a special phrase for this, like there is for regressive / progressive tax or flat tax. Can someone tell me what it is please?

2010-10-24

Absolution Gap

After reading Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days I got another Alastair Reynolds out of the library. This is the final book of the revelation space sequence. Now I've just got to read the middle one!

People say he's a Gothic writer. What does that mean? Is it people who put black stuff around their eyes? I went to a Halloween party last night (I know it's not Halloween yet, but it's fine to have it early). I met Kazim in Bath and bought some beer. Incidentally, I picked up a box of 4 Asahi bottles and the cardboard somehow tore and they smashed on the floor of Waitrose.

I stood there gormlessly; Kazim claimed to have seen it coming. A Waitrose guy came and cleared it up. I apologized and slunk off.

As an aside, you can see on the label it says Super Dry. Is this trying to cash in on the popularity of the clothing label?



Well what I was trying to say before you distracted me was that for the Halloween party I put on white face paint, with black bits round the eyes. Kazim didn't do any dressing up at all. I didn't now how to put the black bits on. How is it done? I didn't look cool or scary, I looked like a Panda.

The book! The book! It was nice and long and I like the fact that the science is all plausible. It's a good sign when you want a book to carry on going. I dislike anything with the supernatural in it. It just makes me angry. Like Prince Charles and his homeopathic claptrap.

2010-10-20

Suffering In Julian Barbour's Nows

My question is simple. If time were stopped, would people carry on feeling the same sensation as when time stopped? Or would they stop feeling anything? Or some other answer?

I tell you why I ask. I was going for a jog and it was really cold. I was cold, aching and just wanted to get home. I thought to myself, if time were to stop, would I carry on feeling like this for eternity? In fact is there another me in one of Julian Barbour's Nows that will always feel like I did?

To put the question another way, if time were stopped, distance would still exist, but motion would not. Is sensation like distance or like motion?

2010-10-19

No Nuclear Subsidy. Really?

The headline for Chris Huhne's ministerial statement published yesterday on nuclear power was, 'No Nuclear Subsidy'. Really? That would be good if true, but the small print says that the UK, 'currently caps operators’ liability at £140m'. Why does the tax-payer have to pick up the bill if something serious goes wrong? I'd expect a wind farm or gas fired power station to be fully insured by the owner, not the tax payer. Why should a nuclear power station be any different?

Imprimatur-018

I've just released Imprimatur 018, the changes are:
  • GETs don't follow redirects by default.
  • Fixed example given in tests directory.
  • If no arguments are given on the command line, throws an exception saying no file specified.

2010-10-10

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days

This is a book of two short stories by Alastair Reynolds. I've read and enjoyed his work before.

My question is, are the stories linked? Is the bulb of toxin from the spire in the Diamond Dogs? I felt that the text hinted at that. Am I reading too much into it?

If forced to choose between the two, I'd say Diamond Dogs was my favourite. I wanted both stories to go on longer. Maybe that means they were the right length!

I enjoyed DD, TD so much that I sought out another Reynolds, Absolution Gap, which I'm reading now, and it's excellent.

2010-10-07

Green Deal Jobs

I've just read the DECC Green Deal press release about how it'll create loads of jobs. My economic hackles always rise at government job creation schemes. Call me old fashioned, but productive jobs are created when there's a genuine demand for goods and services, and companies need people to fulfil that demand.

Government spending is only useful for creating the infrastructure for the private sector (the police, army, NHS, schools etc.), government can't generate wealth itself. It's the private sector that creates real wealth. Too much government means the private sector can't support it, and the nation ends up in debt. Too little government and the private sector doesn't have the infrastructure to survive. Government can *never* create productive jobs.

Don't even get me started on the perverse incentives of the Green Deal. A few months ago, I insulated my roof. Now, as I understand it, I will be forced by law to pay extra for my electricity, in order to subsidise those without insulation. Not fair, and an example of big government sapping the initiative of the individual.

Let's have a carbon tax-back scheme instead.

2010-10-02

Aberystwyth

We went to Aberystwyth in May this year. Here are a few photos. This first one is of Clarach Bay where we stayed.


And some shots looking out from the bay:


We went to a bike race that our friend Mike was taking part in. They had a dance tent...

At one point a helicopter departed. We hoped it wasn't someone injured in the race.




The Night My Double Glazing Imploded

My bedroom is in the loft, and it has two Velux windows in the sloping roof. Earlier this week, on the morning of the 28th September, I awoke to see one of the windows smashed, with shards of glass on the floor.
At first I thought that someone had thrown a stone or something. Then I noticed that it was only the inside pane of the double glazing that was broken. I phoned Velux and they explained that there was a manufacturing fault in some of their smaller windows. The fault means that the argon between the panes leaks out and somehow the pressure inside becomes lower than outside, and the inner pane implodes. Velux were pretty good, and they said they'd come round on October 11th and replace the glazing in both of my windows without any charge. They're replacing the other window because it may be prone to this fault too.

2010-09-27

Never Let Me Go

I found Never Let Me Go to be almost unbearably sad. Ishiguro's talent is to evoke the strongest emotions with the lightest of language.

