Film Licensing For The Internet Age

Have you seen Sintel? Apart from being an excellent short animated film, it's licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution licence. That means that it's an Open Source film, nobody holds a monopoly over it. I hope and expect that this type of licensing will become more popular, as it has with software. Hurray, licensing for the internet age!


Birthday Balloon

It was my 40th birthday on Wednesday. I went out for a meal in the evening to Yak Yeti Yak. Julia brought this helium balloon, and made me close my eyes and sprinkled glitter in the shape of '40' all over the table! I got a brilliant card, and excellent presents. Thanks everyone!

Science Cafe: What Happens When We Run Out Of Oil?

On the 12th December, we went along to the Bath Science café, to watch Prof. Chris Rhodes give a talk on What Happens When We Run Out Of Oil? We actually managed to get a seat, these events are always packed out. Perhaps it should be moved to bigger premises? Anyway, this isn't an objective summary of the talk, it's infused with my own strongly held views!

Two things stood out in the talk. Rhodes explained that not all oil is the same. Light oil has low viscosity, and heavy oil has high viscosity (bitumen being the heaviest). On another axis, sweet oil is low in sulphur, and sour oil has high sulphur content. Rhodes reckons we've used about half of the total oil in the earth, but most of the stuff we've used is light and sweet, and most of the oil left is sour and heavy.

The thing is that light and sweet oil is easy to extract and use. Heavy and sour oil is hard to extract and refine. In the worst case (bitumen) it takes 3 barrels to extract 4 barrels.

The other thing that I hadn't properly realized was that wind turbines need rare earth elements (REE) in their manufacture. Rhodes says that China has 97% of the REE in the world, and they need all of that for their own turbines. He opined that scarcity of REE would be the thing stopping the expansion of wind turbines. Is that true?

Cream Tea

The greatest sight in the world, a cream tea waiting to be eaten! This is at Charlotte's, with Lou in the background.

Redemption Ark

If I had regular readers, they'd know that I think that Alastair Reynolds is a genius. I read his series all out of order. Reading Redemption Ark, I gradually realized that I'd read the succeeding book in the series, Absolution Gap. I'm not very good at navigating around the country by car. As a passenger, I'm aware of gradually recognizing the destination. I got this feeling as I got to the end of Redemption Ark, gradually recognizing the beginning of Absolution Gap. Most people are horrified that I read books out of order. It's not out of choice, I'm just not organized enough. Please don't hate me for it!

Glossy Black

At the work pre-Christmas drinks evening, Emily painted the nails of my right hand black! Very glossy.



I picked up a random book from the library. Bloodmind by Liz Williams. The book appealed to me, and I'm trying to work out why. Whether or not it would appeal to others in the same way, I don't know. I think the atmosphere that Williams creates, a kind of tone of the senses, a feeling, that I find I'm in tune with. I think it was just what I needed at the time. I'll come back to Williams again, I'm sure.

For now though, I'm on to Alistair Reynolds' Redemption Ark. Awesome!


Cooker Cleaning

I used some powerful spray stuff to clean the cooker, and it started to strip the writing from the surface, so I stopped and took a photo.

I've written what I think it should say on the photo below. I'll refer back to this if I get confused when cooking.



Andy's starting a new venture involving various preserves. It hasn't officially been launched yet, but here are a couple of preview photos:

Room for rent

I've posted an ad for a room to rent in my house. Here are a couple of the pictures I took for the advert:

Really I need to take some photos of the room itself!

Patent encumbered codecs in the UK

In Ubuntu I installed the H.264 and MPEG-4AAC decoders in the belief that this is legal since the UK doesn't recognize software patents. Despite searching, I couldn't confirm this, so I've decided not to use them. It's difficult to uninstall the codecs so I'm simply going to not install them when I install Ubuntu from scratch next month. If you know the legal position on using patent encumbered codecs in the UK, please let me know.


Another vine mess!

The latest news in the vine saga is that I've planted all three vines against the wall:

The two on the left (Alastair Reynolds and Iain Banks) are a black grape (vitis cabernet sauvignon bp), and the one on the right (Peter Watts) is a white grape (vitis chardonnay g p). I know there's not much to see, but crane forwards and you can make out three canes with the vines at the bottom. Hopefully we'll see some green shoots in the spring.


The Severn Estuary

The other Saturday there was off-road karting for a stag day. I got a lift to the karting with two geo-caching devotees, and they stopped off by the Severn Estuary to find a cache.

I took a photo of the karting track just as we were about to leave. I know, I should have got some photos of the actual racing :-)

Helping dad clear out his garage

I helped my dad clear out his garage before he moved house. We found a pentagonal box that I'd made for him and my mother when I was about 13. We used it as the family's laundry box for years.

Father has recently shaved his beard off. He's growing it back again now.

Here my father holds up a tile. A long time ago, he made a table with those tiles forming the table-top. It was a good table, and when the family needed some money, he sold it. I can just about remember the table.


3 microseconds?

