Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

If you're in Australia :-)

I think my new year's resolution will be to get some wedding photos on line!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About that wedding...

Here's a quick link, for those of you who need the information :-)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Does Ryanair offer zero transaction charges with Visa Electron because nobody uses it?

Does Ryanair offer zero transaction charges with Visa Electron because nobody carries the card, and they can then charge everyone else loads more money to fly, while pretending that their flights are nearly a fiver cheaper than they really are?

Just wondering...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Explosions in Colombo

We heard distant explosions or gunfire about an hour or so ago, followed a few minutes later by a power cut. People near the oil refinery report explosions there, and Reuters reports that a Tamil Tiger plane bombed the refinery. Lanka Business Online reports a fire in a power station.

Power has been restored. Nothing on local TV yet. We're some distance from the explosions - everyone here's fine.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Clearly what we really need is more anthems. And flags.

I missed this story when it came out the other week, but it seems that the EU has now officially recognised its flag, anthem and motto. Apart from the motto, which hardly anyone knows, and fewer people care about, wasn't this supposed to be one of the key differences between the failed EU constitutional treaty, and the new (and temporarily failed) not-quite-so-constitutional treaty? That there was no anthem or flag, so it couldn't possibly be a superstate in the making?

Let's hear it for free internet access

Thanks to the enlightened airport planners of Doha who have allowed free internet access for transit passengers. Hopefully the machines don't have too many keyloggers installed - I just got a pop up saying a popular anti-virus package was deactivated!

At least it means I can catch up with my email - even if I have to change all my passwords when I arrive.

Off to Colombo next. Hi Maithrie, if you're reading this. See you soon :-)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shameful hypocrisy of Royal Society

Last week at the British Association's science festival Rev Professor Michael Reiss said that creation should not be ignored if it come up in class. Prof Reiss, who is director of education at the Royal Society, said that since a substantial number of pupils have concerns about the issue they are likely to "detach from" science if their concerns are not addressed. Creation should not be taught as such, he said, but if it comes up, teachers should be encouraged to at least make sure that they see that the word "theory" does not simply mean a hypothesis about the way things might work, but a rigorously supported system of ideas that fit with the available evidence.

[Independent article: Steve Connor, Science Editor] 
[Independent article: Archie Bland]

The Times misrepresented him as saying that Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view.

A predictable knee-jerk storm of outrage arose from a group of anti-creationist scientists, who called for him to be sacked.

Yesterday the Royal Society said that some of his comments had been "open to misinterpretation", and that this had damaged the Society's reputation. 
"As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the society, he will step down immediately as director of education"
This is crazy! Any comment is "open to misinterpretation", especially if it is completely misrepresented in the press. That's no reason for sacking someone.

And the thing that really damages the Royal Society's reputation is their hypocrisy. After sacking him, they basically reiterated what he had said all along:
"However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."
The chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science said that the Royal Society should have supported him and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate.
"I was at the actual discussion, and what I heard him say, however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society."
The final irony in this craven capitulation to rumour and falsehood is revealed on the Royal Society's own website. The Society's motto is "Nullius in verba". In their own words:
"Take nobody's word for it", dates back to 1663, and is an expression of the determination of the Fellows to withstand the domination of authority... and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.
A bad day for the Royal Society, and a bad day for science and education.
[Prof Reiss' image - from]
[Coat of arms from wikipedia, licensed under GFDL]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My msn keeps stoping

That's what they keep telling me. If you use MSN at all you may have seen messages like this (usually exactly like this):

<girl's name> says:
Hey Paul .....
This is <other girl's name>. My msn keeps stoping (sic) but would like to chat.
I am always online here
<completely different name>
They probably want me to visit their site with a buggy version of Internet Explorer so they can sell me viagra or automatically install some hacking malware on my computer to steal my credit card numbers and passwords, or make my PC part of their network of MSN-spamming zombies.

Who replies to these things, or visits their websites?

What are MSN doing about the problem?

And when will we see draconian and effective laws (and effective policing) to stop or punish this behaviour. It's not just a technical problem - and it's time the law caught up.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Magical Mystery Tour

I was in good time, for once, on the way home from Greenbelt. In spite of the Cheltenham Supreme Soviet's hatred of railway station signs (do they think it lowers the tone or something?) we found the station much more easily than last year. I got the train, with time to spare, and even found a power socket to recharge my mobile and N800. I should have known it was too good to last.

Unfortunately the train stopped. The train in front was "affected by an incident" we were told, eventually.

I passed the time by comparing Reading Festival to Greenbelt with a fellow festival-attending passenger. We had better food, it seems, and less rampaging through the site. Reading had Metallica - so arguably Greenbelt won on that count too. Reading had better wristbands though, and the Salvation Army with cheap soup for the revellers!

The track was closed, so we went backwards instead. An extra 50 minutes would be added to the journey. Stations with strange and obscure names rolled past - sometimes more than once. Time passed. If I'd had GPS I might have known where some of the places were.