In most books, the world is opened up via the characters, they know more than the reader and gradually reveal it. The power of Remains Of The Day and NLMG lies in the fact that you know more than the characters, and the world you know is gradually revealed to them.

In the case of ROTD, the distance the characters have to travel is historical, and with NLMG the barrier that the characters face is institutional.

I know it couldn't be like that, but I wanted the protagonists to recognize and overcome their abuse. The fact that they didn't is scarily realistic. The question that this book shouts to me is, 'are we being abused in some way without properly recognizing it?'

2010-09-26

The Night Sessions

I've read The Star Fraction, and The Night Sessions is even better. Macleod's powers seem to be waxing. I'm always pleased when someone gets better with age, it gives me a little hope. There's humour and humanity in this book. Compared to The Star Fraction, I feel that this is a more confident work. As John Major would say, an author at ease with himself.

I like the way that the humans and robots co-exist as equals in their work as detectives. Though the problem is that by that stage in real life, the robots would have overtaken us and we would either have to augment ourselves or become irrelevant.

Talking of increased intelligence can someone tell me in detail what humankind's history would have been if our intelligence had been located in our fat, rather than in our brains? That is, if you got fatter, you got more intelligent. What would happen then?

ACTA and the Digital Economy Act

I can't stir myself to get all worked up over ACTA and the Digital Economy Act 2010.

As I see it, the world can be divided into physical, and informational things. Or rivalrous and non-rivalrous if you prefer. Examples of physical things are cars or a cakes. If I have it, you can't. Information on the other hand can be copied, so if I give you a copy of the information, I don't lose anything.

Different rules apply depending on whether something's physical or information. For physical things money works well. Also, you can have ownership, and therefore theft. For information things, money doesn't work, and nor does ownership.

There's been a recent flap because some products (music, films, software, books, newspapers) have moved over from the realm of physical to that of informational. In the old days of music, you had to buy a record or tape (or a wax cylinder!) and so the music industry worked by selling those physical things. Now, with advancing technology, music has moved over into the information domain.

Many of the old school record companies aren't willing to recognize this shift. They want to carry on as they did in the old days when music was physical. How can they carry on pretending music is still physical, when now it's information? Well, not easily. That's why they have used their considerable lobbying power to bring in draconian laws to force people to behave as if music is still rivalrous. And the result is ACTA and the Digital Economy Act.

Why am I not too worried about this? Well, it's so clearly a dead-end for record companies. A new economy, and way of doing business will spring up that isn't fighting against technology, but using it. For example, I expect bands will license their music to allow people to freely play, copy and modify it. But they will charge money for the physical bit, gigs, merchandising, public appearances etc.

I've concentrated on music, but the same goes for all those things moving from analogue to digital. I'm against ACTA and the Digital Economy Act, but I think it's a waste of energy to fight them since they are doomed to fail anyway. Let's use our energy to make a success of the new ways of doing things.

2010-09-16

Cleveland Pools, Bath

Thanks to Bill for organizing a visit to Cleveland Pools lido in Bath on Saturday. It's run-down and disused, but there's a group trying to restore it. There's a problem of attracting people to it in the off-season. I suggested using it as a skating rink in winter, and a skate-park in spring and autumn.


Rise Up Women!

I keep seeing this poster on my way to work. Must warn my fellow patriarchs.

2010-09-15

Copyright Assignment In Open Source Projects

The issue of copyright assignment for Open Source projects has come up again, this time regarding Canonical. I've been influenced by Michael Meeks' writing on the subject. (If you follow the link to his article, beware there's a theological rickroll!) I'm of the view that the contributor should retain copyright, and not assign it to anyone else. This effectively reduces the asymmetric power that a sole copyright holder has with GPL'd code. A comment on Shuttleworth's article is also against copyright assignment, which brings us nicely back to Canonical.

Fruit And Vegetable Box

Julia at work asked me to take a photo of the fruit and vegetable box I get delivered every week by Abel & Cole. The contents vary each week.

2010-09-13

Free the data of the UK electricity market

I lurk on the fringes of the Claverton Energy Group, and there's a perennial complaint that we in the UK don't have access to enough data on electricity generation. I therefore support the REF in their call for Transparency in the UK Electricity Market. The market can't work properly without information, and the REF is asking for:
1. The requirement that embedded generators on the distribution network record
sub-hourly metered generation data and make this freely available to the regulator, Ofgem, who should in turn put this into the public domain. At present this information is not collected.

2. Free public release of sub-hourly metered generation output data for each and every individual electricity generator in the United Kingdom, whether subsidized or unsubsidized. Currently, only part of this information is collected, and what exists is only available on subscription and for restricted and confidential use.

3. Full, free, and public disclosure of data relating to the Balancing Mechanism, including all participants in the market, and their utilization by National Grid. This
material is not at present available to the public, and since costs in this area are set to rise significantly, in large part due to the Government’s renewables policy, there is a pressing need to improve public scrutiny.