Ben sent me a BBC article that contained the following paragraph:
Spread Networks has been building one such fibre-optic connection, shaving three microseconds off the 825-mile (1327km) trading journey between Chicago and New York.
I thought it's got to be 3 milliseconds, not microseconds. Doing some searching seemed to confirm this. I'd have contacted the author about it, but these days I'm reluctant to contribute to anything that has a proprietary licence, as opposed to an open content licence. The reason is that if a digital thing is of value, then there shouldn't be an artificial monopoly on it, anybody should be able to use it for any purpose. Society as whole benefits, not particular monopolists. That's why I'm in favour of Wikipedia, Open Streetmap, Wiktionary etc.

This only applies to things that are digital and can be copied at near zero cost, ie. non-rivalrous goods. It does not apply to rivalrous goods such as food, cars, one to one guitar lessons and electricity, for which the conventional exchange of money for the good or service is the best solution.

Chasm City

I'm reading Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series in a bit of a random order. I've just finished Chasm City. As I read, I find myself thinking that the characters are humans in an unusual setting. Whereas I think that our future is that we'll become less human. Our brains haven't changed dramatically for thousands of years. That's going to change, and change rapidly.

In sci-fi books, people tend to have bodies and brains and move around. Why do people move? A person's brain doesn't leave its skull (unless something horrible has happened). People move around so that their sensors can gather certain information, in other words, to experience things. If those sensations can be transmitted, then there's no need to move.

Some people will want to augment their evolved capabilities. At the moment such people use laptops and mobile phones and enormous data centres run by Google etc. A future person may choose to extend their intelligence and emotional intelligence by perhaps inhabiting several data centres around the world. This takes up a lot of resources, space and energy. This mode of life would only be available to the rich. Who would become rich? Why, those who have extended their intelligence and emotional intelligence of course!


Wikimedia Image Filter Referendum

Now and again I make an edit to Wikipedia and Wiktionary, which makes me eligible to vote in the Image Filter Referendum. I read the debate that's going on, but I don't really have strong views. I suppose I don't really see the need for an image filter. I'm sort of in the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' camp, and I'm vaguely concerned about creating a system that could be used for censorship, even though Wikipedia would only use it for self-censorship. Well, I've voted now, and I've been given a receipt. It's actually a PGP message, and I'm not sure what it means because I don't have the private key to decrypt it.


Grape Vine

On Saturday I went to the garden centre in Bath and bought a grape vine which I took home on the train.

Here's where it's going to go.

First I've got to get to grips with the double Guyot method.

No religious puns here. Absolutely nun.

Went to Oxford on Wednesday last week to visit Matt. We strolled among the ruins of a nunnery.

We were lucky enough to see an actual nun standing in the doorway.

Bear v Shark v Southgate shopping centre

This astroturf in the South Gate shopping centre in Bath reminded me of Bear v Shark, lent to me by Ben. In it, the concrete is painted green and considered far superior to grass.


A Conversation With My Bank

Here's a conversation I'm having with my bank, Smile. Since it doesn't show them at their best, I thought I'd preface the thread by saying that Smile are an excellent bank in general. Their customer service is usually very good, and even in this instance everyone's polite and doing their best. Recently, many banks (Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and HBOS) somehow persuaded the government to bail them out using tax payer's money. Smile (owned by the Cooperative Bank) hasn't asked for (or received) any handouts from the taxpayer, so I salute them for that.

Anyway, Smile are a good bank, I just seem to have hit a blind spot with them, which the following thread shows:
Message Sent to Bank
Date : 20/04/2011
Subject : General

Hi, could you send me a hardcopy statement
with my name, address and international bank
account number please? The internation bank
account number (IBAN) is needed, and so I think
you might have to print it out manually as it
doesn't come out on your automatic statements.

Thanks for your help,


Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 20/04/2011
Subject : General

Hello Tony

I can provide you with a statement but there
is a charge of £2.50. Would you still like
a statement?

If it is just the IBAN you require please find
the details below:

IBAN FORMAT xxxxxxxx



Message Sent to Bank
Date : 23/04/2011
Subject : General

It's actually a statement with the IBAN on it
that I'm after. I'm happy to pay the £2.50
as long as it has the IBAN on and my name and



Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 26/04/2011
Subject : General

Hello Tony

I've ordered the last statement for you today
and this should be with you within 5-7 working
days. This will be the original copy with your
name, address and IBAN.



Message Sent to Bank
Date : 07/05/2011
Subject : General

Hi, I'm afraid it doesn't have the IBAN on it
as I requested.Can you send me out a statement
that does have the IBAN please. Also, I wouldn't
expect to be charged again as this is still the
same request.



Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 09/05/2011
Subject : General

Hello Tony

We actually do not need to issue out a statement
for you if it is just the IBAN number that you
require. The IBAN for your account is:




Message Sent to Bank
Date : 16/05/2011
Subject : General

I already know my IBAN, I just need it printed
out on my statement. As I said originally:

'Could you send me a hardcopy statement with
my name, address and international bank account
number please?'



Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 18/05/2011
Subject : General

Hello Tony

I've ordered the copy of statement for you with
the IBAN number. Please allow 5-7 working days
to receive it through the post.



