Archive for June, 2005

Tuesday, 21st June 2005

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

Photo: Testing out the new Nikon 4600: G&D’s in Oxford. Two small local coffee houses which make yummy home made ice cream.

We had fun on Saturday after me, Dan, and Hussein met up fairly randomly. I say fairly because we did at least plan this the day before. I met Dan in the late afternoon and we ended up going shopping in Selfridges food court for father’s day gifts (yes, it’s a horrible markeering gimmick but it’s also an excuse to buy yummy sweet turkish delight for your dad and then help him to eat it). I got a few brochures on Jura coffee machines since one of the guys I work with splashed out on one a while back and subsequently raved about it. At 1595GBP (over 2200USD) it had better be a good machine – and the newer model doesn’t even have the connectivity pack the previous model could be configured to come with (but it’s only for diagnostics and recipies – they missed a trick there by not having it remote controllable too).

I resisted the temptation to buy lots of Hershey’s bars while I was in with all the sweet stuff – they’re not widely available in this country (because Cadbury’s does taste better and is obviously extremely well established as a household brand) and taste disgusting initially, but you soon seem to want to eat more after you’ve had a few bites. I didn’t resist having a Frapaccino and am now quite fond of the Caramel Coffee “light” variety that a certain coffeehouse chain have finally realised people would like (there’s just no reason for them to be so bad for you unless you subscribe to the “it’s coffee, let’s make it extra bad for you” philosophy they often have).

Hmm. What else? Oh, I failed a driving test. For a couple of reasons. Pop quiz – what would you do about the below:

  • You’re completing a turn in the road manoeuvre and have completely blocked the road as you proceed with the final stages of the turn. Two cars are approaching from both sides and are unable to pass you, but are a safe distance from your vehicle. Do you finish up or stop?
  • You’re at a “priority to oncoming traffic” sign and there’s another in the distance ahead. Parked cars are littering your side of the road inbetween. Cars are approaching from the distance – do you wait for them or slip in behind the parked cars?

These two issues are not safety related. Nothing I did was in any way dangerous (in fact, I assisted an emergency ambulance by stopping promptly and properly on a roadabout and was given praise for handling that situation correctly). No. I technically failed. This is also known as a). bitterness on my part. b). anality on the part of the test criteria. What annoys me even more than failing on petty technicalities is that I can’t book a regular test until October. October! The DSA are almost as bad as the rail chiefs (read on) but not quite there – they should get themselves in gear (pun intended) and sort out the backlog and mess of tests caused by people being forced to retake their test after too many endorsements. So, it’s back to waiting and hoping I can get a cancellation slot soonish.

Meanwhile…two other things annoyed me on Tuesday:

  • The UK government is pushing through legislation against religious hatred which also happens to violate my fundamental right to freedom of expression (article 10 of the EHCR is intentionally badly worded to give these crooks the ability to pass such unpleasant legislation). Not that we ever really had any. While it’s a good idea to stop people from being persecuted, our government – like certain other evil regimes around the world – just didn’t need to introduce yet more legislation in that regard (they already lock people up for being potential terrorists, why bother with this).
  • Evil bastards (rail operators) have proposed Congestion Charging on British Rail networks during peak hours – designed to punish those of us who willfully submit to the vile and disgustingly badly run services on a daily basis. Wow. Thanks a whole lot for being so out of touch with reality. I had the good fortune of happening upon a gathering of train managers at Birmingham station a year or so back (some “meet the management who run this circus” event) so had the opportunity to (after giving them hell for some time, repeatedly firing off valid points they could not counter) conduct a survey to find out how many of them actually used trains. The results were hardly surprising. Get a [removed incitement to hatred of badly run rail networks] clue.

For your general amusement, I recalled this evening how I haven’t yet mentioned the US tourists I was speaking to last week. They were after directions and I helped them out – they were in search of their hire car place and I tried to help get them the relevent information to interpret the Google Maps they had brought. But the guy (with what was presumably his wife/partner – middle aged folks at any rate so you might hold out some hope over the college jocks who asked me “say, do you have canoeing in the UK?” last summer at the Vatican. No, I’m not making that up – I explained I live on a giant island surrounded by millions of gallons of water) did manage to step in it by saying how they have this wonderful in-car map system you can get in the States, and it uses satellites. No shit! Wow! Strangely enough, there’s an ongoing revolt against the government wanting to mandate GPS tracking of every car for road tax reasons (horribly evil). I found the naivety most amusing, but only very briefly. Then saddening.