2010-09-07

Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong


Dido remarks:
To be called one thing and christened another is actually very confusing and annoying. It's one of the most irritating things that my parents did to me....
My real name is Anthony (or Tony for short), but my family call me Andy, and always have done. I'm not sure what I think about that.

2010-08-29

Banning of heading in football?

One of my bets is that the heading of the ball will be banned in football. I sent some new evidence to Toby:
Toby, remember our heading a football bet?

http://blog.tlocke.org.uk/2007/07/ill-wager.html

New evidence coming in (I know this is American football, but it applies to all head injuries)...

http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jul-aug/18-brain-what-happens-to-a-linebackers-neurons/
Toby replied:
A couple of points;

American Football is a lot more heavy hitting than football; http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4534-american-footballers-endure-car-crash-blows.html

Why isn’t boxing banned? Or contact in ice hockey, rugby, football, judo, karate, wrestling, etc. It isn’t to do with lack of education re head injuries.

Banning heading in football is the equivalent to banning football as we know it. It will become a different game. The sport is so popular and the head injuries so mild compared with many other sports that it will never be banned!

Forever Young

I'm forever listening to Alphaville's Forever Young. It's a moving song, with an elegaic quality. One thing jars though in the lyrics. Look at this:
Some are like water, some are like the heat
Some are a melody and some are the beat
Sooner or later they all will be gone
Why don't they stay young
It's so hard to get old without a cause
I don't want to perish like a fading horse
Youth is like diamonds in the sun
And diamonds are forever
So many adventures couldn't happen today
So many songs we forgot to play
So many dreams are swinging out of the blue
We let them come true
I think the line: 'I don't want to perish like a fading horse' can be improved. I've tried to think of a better line myself but can't come up with anything. Do you have any suggestions?

2010-08-17

I've Lost My Old Blog

Before I started using Blogger, I used to have a blog with Yahoo! at http://uk.blog.360.yahoo.com/t.locke.

I moved to Blogger so that I could have my own domain name. I liked the old blog though. It had a cool background image of the shell of my friend's iMac in his garden with plants growing out of it. I'm also nostalgic for my first ever posts. Some time ago Yahoo! deleted my blog, presumably because I'd stopped using Yahoo! email. I'm angry with Yahoo! for forsaking me and destroying my history.

This is a cautionary tale of our times. What happens when the cloud lets you down? I'd be devastated if Google did a similar thing.

Oxford Study Finds That Ivy Can Protect Walls

Thanks to Julia at work for telling me about a study that shows that there are some benefits of growing ivy on the walls of building.
They found that ivy acted as a thermal blanket, warming up walls by an average of 15 per cent in cold weather and cooling the surface temperature of the wall in hot weather by an average of 36 per cent.
Excellent! That's the reason I'm growing it on the walls of my house.
The ivy was also found to absorb some of the harmful pollutants in the atmosphere.
I'm not keen on that bit.
Walls where ivy was growing were less prone to the damaging effects of freezing temperatures, temperature fluctuations, pollution and salts than exposed walls without ivy.
Well that's just a bonus!

2010-08-16

Tragedies Of The Global Commons

Thank you to Glyn Moody for highlighting another example of the tragedy of the commons in his post: Greed vs. Survival: Which Prevails?. At national and EU level, we have a mechanism for avoiding tragedies of the commons. We can pass laws and regulate the commons. For example, in the UK one can't tip mercury into a river without being subject to severe penalties, so pollution of rivers isn't an intractable problem.

The problem comes with tragedies of the global commons (eg. climate change) where there is no democratic government. That's why I'm in favour of a world government. If a world government were to be established we could impose a global carbon tax and so reduce our carbon emissions to an acceptable level.

In Moody's 'Greed vs. Survival: Which Prevails?', the problem is that the benefits of selling the land are at national level, but the costs are at global level. Whenever that's the case, things should be decided at global level, but there's no mechanism for that. Bring on the world government!

2010-08-15

Twitter and Burglary

I tweeted about Foursquare, and @icklemichael wrote:
@t_locke Do you ever worry that advertising your location might encourage burglers?
and @rdzien wrote:
t_locke check out: http://pleaserobme.com/
People do ask me if I'm worried about telling everyone where I am, and I give a few responses:

1. There are two other people living in my house, which makes it harder to find a time when nobody's in.

2. I don't have anything worth stealing. Everything's worth a lot less these days due to cheap Chinese manufacturing.

3. The only time my house has been broken into, it was by the police.

2010-08-14

The Dark River

Bill warned me that The Dark River wasn't as good as The Traveller, but I was pleasantly surprised by this, the second book in the Fourth Realm Trilogy by J12H. It carries on the exciting adventures of Gabriel and the Harlequins and Travellers.

Like many others, J12H classes privacy as a freedom. I don't. Freedoms to me are freedom of speech and freedom of association. Also important to me is democracy. The Tabula of the book are undemocratic criminals. I also regard the Harlequins as criminals. If this were real-life I'd say, 'a plague on both your houses'.

But that would have made a boring book. Secret, mysterious things, and violence and guns are fun to read about. I'm looking forward to book three!