Message Sent to Bank
Date : 02/06/2011
Subject : General

Hi, I'm afraid it hasn't arrived yet. Can you
look into it please?



Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 06/06/2011
Subject : General

Hello Tony

I'm sorry the statement didn't arrive. I can see
the statement was produced on 26th April. I've
another copy (free of charge) and it will be
sent to xxxxxxxx which I trust is correct?



Message Sent to Bank
Date : 07/06/2011
Subject : General

Hi,the one produced on 26th April doesn't have
the IBAN printed on it, which I need. I was
subsequently told that another one had been
printed and sent (that would have the IBAN),
but that didn't arrive. As I said originally:

'Could you send me a hardcopy statement with
my name, address and international bank account
number please?'



Message From Bank
Hello Tony

I can confirm I have requested for another copy
to be sent to myself so I can investigate why
there is no IBAN number on the statement. Please
allow 10 working days for this to be



Message Sent to Bank
Date : 18/07/2011
Subject : General

Hi, three months ago I made the request below,
and despite a slew of messages back and forth
it still hasn't been resolved. Could you look
into this please?



> Message Sent to Bank
> -----------------------------------------------
> To : BANK
> Date : 20/04/2011
> Subject : General
> Hi, could you send me a hardcopy statement with
my name, address and international bank account
number please? The internation bank account
number (IBAN) is needed, and so I think you
might have to print it out manually as it doesn't
> come out on your automatic statements.
> Thanks for your help,
> Tony.

Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 20/07/2011
Subject : General

Hello Mr Locke

I can see that this was sent on 22/06/2011 as
you have not received this I have reordered this
for you.



Message Sent to Bank
Date : 21/07/2011
Subject : General

Hi, I did receive several statements, but
they didn't have the IBAN on, which was what I
originally requested.

Please can you send me a statement which has the
IBAN on it. I've received sheafs of statements,
but none have the IBAN on them.



Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 24/07/2011
Subject : General

Hello Tony

Here is you IBAN information:
IBAN FORMAT xxxxxxxx



Message Sent to Bank
Date : 25/07/2011
Subject : General

Hi, I know what my IBAN is, the thing I'm asking
is for it to be printed out on your headed
paper. As I said back in April:

could you send me a hardcopy statement with
my name,
address and international bank account number



Message From Bank
Operator ID : xxxxxxxx
Date : 26/07/2011
Subject : General

Hello Tony

I do apologise for all the problems you have
had trying to obtain a headed confirmation of
your Iban, name and address.

I have passed your request to a Manager to type
and post a letter out to you, today, confirming
the details you have requested.



I've just sent off another message to them today. I'll let you know how things go.


The Execution Channel

In Macleod's book, the Execution Channel is a TV channel that shows judicial executions in real time. The idea is that the Chinese write most of the software in the world, including surveillance cameras for prisons. They include code that sends a copy of what's recorded back to a TV station that broadcasts it. Nobody knows for sure who's behind it (except of course the Chinese). To bring it back to my idée fixe, this highlights the security risk of proprietary, as opposed to Open Source, software.

All Macleod's books are enjoyable, but are too complicated for me to follow. I could probably understand them if I maintained a diagram of the characters, plot and time-scale, but that would be ridiculous. In a few years, when our minds have been uploaded to computers that are orders of magnitude superior to our brains, I'll re-read his books, just to see what it's like to totally understand everything.

There is a certain 'alternate history' dimension to the book. Historical events that occurred in our time-line happened differently in the book. This is a subtlety that not so much pulls the rug from under your feet, but is like walking on a rug that has been put on a very shiny floor. It's also a brilliant way for the writer to never get her facts wrong. For example, Macleod calls Burkhard Heim, Gerhard Heim. Is that a genuine mistake, or is it a subtle deviation from our history?


Fuel Poverty

I've noticed the phrase 'fuel poverty' being used. I find this phrase infuriating because it implies that someone could be wealthy in every way apart from fuel, which is absurd (assuming we're talking about the UK in the present day). It also implies that someone could be in poverty in every way apart from fuel, which is equally absurd.

Don't misunderstand me, I agree that poverty is a problem, just don't call it 'fuel poverty'.

I'm not saying this just to be picky. Calling it 'fuel poverty' implies that fuel is too expensive and must somehow be made cheaper. Calling it poverty however, allows us other options, such as keeping fuel's high price but at the same time to stop taxing poor people.

Trusteer Rapport: Proprietary

Just sent this to my bank, Smile:

When I signed in to Smile today, I was presented with a message encouraging me to download Trusteer's Rapport product. I read the licence agreement at:


and I'm reluctant to install it because the licence doesn't give me the freedoms that I'd like:

0. To run the software for whatever purpose I want.
1. To be able to look at the source code to see what it's doing on my computer.
2. Allow me to make changes / improvements.
3. To share the code with other people.

Investigating further, I've found that Rapport isn't available for the operating system that I use (Ubuntu), so I wouldn't be able to install it anyway.