I seem to be being a bit negative in this blog lately. It’s not exactly intentional, and I’ve not got a fantastical reason to be so. In other news, my new Nikon Coolpix 4600 arrived randomly in the mail. It takes nice photos and is smaller than the older model that it replaces. Also unfortunately takes MMC, but meh. I’ll try to upload some of the sample shots I’ve taken and update this entry with some photos above.


On Religion

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

“God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil”

– Father Daniel, priest at a convent in north-west Romania

Have a look at this story about a young woman, diagnosed with schizophrenia, who was tortured and killed by religious nuts at a convent after they felt whe was possessed by the devil. This is yet another reason why I don’t generally subscribe to organised religion.

I’m essentially now an atheist. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have strong beliefs – I just choose not to waste hours every weekend praying to god to intervene in my life and make it all better. No, rather than be the child who cries to mother about a grazed knee, I believe that I make my own destiny. There may be some greater force out there – but ask youself, if you were that greater force, do you think you’d be bothered with the fate of one person who has the free will to change their own life? I believe it would be a better use of time to spend an hour a week picking litter (you can have tea and crumpets in the village hall afterwards if you feel that you must) and getting involved with our local communities in more constructive efforts.

Some people think I just don’t get it. I used to go to church, every week, for years and years. I was head chorister in the choir and was confirmed into the Anglican church. Yet, as I have grown up I have come to realise that I cannot support many of the actions of these religious groups. I object to the oft-abused notions of some certain organisations that AIDS is some kind of curse or that contraception is wrong, and I believe that men and women are equals (so get with the programme, get women priests already). Can’t we just all be nice to oneanother?


English Trains

Saturday, June 18th, 2005

Barrier guy: Can I see your Young Person’s card?
Me: Sure, <rummages>, here
Barrier guy: <stares at the cards in my holder, takes holder, stares hard, gives me a look>
Me: Any reason for the Spanish Inquisition?
Barrier guy: It is kind of faded, you don’t need to be aukward
Me: Indeed. Neither do you. We do live in a “free country”

– A rough transcript of a conversation between me and a railway employee last night.

In this country, trains are often used by commuters and travellers in general as a semi-viable means of mass transportation. Many trains are consitently late or badly managed by privatised rail companies, who unfairly make profit for shareholders and have other interests besides running a railway (railroad) network – it’s simply not possible to run a good public railway infrastructure at a profit and do it right IMO. We need to think beyond initial returns and look into the great benefit a well run network would actually bring to this country. A minor issue which apparently also plagues the system is that of ticket fraud and people who apparently don’t want to pay their way. Now there are two problems here:

  • Fraud doesn’t much offset the anti-fraud provisions in place – we should just accept a certain level of ticket fraud and be done with it rather than expensive barrier/staffing. Also, it’s worth looking at why people don’t want to pay – I don’t want to pay, mostly because I am disgusted by these companies and their profitering actions (at the expensive of quality) and don’t want to line their pockets. I however do buy a ticket because I’m not going to break the law over it, although I will find the cheapest ticket that might somehow screw them over.
  • Anality. Too many of the railway staff I meet are rather too anal about the whole exercise. What they need to realise is that their job is to provide high quality customer service, not to treat each customer with suspicion and like they might be a witch on a broomstick (my term for the US style hysteria over terrorism) or even just a fair evader. I always pay for my tickets and in return expect as little hassle as possible – not routine nonsense from underpaid staff.

We actually have lists of people who don’t buy tickets now. Lists. That’s right, you can go into a station and look at a big printed “name and shame” type poster (though I’ve only seen this on certain parts of the network – not here in the South East part of the UK). There are a whole heck of a lot of other posters, signs, warnings, general demotivaters which are put there by overpaid and out-of-touch senior management who never actually take trains. Please please please, get a clue and make the system more enjoyable for those of us who are honest and just want to get from here to there with the minimum of hassle. No, I’m not of the “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ll put up with any shit” inclination. I’m of the “innocent until proven guilty” conviction.

These are yet more reasons that I look forward to getting my driving sorted out and getting a car so that I can just not have to deal with some of these people and hassles on a daily basis. Before you make a quick a snappy judgement after reading this – just imagine you had many many years of daily rail travel behind you, rather than driving everywhere. It’s not exactly fun (but it really could be if they actually made a real effort – then it would truly rule to be able to work and do productive stuff on the train someplace).