2010-08-12

Hand In Glove

Some time ago I stayed over at my dad's house for a few days while he convalesced from a minor operation. He's a great fan of Robert Goddard. Having said that he's recently mentioned that he needs to broaden his reading beyond Goddard. Dad's quite a slow reader, but my mum read quickly. Anyway, while I was at dad's house I picked up Hand In Glove. In the same way as a real paper copy of the Sunday Times, this book reminded me of my youth, the days before the internet came along. Goddard isn't into computers. Written in 1992, Hand In Glove has a totally pre-internet feel to it.

The book is well written, all the Goddards are. There are nice sub-plots and things move along in an exciting, page turning way. Maurice's character is revealed cleverly. Call me a social revolutionary, but I find Goddard's world slightly stereotyped. It reinforces a certain middle-class view of the world. I've read a few Goddards before, and because they're so enjoyable I hope to read more.

2010-08-11

Imprimatur 017

Someone requested that Imprimatur support HTTPS requests. It did seem an oversight, so I've remedied that with the newly released Imprimatur 017.

HTTPS requests are supported with the scheme attribute, which has a default of http, but can also be set to https. The scheme attribute can be used in the same elements as the port and hostname attributes can be used, eg. imprimatur, test, test-group, request. I've updated the documentation to give an example.

Let me know how you get on with it.

2010-08-10

Jane Eyre

I thought I'd read Jane Eyre because my friend has written a book on it. I'll own to not having read a single Bronte.


One observation; there are a lot of long silences. There's a Borat sketch where he says, 'there will now be a 10 minute silence'. Of course, this is a very long time to be silent. Normally it's a two minute silence. In Jane Eyre there are lots of really long silences. When another author would say there was moment's pause, Charlotte Bronte has a interval of several minutes! Check if you don't believe me. The most egregious instance is when there is the objection to the marriage, and Rochester pauses for 15 minutes while speaking :-0

I put this to my friend, and she said it's because when the Brontes were growing up, they weren't allowed to speak at mealtimes, so silences were ingrained in their lives. Interesting.

When Jane is trying to find Rochester, she avoids immediately asking the first person who could tell her, saying, 'To prolong doubt is to prolong hope'. So true.

I'm sure whole Phds have been devoted to Jane's relationship to nature. It's anthropomorphic and idealized. I burst out laughing when she said in all seriousness that, 'birds were faithful to their mates'. When I see wildlife, I see, in Hobbes' words, 'a war of all against all', a pitiless, endless battle.

I want to read Wuthering Heights now. But really I'd like to read Anne Bronte's story of life as a governess, being tormented by those she was employed to teach.

2010-08-09

Inception

Shantini suggested that we see Inception, and I agreed enthusiastically.



Early on in the film, a character asked, 'why do you need an architect?', I laughed when they replied, 'they're the closest thing to creators of worlds in people's minds'. So not computer game designers then? Of course, an architect works much better in a film than a computer geek. Put it this way, I'm sure they didn't employ a team of architects to do the film's special effects!

But I'm giving the impression that I didn't like the film. That's not true, I totally enjoyed it. I've recommended it to friends.

There was one thing that puzzled me, why didn't Cobb tell his wife that he'd implanted the idea in her mind? Then she might have been more questioning of her belief.

In fact, the idea that if you die in a dream then you 'wake up' back to 'reality' is nonsense. It's more like playing a computer game, where if your character dies you get another 'life' and the game can continue.

2010-08-08

Ivy Watch 2

As you know, I'm growing ivy on the walls of my house to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter. Last year I posted a series of photos of the ivy I'm growing. Here's how the ivy looks like now:

Pamela Flitton is doing the best. The only problem is that I have to keep cutting it back to prevent her from encroaching on my neighbour's part of the wall. The other only problem is that she's started to grow onto the patio door, so I've had to cut her back.


Lord Widmerpool is also doing really well. He's starting to grow on the door. Should I continue to allow that?


Ted Jeavons grows against the back of the garage wall. Getting along nicely, but won't really help in insulating the house.


I haven't shown you Jessica Biel before, but she's the most important ivy. Unfortunately she's not doing well. Why? What nutrients does ivy need to thrive? Btw, after months of sunshine my lawn is looking like it's in a very sorry state :-(

Jane Eyre is the second most important ivy plant, and so I'm pleased that she's steadily covering the wall.

2010-08-05

Python 'global' Keyword Considered Harmful

Looking at Python's global keyword led me to think how I'd like scoping to work. Some languages have lexical scoping, some dynamic scoping and some a mixture of two. I think scoping should be entirely lexical. My language (let's call it Klop) is dynamically typed, and variables are declared the first time they are assigned, so if you wrote:
x = 0

def f():
return x

def g():
x = 1
return f()
Calling g() would return 1. In most languages with lexical scoping you can declare a variable with the same name, at a more local scope. With Klop you can't, and I think that this would make programs more readable.

2010-08-04

Ubuntu 10.04

I finally upgraded to Ubuntu 10.04 yesterday.