Golf At Victoria Park

Kazim was over last weekend, so on Saturday we went to Bath and had lunch at Komedia, then went to the Victoria Park approach golf course. After that we had ice-cream at Pattisserie Valerie, and then Opa for some drinks and food afterwards.

The next day was Wimbledon, so we had an impromptu BBQ at my house. We had Pimms and strawberries and cream and everything!


Jamie was in Timing by Alistair McGowan at the Rondo theatre, so we went along to see it on Friday last week.

Jamie was the first person on stage, and he looked very different to normal. I know that's what actors are supposed to do, but when it's someone you know it's a bit weird. The play was built around a recording studio, with two rooms separated (in the audience's imagination) by glass. The audience could hear from both rooms, but the characters could only hear the other room when the intercom was on. Got that?

This set-up must have been very technically demanding on the actors, as the dialogue had to be synchronized with the characters in the other room. They pulled it off though, and the whole thing worked well. I don't usually laugh out loud very much, but I did that evening. Jamie's character, a street urchin addicted to his mobile phone, popped up throughout the play, and was a favourite with the audience.


Of Plugs And Cables

When I was given a Kindle, I was delighted that the cable connecting the Kindle to the plug could be unplugged and used to connect the Kindle to the computer! I thought this a great breakthrough and thought that everything should work like that. I was surprised therefore when my Nexus S had a fixed power cable, and then another cable to connect it to the computer.

Greek Finances

Greece should not be bailed out, not by the EU or by the IMF. If it's bailed out, it will have its policies dictated to it by the IMF, which will cause huge resentment. A bailout will also reward financial recklessness, because other countries will think that they can spend spend spend until the IMF bails them out. They'll also be paying off the loans for ages, a real millstone around their neck.

Here's what should happen. Greece should default on its debts. It should stay within the Euro. It should carry on with its austerity measures. Greece has a moral duty to eventually pay off the debts, but it should do so at its own pace. At no time should other countries lend to it!


Nexus S

I had my trusty HTC Magic for over 2 years; it was getting a bit long in the tooth. Battery life wasn't too good, it was slow etc. So on Monday I took delivery of a Nexus S.

It's really an incremental upgrade, bigger screen, better battery life, faster. The OS is the same, so the things I used to do on the old phone are done the same way in the new one. The hardware though has additional features such as NFC, which I've yet to get my head around.

In choosing the phone, I wanted it to be as open as possible, so I wanted to avoid the proprietary UI add-ons such as Sense which HTC uses. Also I wanted the phone to be designed for people to have root access to it, without having to jailbreak it. The Nexus S fits the bill.


Submission to the defamation bill consultation

Here's my submission to the defamation bill consultation:
I am writing to you as part of the consultation on the Draft Defamation Bill. I welcome the direction of the bill, but feel it doesn't go far enough to allow full freedom of speech. I would like to see the whole idea of defamation taken out of the legal system. My view is that any possible good that can come of censorship is greatly outweighed by its harm. I am afraid that any defamation law will be abused by the rich and powerful to suppress criticism and dissent. Thus, I believe that anybody should be able to state any view, whether or not some think it false or malicious.



Like Wireless, Toast is another collection of Charles Stross short stories lent to me by Janos. For me, Toast maintains a higher average standard than Wireless, although Wireless does have some cracking stories.

I hugely enjoyed Toast, and of all the sci-fi I read, these stories come the closest to my own notions about our future. Stross has been influenced by the sort of things Ray Kurzweil talks about; the singularity, computronium, uploading living things neuron by neuron.

Btw, I asked Janos the robot cars question, and he gave a considered 'no'.


The Goldilocks Enigma

The first 3/4 of The Goldilocks Enigma is the best explanation of the current state of cosmology that I've ever read. The last 1/4 is speculation on the future of cosmology, trying to answer the 'why are we here?' question. That too is incredibly gripping reading. Davies leans towards teleology. Teleology in physics? That was new to me, but interesting.

One idea is that we're living in a simulation, a fake universe Davies calls it. From reading The Fabric Of Reality, I've became convinced that even virtual reality can tell us a lot (maybe everything) about reality. So it was with a jolt that I read:
If the universe is a sham, why bother to find out how it works?
I'd answer that even an illusion is real, it's just not what we think it is. A virtual reality simulation of a car isn't a real car, but it is modeled in a computer, which is real. So each part of the simulation maps onto a part of the computer, so you get a mapping between virtual reality and reality. If you can work out this mapping, you can understand reality!


Red Tape Challenge

I've taken the government's Red Tape Challenge on industrial emissions and carbon reduction. Here's my submission:
I accept that the world needs to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is that the UK has saddled itself with a huge bureaucratic burden in trying to deal with the issue, and all these regulations aren’t working properly. I advocate the abolition of all the GHG schemes, including EU-ETS, ROCs, LECs, CRC, CCL, REGOS, FiTs and CHPQA, to be replaced with a carbon tax. The revenue raised from the carbon tax should be divided up equally amongst the population, and returned to people through the income tax system. In this way it would be a revenue neutral tax for the government.