Air Miles

Friday, June 17th, 2005

There’s a plane at JFK,
to fly you back from far away,
all those dark and frantic trans-atlantic miles

Home and Dry, Pet Shop Boys (Now Printing).

I’m a member of several different Air Miles[0] schemes by this point. It’s a source of annoyance too, considering that I’ve already flown well over 20,000 miles so far this year – but the highest that accounts on a single membership is the 10K or so on my virgin flights to/from LAX. The whole system is, of course, cunningly designed and I’ll admit it does affect who I will book with. For example, this benefits airlines on short haul flights – if I get a choice of options with only a few pounds of difference in the price, then I’ll be bound to book with the Star Alliance member. So that’s a real benefit for airlines – you use the long haul to get roped in on the short routes.

After flying over to Canada and the US next, I should have ~23,000 miles on my Air Canada account and qualify for their entry level rewards programme (free upgrades – hopefully good for next year’s flight over to OLS). If I do somehow end up taking another 9K of flights before the end of the year (I do have to go to India in October too), then I can get access to those airport lounges too. Not too infeasible also as I’ve just been asked whether I can go to LinuxWorld in San Francisco – a week after I get back from being over there anyway. Meh. “If it fits in with doing some other work” :-)


P.S. Belkin sell an ipod battery pack which runs off regular AA type batteries – in addition to an LiON/LiMH charge one – so I should be able to keep the tunes playing for a few days at a time. Now all I need is a portable nuclear fusion plant to do the same for my laptop.

[0] Probably a trade mark. Anyway, in Europe, shouldn’t there be some pointlessly pedantic law on it being “Air Kilometres”?

Wednesday, 15th June, 2005

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

link(2) OpenSolaris

Open Solaris finally released some code yesterday. They mailed out an announcement about the code drop and within a few minutes, the 1000 free t-shirts on offer to the initial visitors had been nabbed. I managed to get one, but by the time the site actually got slashdotted they’d all gone. I hope that Open Solaris turns out to be more than just a fun t-shirt tag line and more of a cool project that’s worth getting involved with. To that end, I’ll be dissecting the Solaris kernel over the next month and will get together a Kernel Hacking column with some more details on the project – I’m excited, since I’ve got the Solaris Internals book but could never convince Sun to hand over a copy of the source for my educational enlightenment (or persuade the authors of the aforementioned book to return my emails on the subject). Looks like has been Swartzitised (hyped up pending a forthcoming Sun announcement) but the Sun home page was a little slow off the mark. Maybe I can finally see what lianep and co were on about.

Apple have trademarked the term “Mactel”, presumably because they know we’re going to start using that and they want to stop people from taking the piss out of their decision to switch PowerPC for Pentium. That’s ok, I prefer the terms “AppleDell” or “MacDell” anyway, since it (to me) more adequately explains what will happen. This is especially true once they get someone like Transgaming to license their wine tech and support native Microsoft Windows emulation on Intel based Macs. Yes, I can see that coming. Want to run super dooper fightgame 2005? Just pop it into your Mac and go. It’s a brave new world we’re heading towards – and, as I said, probably time to start thinking about one final Powerbook before they do go the way I may have just predicted.

Big Blue just announced a Free OpenFirmware implementation for PowerPC. I should get onto that – it might finally make the OF embedded device tree stuff actually a reality. I recently added the gmane RSS feed of the LKML to my planet and have since found I am a little more able to track some of the threads taking place on the list. Of course LWN helps out too. Finally started reading Linux Device Drivers 3 with an interest – I like. Thanks guys. Oh, and I’ll be a little busy for around 8 months from August but I think it’ll be worth it. Lots of calls to India, New York and California over the past few days.

No mention of my new camera yet. Meh.


Hannah and Joe’s wedding

Sunday, June 12th, 2005

Photo: Hannah and Joe Wrigley outside St. Peter’s in Early after their marriage ceremony.

Hannah and Joe Wrigley were married at 16:00 on Saturday, the 11th of June 2005, after two years of being engaged and three years after they first started going out. In his Best Man’s speech, Carl Ebrey mentioned the part that he and I had played in them meeting and reflected upon the odds of any two people on this planet actually finding their very own soulmate. I’m truly happy for them and really hope they have a very wonderful life together – and I’m glad that it was a sunny day with few hitches in the process of getting hitched. Well done to everyone who worked so hard on this – my parents, Hannah, Joe, and his parents, and others – it really came off quite nicely. I managed to get a round of applause from the audience for my performance during the signing of the register so I think at least a few people must have enjoyed my rendition of J S Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring – Gareth also deserved applause for his bridal march piece on the horn, and indeed, everyone who gave readings or otherwise took part did their very best. Good stuff.