This was the first time I'd upgraded an existing installation, usually I wipe the disk and install afresh. The only problem I encountered after the upgrade was that the volume control was missing from the Gnome panel, but that was easily solved.

The new version appears to solve a bug I had whereby switching between applications that used sound didn't work. Eg. before I couldn't listen to Radio 4 and then Spotify without rebooting in between, but I can now.

In other Ubuntu news, I saw someone wearing an Ubuntu t-shirt on the train between Trowbridge and Bath the other day.

2010-08-03

I've Come To Do A Rate Check

The doorbell sounded yesterday. My housemate answered and shouted up that it was for me. At the door was a man who stated, 'I'm from the local electricity company SSE, and I've come to do a rate check' (or words to that effect).

In the UK the electricity industry is divided into companies which own the wires (the DNO), and the retailers of electricity (the supplier). DNOs are a regulated monopoly, but each customer can choose their supplier.

The objection I have is that my caller was being a bit misleading to imply that it was a technical, statutory check that needed to be done, when really he was trying to get me switch supplier to SSE.

2010-07-20

The Believers

First of all I'll reveal my ignorance. Having read the book and enjoyed it greatly, I still have no clue why Zoe Heller's book is called The Believers. It probably means that there's a whole sublime level that I've missed.

I've read Notes On A Scandal, and Everything You Know and blogged about them on Yahoo! but Yahoo! deleted my email (which I didn't mind) and blog (which I was upset about) after not using my email for some time. I'm still angry at Yahoo! for deleting it. Will Google ever delete my blog? Please don't! I should really back it up...

Speaking of being angry, I'm annoyed at losing my copy of Jane Eyre. The thing is that I keep on losing my things. I've lost a coat, hat and sunglasses a few weeks ago. I'm always losing stuff.

Anyway, back to the book. I read it over the weekend, and I just had to keep reading it. Heller is incredibly clever, she is witty, sassy and perceptive. The phrase 'caustic wit', comes to mind.

Don't get above yourself with Heller, she'd soon cut you down to size. That's my advice.

The Real Story & Forbidden Knowledge

I never knew Stephen Donaldson wrote sci-fi. I'd read the Thomas Covenant trilogy and found it intense and somewhat harrowing to read. A friend of Janos' found it difficult to complete, it was so emotionally demanding. Donaldson tends to write about characters undergoing unrelenting mental stress, and Real Story is no different.
We leave the story with Angus Thermopyle having been made into a superhuman cyborg. I'm curious to find out what happens. Definitely up for reading the whole Gap series.

2010-07-07

My Dad's Roundabout At Marple

In 1971, the year I was born, my dad designed a roundabout in Marple, his first piece of road design when he started a new job. You can see it's a bit of an odd shape. Yesterday, as I was helping him set up his broadband, my dad told me the story behind it.

He told me that after thinking long and hard about the problem caused by the one-way street, he came to the conclusion that the only solution was to have a lop-sided roundabout. So he drew it up and showed it to his team leader. The team leader saw how unusual it looked and made to explain how it should be improved, but then stopped because he couldn't actually think of a better way of doing it. So the team leader passed it on to his boss Brian Raistrick.

When assessing the merits of a highway design, Raistrick would hold the plan horizontally, level with his eyes, and mentally drive through all the routes, turning the paper as he went. Again, Raistrick found my dad's design unusual, but couldn't find anything wrong with it, and so it was built.

Cricketing In Obscurity

I heard someone on the radio saying of the England cricket team, 'I think the team don't mind that their success isn't attracting media attention, they're just happy to get on with the job', or words to that effect.

For most jobs that's true, but the aim of a professional sports person is to entertain the masses, which entails attracting media attention. So from a business point of view it's a problem that people aren't paying attention. Of course, if they're enjoying themselves then I'd argue that that's an end in itself.

2010-07-04

Silk

Silk is like a small, neatly wrapped Japanese package. A poem, a haiku.

I read it this afternoon, sitting in the garden. It has that Japanese device of repetition, which Baricco uses to brilliant effect. Each of the descriptions of Herve's journeys mention the local name for a lake. It's always different, 'the sea', 'the last', 'the demon', 'the holy' (from memory).

It's like the lyrics to Don Henley's Boys Of Summer, the verse always starts with:
And i can see you
your brown skin shining in the sun
then continues with these three different endings:
you got your hair combed back
sunglasses on baby
you know you're walking real slow
smiling at everyone
you got your top pulled down,
radio on baby
I laughed when Herve asks:
"Do you know why Jean Berbeck stopped talking?"
and Baldabiou replies:
"That's one of the many things he never said."

2010-06-30

The Traveller

My profuse thanks to Bill for lending me The Traveller, it was an exciting and interesting read. The book involves people living 'off the grid', out of the clutches of the Vast Machine, the network of surveillance devices and databases that track what everyone is doing.


The privacy issue is important, but my reaction to it is opposite to that of John Twelve Hawks. Some time ago I read about someone who retaliated against CCTV cameras by filming the places that were filming him.

To put it another way, JTH is disturbed by the asymmetry between the watcher and the watched. He solves it by trying to avoid being watched. I too am concerned at this asymmetry, but I think it should be solved by me being able to watch the corporations and governments as closely as they watch me.