A carbon tax is easy to collect, because there aren’t many points that fossil fuels enter the country, eg. ships and pipelines. This is in contrast to the current schemes that involve large numbers of people both in government and industry working on endless form filling.

One of the criticisms of a carbon tax is that it causes fuel poverty. If the revenue is divided up equally amongst the population and returned through the income tax system, fuel poverty would be avoided.

The question arises as to the level that the carbon tax should be set at. I suggest that parliament sets an emissions target, and then every month the carbon tax rate is adjusted by an independent committee to ensure we hit the target. It would work a bit like the Monetary Policy Committee sets interest rates to meet an inflation target.

Thank you for considering my comments.

Driverless Cars In Nevada

In August 2008, I wrote in Home James, and don't spare the CPUs that by the time my eldest nephew is of driving age (2023), most cars will be driven by robots. I'm still sticking to my assertion! Ben at work agrees, but Laura doesn't. My friend Andy disagrees, but thinks that robot managed convoys of cars may be on the way. My brother still thinks it won't happen. I'm encouraged by Google's attempt to make driver-less cars legal in the US state of Nevada.


Dynamics Of Online Interactions

I was invited through SourceForge to take part in a study of Microfoundations and dynamics of online interactions and behavior. They repeated traditional experiments, but online. Eg. they grouped people into pairs and said that one of you gives an amount between $0 and $10, and the other one receives 3x that amount, but then has to choose an amount to give back. It's real money, and you get it paid into your Paypal account at the end. There were 4 games, and you receive your earnings from a random one of them, plus a guaranteed $10. Unfortunately I earned $0 in the game that was picked (random:-)).



I've just released Imprimatur-021. The main change is that the <session> element has been removed. There's now just one session for the whole test script. The reason is that I felt that session information didn't fit with the hierarchy of XML. At the moment there isn't a way to start a new session part way through the script. It would probably be done with a 'new-session' attribute of the <request> element. Let me know if that would be useful to you.

With this release I've changed from CVS to Git, simply because Git is more fashionable :-) I used cvs2git and it worked really well.


The Prescience Of John Wyndham

Whenever I read John Wyndham, I'm struck by how prescient his thoughts are. Here he is talking about what we'd now call disruptive technologies:
The discoverer and inventor are the bane of business. A little sand in the works is comparatively a mere nothing - you just replace the damaged parts, and go on. But the appearance of a new process, a new substance, when you are all organized and tickling nicely, is the very devil. Sometimes it is worse than that - it just cannot be allowed to occur. Too much is at stake. If you can't use legal methods, you must try others.
This is from The Day Of The Triffids, which I'm reading at the moment. There are lots of other comments and asides throughout his books that are astonishingly far-sighted.


Bradley Manning

The other day we were having dinner, and I asserted that Bradley Manning was being tortured. Scepticism was evident in some quarters. One problem is that we don't know for sure how he's being treated. The Guardian reports that on Monday 11th April 2011:
[Juan] Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said: "I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr Manning."
There's been a letter published by US legal scholars including Bruce Ackerman (Yale Law School) and Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School) which states:
For nine months, Manning has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day. During his one remaining hour, he can walk in circles in another room, with no other prisoners present. He is not allowed to doze off or relax during the day, but must answer the question “Are you OK?” verbally and in the affirmative every five minutes. At night, he is awakened to be asked again “Are you OK?” every time he turns his back to the cell door or covers his head with a blanket so that the guards cannot see his face. During the past week he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell, and for the indefinite future must remove his clothes and wear a “smock” under claims of risk to himself that he disputes.
You may dispute that it's torture, but it's surely mistreatment.

Google's Webmaster Tools

Call me a late adopter, but I thought I'd give Google's Webmaster Tools a go. I pointed it at MtrHub and it found a bug. It found that even if you'd set a meter to be public, you still couldn't see individual reads without being logged in. It found it because if a user needs to be authorized, MtrHub returns an HTTP 401, which Webmaster Tools rightly complains about. Another advantage of using HTTP response codes conscientiously.


UK-US Extradition Treaty

We were discussing the UK-US extradition treaty, and how it's unfair because it's not reciprocal. Then the question came up of the standard of proof that's required to extradite someone from the UK to the US. I claimed it was very low, but had no evidence to back it up. The evidence I will now brandish is from an article in the Guardian, where it says that to extradite a UK citizen to face trial in the US:
no prima facie evidence has to be produced
Turning to Wikipedia for more detail on prima facie:
Most legal proceedings require a prima facie case to exist, following which proceedings may then commence
The whole thing is an unjust mess. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives made much of its unfairness while in opposition. Now you're in power, sort it out!


Paperless Billing: WCC Responds

I recently asked Wiltshire County Council:
Hi, I've just received my council tax bill, and I wondered if there was a paperless billing option? Eg. the bill could be emailed out, and the accompanying booklet could be online.
Here's their reply:
RE: Online council tax billing and booklets

Currently Wiltshire Council does not have the facility for paperless billing. This is something that we are looking to develop in time.
With regard to the accompanying booklet, an electronic version is available online by following the link below.