The reception, at the Old Mill, was very enjoyable and the late night disco was fun too. I enjoyed seeing Emma, Yang, Michael, Helen, Gareth, Kat, Kate, Gman, Dave, Jon and many many other friends and family that I have not seen in quite some time – and we took the opportunity today (Sunday) after the celebrations had ended to vow that we will do something together as a family next summer, hopefully hiring a narrowboat. Last night was special in another way for me because of one of the guests who came along – an unrequited love (and it always will be, I do know that), but I was still glad for the company, even if that’s all it was. In part, this is because the aftermath of a wedding can be very distressing for me, since I’m reminded of my own situation – but I’m still very happy for this particular couple and hope their honeymoon goes well (although I really don’t want to know about certain bits of it…). Joe is a very welcome new member of our family and now offically becomes my brother-in-law. Welcome, brother! :-)


P.S. My Nikon Coolpix 3100 decided to self-destruct its LCD drivers before the wedding ceremony (though it still did actually take photos as it would later transpire). Thanks guys – I’ve ordered a replacement from Internet Cameras Direct and made a complaint with the aforementioned camera company – though my replacement is still from the same manufacturer, since it’s one of the only good brands that takes AA batteries.

TV Licensing

Friday, June 10th, 2005

In this great green and pleasant land of ours, we have some utterly rediculously outdated legislation covering mundane issues of “great national importance”, such as TV Licensing. In this country, it is illegal to watch TV transmissions without paying a license to the evil people at Capita – a commercial company to whom the beurocratic and unfair tactics of money extraction for the ludicrous TV License is outsourced on an anual basis.

One of the arguments for the license is that it pays for the BBC. This is not of much consolation to those who don’t want to watch the BBC, or who would rather pay a supplement to receive this service – or have the government otherwise pay for the service without forcing anyone with electronic apparatus capable of receiving transmissions to pay, just in case they happen to receive a picture. A side effect of this remit is that BBC carries no advertisements on its terrestrial channels in the UK – except of course for Capita (aka the seeminly evil people running TV Licensing themselves). Just like the advert I just saw which prompted me to call up and start an official complaint, and to write this blog entry.

Another argument for the liencense fee is that it pays for the government’s own terrestrial transmission capability – the transmission masts around the country that transmit both the BBC as well as other services too. Except, those of us watching through cable or satellite services don’t require the services of these land masts – in our case completely useless, even as an emergency broadcast medium, because we don’t even have a roof antenna connected to any TV here.

I just saw an advertisement from the wonderfully evil marketeers at TV Licensing, who wanted to remind us that they’ve wasted many more millions of taxpayer’s money (I’ll call it a tax, since that’s what it really is) on a big national database (probably running on some ludicrously expensive and horribly proprietary platform, but we’ll ignore that argument for the moment) which lists which addresses do not have a TV License. The implication behind this advert is that anyone without a TV License must be breaking the law and it serves as a “friendly reminder” that you can call up to get hold of one. I did call up, as I have done in previous years, on this occasion to complain that the advert:

  • Was offensive. It implies that people must have a TV License or they are breaking the law. It is perfectly legal to have a TV that is never tuned in to TV channels (for example to play a video game on some console system – and I believe also if you just watch videos and DVDs) or just to not own one at all. This would be me, if I lived on my own – I don’t need a TV – indeed a number of my friends don’t own TVs and don’t seem to be missing much.
  • Was a commercial advertisement on BBC1 and thus a violation of the BBC charter and wholly inappropriate as an advertisement for a service run by Capita on behalf of their shareholders.

I’ve asked them to call me and explain why it is I should not make an official complaint against that advertisement and have it taken off the air.

TV Licensing annoy me. Greatly. I’ve called in the past to ask them at what point an oscilloscope with suitable modifications becomes a TV under the letter of the pointless law behind the license and have not received an adequate response (because there is no proper response to that point – the license is contradictory in nature and possibly violates some of my European rights too). Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Miller has been campaigning against the license for quite some time – see also the Abolish the TV License website for further information on this worthy fight against the powers that be. I hope he ultimately causes enough awkwardness that a few people are embarassed into doing something.