2010-06-23

Rainbows End

A Fire Upon The Deep and A Deepness In The Sky by Vernor Vinge are among my top sci-fi books. I borrowed Vinge's Rainbows End from Janos, a novel set here on Earth in the near future. The implicit predictions contained in the descriptions of the lifestyles and technology are interesting. The interactions between the characters are tightly drawn, and a creditable attempt is made to give depth to the personalities.



The plot is highly complex. I'm not good at following plots. Raymond Chandler is great to read, but utterly impossible to follow. I'm sure there are people out there that can follow every swerve and loop in Rainbows End, but I'm not one of them.

I'll continue to look out for Vinge's work.

2010-06-11

Dave Chalmers Singularity Lecture

A few weeks ago I went to Oxford to say hello to my friend Matt, and we went to a lecture on the singularity by David Chalmers. He covered many aspects, but one idea he talked about was that for safety reasons a superhuman AI should be developed in virtual reality. He said that the most important thing was that information shouldn't be allowed to leak in. Leaking out was less dangerous. A bit like the one-way mirrors they have in police interview rooms. The argument was that if information could leak out, people on the outside could be manipulated by the AI to free it.

An interesting idea, but I'm sceptical that we really can develop AIs safely. Perhaps the best we can do is to try to instil a moral principle that the strong shouldn't harm the weak. Since today's strong will be tomorrow's weak, as AIs gain in sophistication it should be in the strong's interest to uphold this principle. The problem is that it's a principle that can never be enforced by the weak, and so we'll always have to rely on the strong being responsible.

2010-05-28

The Vengeance Of Rome

I started off with The Vengeance Of Rome, the last of the Pyat tetralogy. I guessed the twist at the end, but it was heavily signposted. Many of the characters lead glamorous lifestyles, taking lots of cocaine. It made me want to be like them and snort cocaine. I won't though.

There's a lot of irony in the book. You have to be cleverer than I am to pick it all up. I don't yet have a settled view of the protagonist. He was intelligent, but gullible and naive and given to flights of fancy. People say you shouldn't let life destroy your dreams, but that's rubbish, and this book proves it.

2010-05-18

New Scientist: Why democracy is always unfair

Toby at work sent me an interesting New Scientist article on voting systems.

Entitled 'Electoral dysfunction: Why democracy is always unfair', it argues that due to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, you can never have a perfect voting system. The problem with this argument is that Arrow's Theorem only applies to voting systems where the candidates are put into an ordered list.

Under the range voting system, the voter gives each candidate points out of 10 (or some other number). All the points for each candidate are added up, and the candidate with the highest number of points is the winner. Since range voting doesn't require an ordered list, Arrow's Theorem doesn't apply.

2010-05-04

Gas Usage In Our House

Eco-bling

Went to a bracing Science Cafe given by Doug King. His view was that when it comes to environmentally friendly buildings, the 3 most important things are insulation, insulation and insulation. Anything else is mere eco-bling, there for its appearance rather than its utility. In particular it's almost never a good idea to put wind turbines on your house or any other building. They should be situated where it's windy, and where you can build very big ones, and pipe the electricity in.

Who I'm Voting For

Normally I read all the manifestos before voting, but this time I don't feel the need. Here's my summary of the parties:

Labour

Gordon Brown has made it clear that to get Britain's economy on its feet he'd continue wildly taxing and spending. I disagree with Brown, and agree with the Conservatives that we need to pay off our debt. I think this is such an important difference that I find myself unable to vote Labour.

Conservative

I think it's fantastic that they're against raising the National Insurance tax, I'm all for stopping taxing the poor. I also support their economic policy of cutting public spending, and reducing the debt as quickly as possible. I'm appalled by the Tory EU euro-phobia. Why can't they all be like Ken Clarke?

Liberal Democrats

I really like the Lib Dem policy of raising income tax threshold. I wish they'd go further and stop taxing the poor entirely. Electoral reform is a key aim of the Lib Dems, as it is for me. I'm in favour of range voting. I'm a euro-federalist, I want a united states of Europe as a step on the way to a world government!

What a shame that my exchange with Trevor Carbin revealed the liberal democrats to have some economically illiterate policies.

Summary

Labour: Fiscal incontinence. Conservatives: First past the post europhobes. Lib Dems: Better tax system, electoral reform, europhiles.

So on Thursday I'll be voting Liberal Democrat.

2010-04-30

Can You Dig It?

I've been overtaken by a wave of nostalgia after listening to the Mock Turtles' Can You Dig It? The picture in my mind is me in my first year at uni, on my skateboard going down the hill on the pavement outside Plas Gwynn. I was probably on my way to the shop. I haven't kept up with the people I knew at Uni. What happened to Kamala, Chris, Steve and Karen?

Once I was skating with Dan. We took it in turns to go down the sloping curve of the drive of the halls of residence. I came off and hit my head and was unconscious for a few seconds. Dan thought I was just messing around, but I really was unconscious. We went back to someone's room. I sat on the floor with my back to the wall, recovering.