I trust this answers your questions below.
It was a prompt and friendly reply, and I'm glad they're looking into it. I'll let you know if they've switched to paperless next year...


Libya: De-militarize, don't re-militarize

In the recent war in Libya I think we've done the right thing so far. It's been legal, and I agree with resolution 1973. David Cameron is now talking about arming the rebels. I don't think this would be legal, as it would contravene UN resolution 1970, the arms embargo. If it isn't legal, we shouldn't do it. Furthermore, even if it were legal, it would be a bad idea. Libya should be de-militarized, not re-militarized.


Wiltshire County Council Paperless Billing

Here's an email I've just written to Wiltshire County Council:
Hi, I've just received my council tax bill, and I wondered if there was a paperless billing option? Eg. the bill could be emailed out, and the accompanying booklet could be online.
as ever, I'll let you know what they say...


AV Referendum

I came home to find my polling card for the referendum on changing the voting system for parliament from first-past-the-post to the alternative vote. My preferred voting system is range voting. As I wrote on Polifesto, the problem with AV:
...occurs when you have two popular candidates with extreme opposite views, and one compromise candidate in the middle. If most people vote for one extreme or the other, but everyone's second choice is the compromise candidate, the compromise candidate gets knocked out. Under range voting the compromise candidate would have a good chance of winning.
Unfortunately range voting isn't an option in the referendum, so I'll be voting for AV as it's better than the current system. It does reduce the necessity for tactical voting, so it's a small step forward.


Insuring A Nuclear Power Station

I'm on the Claverton Energy Group mailing list. Here's a (slightly amended) post from me on the safety of nuclear power:

It seems to me that the problem is the cap on the liability of nuclear power companies if there's an accident. That is, if an accident occurs and its clean-up cost exceeds the cap (£140m in UK) then the government has to pay the rest.

If this cap were to be removed, then the financial incentive to reduce insurance costs would drive safety improvements.

Furthermore, the position of the government is that nuclear power shouldn't be subsidized. But is not the cap on liability a subsidy?

I'm pleased that the government is talking about raising that cap to €1.2bn. It's not enough, but it's a start.


Charles Stross

Palimpsest is the last story of Wireless, a collection of short stories by Charles Stross. Janos recommended Stross. In fact he did more than that, he presented me with a plastic bag filled with sci-fi books, one of which was Wireless!

But back to Palimpsest. It's a novella, and really could be turned into a novel. It was genuinely new and interesting. I loved the scale of it all. Awesome.


Electricity Market Reform

The UK government has published a consultation on Electricity Market Reform. Here's my response:

Hi, here's my personal response to the Electricity Market Reform consultation. Can I remark that I'm pleased that it's published under the excellent Open Government License. There are answers to the specific questions later on, but first I wrote some notes on the Executive Summary.
• even as we improve energy efficiency, demand for electricity may need to
double by 2050 –
This 'predict and provide' policy isn't optimal for electricity generation. It's the job of the government to make sure there's a competitive market for electricity, but it shouldn't have any kWh targets. The natural balance of supply and demand provides the optimal solution.
• as decarbonisation of the economy means that electricity provides more of our heating and transport needs;
True, the economy does need to decarbonise, but the government shouldn't impose the solution of using more low-carbon electricity. It can only increase the cost of emitting CO2 by taxing fossil fuel at source, and then Organizations and individuals will respond to those price signals. Some will save electricity, some will buy green electricity, some will use more electricity but less petrol or various other combinations, depending on what's optimal for them.
• to ensure security of supply, we will need to replace a quarter of our existing capacity by 2020, which are ageing and unlikely to meet environmental regulations. In the current system, maintaining the level of security of supply is left to market forces;
The most secure method *is* market forces. That's what I rely on to make sure there's a loaf of bread for me at the supermarket.
• the power sector needs to lead the decarbonisation of our economy,
Government should not be making this assertion.
but the current market has a bias towards fossil fuels. DECC’s 2050 analysis shows that the power sector emissions need to be largely decarbonised during the 2030s.The Committee on Climate Change has recently proposed that the power sector should be close to zero-carbon by 2030;
De-carbonisation of the electricity supply is just one of the solutions. Others include insulating homes properly, or using less electricity. The government shouldn't dictate any particular solution.
• around 30% of our electricity in 2020 needs to come from renewable sources (largely onshore and offshore wind), up from 7% today, to meet our legally binding EU target for renewable energy. The Government has asked the Committee on Climate Change to provide further advice in Spring 2011 about the longer-term potential for renewable energy;
The proportion of renewables isn't the important thing. The important thing is how much CO2 we're emitting per capita.
• Under the current market, gas-fired generation is currently the lowest cost and lowest risk investment. It will continue to play an important role in the electricity sector – providing vital flexibility to support an increasing amount of low-carbon generation and to maintain security of supply.
I don't think the government should be saying what will and what will not play a role in the electricity sector.
However, current arrangements need to be reformed to allow equal access to the electricity market for a wider range of technologies, such as:
Other technologies already have equal access to the market. In fact many of the technologies receive subsidies, which should be removed.

I'm pleased that the report accepts the importance of improving the technical functioning of the market eg. sharpening the buyout price and reducing barriers to competition. I don't thing it's right that these vertically integrated large energy companies can own DNOs, suppliers and generators.

I'm dubious about the levelized cost for nuclear power. Does it include the full cost of insurance?

Here are my responses to the specific questions. I haven't answered every question, since earlier questions already give the answer.
Current Market Arrangements
1. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the ability of the current market to support the investment in low-carbon generation needed to meet environmental targets?
No. With a carbon tax in place of the FiTs, ROCs, LECs, EU-ETS, CRC and REGOs the current market is able to properly play its part in reducing pollution.
2. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the future risks to the UK’s security of electricity supplies?
No. The current market is capable of delivering security of supply. The graph of capacity margin that shows EEUs escalating in the future is unrealistic. As the margin gets tighter, prices increase, which lessens demand and restores the margin.
3. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the pros and cons of each of the models of feed-in tariff (FIT)?
I disagree with FiTs because they support renewable generation rather than penalizing CO2 emissions. CO2 emission are the problem, not necessarily lack of renewable generation. Since I disagree with FiTs I haven't commented on the remaining FiT questions.
12. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the impact of an emission performance standard on the decarbonisation of the electricity sector and on security of supply risk?
Again, I disagree with the EPS. There shouldn't be separate arrangement for certain generators. A fossil fuel tax based on CO2 emissions when burnt would cover all circumstances.
19. Do you agree with our assessment of the pros and cons of introducing a capacity mechanism?
Broadly, but I think you have underplayed the cons.
20. Do you agree with the Government’s preferred policy of introducing a capacity mechanism in addition to the improvements to the current market?
No. A capacity mechanism would needlessly increase electricity prices, and would increase bureaucracy.


I'm psyched to have received this email about my short story:
We’re delighted to let you know that your literary genius has thus far ensured you’ve reached our final shortlist of four stories. Well done from us all at John’s Bikes!



Bono admonishes his interlocutor with, 'don't say that later will be better', but later in the song goes on to contradict himself by stating that, 'it's just a moment, and a moment will pass'. If U2 doesn't hold the secret of happiness, who does?

Voltaire, that's who. But more on that later. First, our eponymous hero asks (Martin I think):
"Do you believe," said Candide, "that men have always massacred each other as they do today, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitions, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?"
I'd answer that yes, people have always done those things, but I'd argue that basically humans do whatever they can to improve their lot. In a well designed system, the cost of being a thief for example is too high and so instead it's in a thief's interest to abandon her life of crime and keep to the straight and narrow. What is a well designed system? Well, democracy helps, and an open and transparent and independent judicial system. Also, I think the aim of government should be to maximize individual freedom.

Philosophers tend to be better at asking questions than providing answers, so Voltaire surprised me at the end of the book. After the adventures of Candide and his companions had ended, they ended up at a bit of a loose end. They got bored, and rather directionless. Then a happy neighbour, a farmer, gave Candide the idea of having a garden for he and his friends to work on. Happiness ensued!


Please Fine First Great Western For Their Poor Service

I was enraged enough to fire off an email to the Department For Transport yesterday:
This morning the First Great Western train from Trowbridge to Bath Spa was scheduled to stop at Trowbridge at 10:14. It didn't stop because it was too full to pick up any more passengers, so everyone had to wait for the 10:44.

My point is that this is entirely predictable because this train is *always* packed. First Great Western has been given a monopoly by the regulator, and so in the absence of competition, the regulator has a duty to step in and punish poor service. So please would you act on behalf of the passengers and fine First Great Western?


Bath LitFest Short Story Competition

Bill told me about the short story competition run by John's Bikes as part of the Bath Literary Festival. The story must be 50 words or under. Here's my entry, it's called Retrochronophobia:
Cycling past Bath Abbey, Rufus looked up, and suddenly the stone changed from an ancient grey to a brand new yellow. His bike collided with a crowd of medieval peasants gathered where the taxi rank once was. Everything was different. Do you fear abruptly jumping back in time?
Interesting use of Google Docs for the form submission.



I was on the brink of doing architecture at uni, but I switched to physics at the last minute because I was more interested in it. A lot of the books I read were on physics, and almost none on architecture, so I realized that physics was where my true interest lay. I've not regretted my decision.

Buildings do have a big effect on me. I'm disappointed in architecture. I believe that the main function of a building is to inspire. It's terrible that the buildings I like best are medieval, and things have got steadily worse since then, reaching their nadir in the 60s and 70s. Things have improved a bit since then, but we're still bad at such an important thing. Why is that?

One theory, and one that I would have tried to put into architectural practice (pun ahoy) is that above a certain scale, beautiful things have to be fractal. Loosely speaking, if you look at a good building it looks similar at different scales. The eye can't comprehend the whole thing in one go.

I remember reading in a book on fractals somebody asking why the branches of a tree in front of the moon has an aesthetic quality, but a rectangular office block against the moon doesn't give the same effect.