Reply From Greenpeace

I wrote recently about leaving Greenpeace. Here's the reply I received from Greenpeace:
I did have a look at your reasons for leaving Greenpeace and found them
rather obtuse.

You say that "One of the best things about them was that they provided
information. Now with the internet I can do all that myself". This is
true to an extent, but a lot of the campaigning work that we do is based
on original research that we have undertaken - for example our research
and exposes on the palm oil trade in Southeast Asia
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/media/reports/caught-red-handed-nestl%C3%A9
-sinar-mas-and-palm-oil
and cattle ranching in the Amazon
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/forests/slaughtering-amazon-20090529
or our work on decentralised energy
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/media/reports/powering-london-into-the-21st
-century
- information and campaigning that you wouldn't find on the
internet unless we'd put it there!

Your say "Also, I don't think they like the same political ideas as me".
I followed your link and found the manifesto link that covered items
such as banning guns and legalizing prostitution, both of which are
outside of our environmental remit. The only items on the list that
were vaguely relevant to us were free market energy and free trade? We
do work with privatised energy companies, for example the green energy
scheme Juice that we set up with Npower, though we might argue that it's
harder to enforce energy efficiency measures or investment in renewables
with disparate private contractors focused on short term profit, rather
than a centralized nationalised energy provider. There is loads of
information on the pitfalls and challenges of free trade at
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/trade-and-the-environment

Lastly you say that "I'm concerned that Greenpeace is more like a
proprietary software company but I'd like it to be more like an
OpenSource project" Unfortunately I have no idea what you mean by this.
We very openly share information and campaign skills via our web sites,
local groups and campaign co-operations with numerous other NGOs and
local communities.
That's a good point about research, if Greenpeace don't do the research it won't be there to be read on the net. I'm not sure my reasons for leaving are entirely cogent, but I feel better for it!

2010-04-26

The Real Benefit Of The Lib Dem Tax Policy

I read Stephanie Flanders religiously, and it's rare that I make a criticism of her writing.

However, in her piece on the Liberal Democrats' plan of raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, I felt she missed the point.

I think that the main point of the policy is to remove the benefit trap. At the moment it's financially beneficial for a lot of people to stay on benefits rather than get a job, because any job they could hope to get wouldn't give them an income greater than their benefits. If the income from a job isn't taxed so heavily though, it means that the benefit trap is removed.

So the main point of the Liberal Democrats' raising of the threshold is to reduce unemployment, and thus reduce the benefits bill and increase GDP.

I'd encourage the Liberal Democrats to go further, and stop taxing the poor altogether.

2010-04-20

Transcendent

In this brilliant book by Stephen Baxter, immortality is tackled properly. It won't be long before ageing is cured, and yet so few books, even sci-fi, take longevity seriously. Baxter describes how the undying don't have art in their environment, one is appalled by even the greatest piece of art after long enough. True, even the best song can pall after you've listened to it often enough on Spotify. You don't have to be immortal to feel like that, I find anything that's repeated becomes an infuriating burden.

But this book is about more than the undying. Coalescences are a recurring theme. This is where humans take the same evolutionary route as ants and wasps etc. They have a single breeding queen, and all the others work for the hive, in the knowledge that the hive shares the same genes as them. Perhaps we can see this happening in our society. Eggs are routinely frozen, stored and implanted into other women, so matriarchs can have babies that are genetically theirs without having to bear them. Housing is controlled by the older generation, so they can persuade their daughters to look after their siblings instead of having children themselves.

If all suffering, pain and all wrongs are to be wiped away, then ultimately that means that humanity, life and so the universe itself must not exist. In other words a perfect world is a word where nothing exists. In the end the protagonist, Michael Poole has this question put to him and comes to the same conclusion as me, he opts for life and an imperfect world.

2010-04-18

Leaving Greenpeace

I joined Greenpeace as a teenager in the eighties, but now I'm thinking of leaving them. It's not that I'm outraged at something they've done or not done; I'm not dissatisfied with them at all. In fact I don't know why I'm leaving them at all.

One of the best things about them was that they provided information. Now with the internet I can do all that myself. Also, I don't think they like the same political ideas as me. Another thing is that I'm concerned that Greenpeace is more like a proprietary software company but I'd like it to be more like an OpenSource project.

Update 2010-04-30: Greenpeace has replied.

First Great Western Responds to Bath-Half Train Debacle



I complained about First Great Western, and here's their reply:
Dear Mr Locke

Your letters to the ORR and the DfT have been drawn to my attention. We did run additional special trains for the Bath Half Marathon. Three extra services ran in the morning, one from Swindon, one from Bristol and one from Westbury.

These extra trains were to be boosted by running the 1009 from Bradford on Avon as a four car unit. This did not happen. This was not due to a lack of planning by the Special Events team, but was due to an error made by our Control team. They misread the unit allocation and brought a two-car unit out instead of a four car. This is not acceptable and is being addressed.

I can fully appreciate your annoyance and disappointment. This was not the service we planned and I apologise.

First Great Western have made significant progress in improving our customers’ experience on our trains. Performance is at record levels and we have been able to improve capacity and comfort on the West of England trains. This makes this sort of mistake even more galling.

I am determined that we do better and you have my assurance that this mistake is one that will not happen again.

Yours sincerely


Mark Hopwood
Managing Director
FIRST GREAT WESTERN
I'm pleased that FGW appear to take this seriously. What I'd really like though is a separate railway line from Trowbridge to Bath, and then there'd be proper choice and competition! In the absence of that, we have to rely on the regulator to apply pseudo-competitive pressure. How can they do that if complaints go first to the operator, and may not get seen by the regulator?

2010-04-14

Clegg and Paxman

I've just finished watching the Paxman interview with Nick Clegg. Actually, Clegg did better than I thought he would. I was disappointed that the £10,000 income tax threshold wouldn't apply to everyone; if you're earning over £100,000 then it disappears apparently. I'm not earning anywhere near that, but there shouldn't be exceptions to the rule.

A more serious problem was his policy of forcing banks to lend to businesses when they didn't want to. Banks should make their own decisions about who to lend to. Those that get it wrong should be allowed to fail, they shouldn't be bailed out by the tax payer.

2010-04-12

Scarf

I've been trying to get a scarf like this for ages. I've subsequently been told me that a black weave means you're a supporter of Hamas. Well I'm certainly not that; I think they should stop their rocket attacks on Israel immediately. Of course, Israel should also end its illegal occupation of Palestine.

2010-04-10

First Great Western Train Too Full To Board

I still haven't had a reply from First Great Western about my complaint about the Bath Half -marathon train debacle, so I've written again to the DfT, and I've added a new complaint!
Edmund,

I'm afraid I haven't received a reply from First Great Western about the Bath Half-Marathon train debacle I wrote to you about some time ago.

Also, I've got another complaint about FGW. As I write this I'm on the 10:14 from Trowbridge to Bath Spa, and the train was so full that some people couldn't get on at Trowbridge or Bath. Can you give the franchise to someone else please?

Thanks,

Tony

Disestablish Marriage

The Conservatives want to give a cash reward for being married. I think they're utterly wrong, and that marriage should be disestablished.

The syllogism that the Tories trot out is that married couples are good for society, so if we pay people to get married there will be more married people and therefore a better society. The flaw in this reasoning is that correlation is not causation. Marriage is an effect of a good relationship, not a cause.

Or to put it another way, if the Tories are right and marriage causes a better relationship, then why not force everyone at gunpoint to get married to a random person as soon as they turn 16!

2010-04-05

Carbin's Further Comments

Following our debate, I've received further comments from Trevor Carbin. He writes:
Rather than go over the specifics yet again I'll look at the general argument. Your viewpoint seems to be that government should not intervene and should let markets look after themselves, with regulators regulating where necessary.

Fair enough, though I don't share your enthusiasm for Ofsted. Of course there are dangers as you've pointed out, but the alternative to action is inaction and if you leave a depressed economy to cure itself that can take a long time. Yes the government sometimes gets ripped off by private sector contractors and it's important to watch that closely. We're proposing a policy that stimulates employment, keeps money circulating in the real economy, and achieves environmental objectives.
I'm doubtful whether increased public spending of any sort helps the economy, as it increases the national debt, which increases the ongoing burden of interest payments.

But let's assume you are going to have a spending spree of tax payers' money (or stimulus as some call it). The least bad way to do it is to reduce taxation, reducing national insurance perhaps. This sets more money free to earn greater returns.

The worst way is to spend the money on some government scheme or other. Governments shouldn't be in the business of picking winners or funding enterprises. If that does happen, then the business in question will become addicted to state aid, and forget about providing goods and services to customers, and a downward spiral ensues.

Diary Of A Country Priest

By the end, Diary Of A Country Priest had moved me to tears. It's a film with a great deal of depth, so it's hard to take in in one go. When watching a film I first try and identify the baddies and goodies. Of course, if the film is any good, then as in life, it's not so easy to separate people into goodies and baddies. In fact, coming to write about the film, I don't know what to make of it.
What about the doctor, Dr Delbende, that committed suicide? What are we to make of that? The doctor was an atheist, and a friend of the Priest of Torcy. The Priest of Ambricourt (the priest of the title, hereafter the PoA) went to see the doctor for a diagnosis, and detected that Belbende had a deeply wounded soul. When the Priest of Torcy talked to the PoA about Belbende after he died, the PoA said that hearing it gave him the most pain he had been in in his life. Why? Was it because he felt guilty because he perhaps could have helped? I don't know. If you have any clues, let me know.

Lead In The White House Garden

I don't want to have the same problem as Michelle Obama, so I've written to Structural Soils Ltd to see if they can test my soil for me:
Hi, I intend to grow vegetables in my garden, but I want to make sure
that the soil is safe first. Is this something you can help with?
Incidentally, I'm writing this using the Google Chrome browser.

It's really fast and really simple. I think it's become my favourite browser :/ I like that there's a single text box for URLs and search.