There's the point about scale. Generally, new cars are progressing in design quality as time goes on, they look good. People talk of their 'clean lines'. The same with Apple hardware. Buildings have got worse though. I think that small things can get away with not having a fractal quality, but large things can't.

TL4410 : Multi-storey Car park Kitson Way Harlow by PAUL FARMER

Multi-storey Car park Kitson Way Harlow

  © Copyright PAUL FARMER and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

What about the pyramids then? People flock to them, and they have a euclidean geometry, not fractal. Can you explain that?



Toby at work is leaving to do aid work in Africa, so on Sunday we went paint-balling:

They said to wear old clothes, so I wore a maroon hoodie from 1989. I remember being in a club in Bath (The Tiergarten?) around that time and some geezer came up to me and said that his brother made the hoodie I was wearing. 'Passenger' was the label.


Meter Reader

I've put up a web site for recording one's electricity meter readings. It's very basic at the moment. If you try it, please let me know how you find it. The idea is that you get the site up on your phone, and take it to the meter and enter the reading. Later on there could be graphs added, and perhaps a button for submitting the reading to your supplier. Also, I think it probably needs a way of downloading a spreadsheet of your reading. What do you think?

One thing that is that it requires an OpenId. It's hosted on Google App Engine, and they have a white-list of the following OpenId providers:
  • AOL
  • Google
  • MyOpenId
  • Yahoo
  • MySpace
Also, I don't have a name for it yet, so let me know if you have any ideas.

Lostwithiel II

I took the photo below when I went to the Co-op yesterday:

This is a much older building.

I took this today. It's an in-joke. How my colleagues will laugh.

A view just outside Lostwithiel.

I think this is the best photo.

I put the unmapped parts on Open Streetmap.



I've done some work on MOSM, the mobile web site for seeing a map of where you are. For fun I thought I'd use HTML5. It worked out okay on the browser you get with Android 2.2.

One thing I had to learn to get a web page working in a mobile was to use the meta viewport element:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

If you try out MOSM, you'll notice that it has two flaws:
  • The downloading of the tiles is really slow. I've turned off the tile buffer, where it downloads tiles off the edge of the screen, but it's still slow.
  • To get the current position, it doesn't trigger the retrieval of GPS coordinates. An app does, but a browser app doesn't.
If you know how to solve these problems, please let me know.


Went for a stroll this morning, and mapped a new road. Finished reading Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Herland is a feminist utopia, an undiscovered realm populated entirely by women. It's easy to mock utopias, but they're much harder to write about than dystopias, so I admire anyone who has a go. The wondrous place is revealed to us through the eyes of 3 male characters, of varying degrees of masculinity.

I'd prefer to live in a Gilman novel than a Dostoevsky one!


Danger, Sheep Drop

Went for a walk and put some extra bits on Open Streetmap. I took a snapshot of the map beforehand:

I've now added in things on the route from the cottage to the Co-op. There are quite a few unmapped areas, I'll add in some more tomorrow. I took a photo on the way to Restormel:

I can report that no sheep landed while I was in the vicinity.


The Picture Of Dorian Grey

Alastair Reynolds is a consistently fine writer. I've recently finished Zima Blue, a book of Reynolds' short stories, and every one has been superb. Reynolds is becoming one of my most highly rated sci-fi authors. I've lent the book to Bob at work, who's a sci-fi fan, he's sure to like it.

I'm writing this at Willow cottage in Lostwithiel. I traveled by train, the return from Trowbridge costing just under £60. It's a littoral line for part of the way; here's a photo out of the carriage window:

An advantage of the Kindle is that I don't have to take bulky, heavy books around. I'm not sure how many books the Kindle will hold, but there are 4 stored at the moment, and I'm sure there's room for thousands. I charged it up on Christmas Day, and haven't had to recharge since, and that's having read 2.5 books on it so far.

On the train to Cornwall I finished The Picture Of Dorian Gray. The first two books I read on the Kindle both had the word Gray (or Grey) in the title. Proof, if proof be need be, that God exists. I won't write much about TPODG because I've got a headache at the moment, but it's a salutary book that transmits the protagonist's desperate feelings to the reader.


To Kill A Mockingbird

The one plot flaw is that Atticus or Aunt Alexandra would have gone to the pageant. It was a big event in Maycomb, and their daughter / niece was in it. Also, Alexandra was in the same social circle as Mrs Merriweather the organizer of the pageant, and Alexandra wouldn't snub Merriweather by not attending.

Incidentally, I've noticed what I think is an error in the Merriweather section on Wikipedia, let me know what you think of my edit.

The book was lent to me ages ago by Clive at work. For some reason it sat unread on a table in my dining room, on top of Matt's collection of Clint Eastwood western DVDs. I've received increasingly strong hints from Clive about returning the book, so I read it on Friday / Saturday. Just gotta remember to put it in my bag, and then hand it to him.

Back to the book. At the end they were wrong to cover up what actually happened with Ewell. There should have been a proper investigation. What do you think?

Btw, I'm not very good at saying how good a book is. Needless to say, this is a good book.