I had to ring the airline to change my flights, skilfully avoiding their premium rate £1-per-minute "some mobile networks may change more" booking line. You'd think a £25 - £30 fee for changing a booking would be quite enough - but apparently not!

Several hours and a few sandwiches later I was at home, and it was time to catch up on wedding arrangements. It's harder than you think folks! Much much harder. Maybe we should Just Do It, and tell everyone later. But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hippyfest 2008

It's back to Greenbelt: good food, good music, good talks, interesting music, interesting talks, music, talks, and many worship alternatives. I'm afraid i missed the mesiaen recital. And the disabled buddhist basketweavers against Israeli occupation.

This morning we found out that the tent site was not as level as Peter has thought, so i'm drying out my passport and chequebook!

I've found a free charging point - not in range of the wifi this year, alas.

And I'm getting hungry.

When the improvisation band, with their bike wheels and cardboard tubes have gone, I may go hunting for pancakes and coffee...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Money money money, must be funny, in the rich man's EU!

In a website with the ironic label "fewer barriers, more opportunities", the EU Commission announce commissioner Charlie McCreevy's cunning plan to protect aging rockstars from having to work or save for their retirement. They propose to extend copyright on music recordings by another 45 years. The barriers are for consumers, it seems, and opportunities are for the music industry.

Apparently it is unfair that 70-year-old musicians won't be paid for work they did at age 20. Shockingly, if they want to get paid in their eighties, they currently need to have worked right into their thirties! This is clearly intolerable.

That's why the EU Commission wants the work they did at age 30 to make them money until they are... lets see... 30 plus 50... plus 45... that's until they are 125.

OK. Time for a reality check. Clearly this is not really about welfare for the over-120s!

A clue to the real reason is buried in the EU Commission's rather self-serving FAQ:

Will record producers also benefit from this copyright extension?
Yes. With the copyright term extended, record producers will receive additional revenue from the sale of records in shops and on the Internet.
So there you have it. Lobbying pays. If only the rest of us could get paid in retirement for work we did in our 20s and 30s.

Maybe that's the solution for the pensions crisis?

Read more over at Ars Technica, and (for the EU party line) on the EU Commission website.

Friday, June 27, 2008

ICANN loses marbles

ICANN, the body set up by the US government to oversee the Internet, has gone mad. They've spotted another chance to "Make Money Fast!"as the phrase goes, and are jumping in with both feet.

We're used to top level domain names like ".com" and ".net", and the two-letter country ones like ".uk" and ".ca" for the UK and Canada, or ".cn" and ".ru" for China and Russia. These are based on an international standard list of country codes.

Now they have decided to allow anyone to pick their own top level name. Well, anyone with a "six figure sum" to spare. The result will be confusion, and perhaps a little chaos. You won't know whether hello.html is a file on your own machine, or a new-style website belonging to... anyone.

They are also rushing to develop plans to allow internationalised (as in non-latin alphabet) names. So if a spammer can't get, they can register a domain name with a russian S (which looks like a C... but isn't one) instead of a "normal C". It will look the same to casual victims, but will belong to the hackers instead.

Maybe they'll come up with a way to stop that. Maybe it won't depend on corrupt or lazy domain name resellers for its success. Or maybe hackers will all repent. We'll find out next year, when the details arrive.


At least they are restricting spammers' ability to register all their millions of variations on "" for free. Perhaps if they concentrated on issues like that, instead of new ways to squeeze money from the rest of the world, we'd be better off.

Got to go. I need to think of a way to make 6 figures out of my new top level domain ".is-a-moron". Can I charge people what I like to register names with me?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Get visas fast!

It may have been as quick as I've ever seen a government department move (privatised agency or not). In less than a week, Maithrie got her visa. Prayer, perhaps? It's not yet clear whether Dr Dido or Dr Aristophanes will be joining her.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Unashamedly white and unapologetically Christian?

It's been bothering me since I read about the issue [on BBC News] a week ago, and I thought I'd mention it here.

Would it ever be OK for a church to describe itself as: "Unashamedly white and unapologetically Christian"? Or is that a denial of the fundamental truth that there is no race or sex or colour in the Kingdom of Heaven?

It's just that Barak Obama's old church refers to itself as "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian". They'll even sell you the slogan on a T Shirt. It's not only the order that these come in - colour first, faith afterwards - that bothers me. It's the contrast between a God who accepts all who turn to him, regardless of colour, and our own human tribal tendencies - expressed in a church that presumably tries to follow God's teaching.

Sure that church may not be in the most racially mixed of areas. Indeed, the congregation may be entirely black. As a church they may have to live out Christ's teaching by opposing racism and injustice in today's society. And, as individuals, they may well be proud to be black (or, perhaps, "African American"). But to advertise in the church's slogan that you are not a place of worship for Native Americans, Latin Americans, Asians, Arabs, Hebrews or white people? Can that be right?

It's wrong when parts of the Christian church in India segregate themselves by Caste. And it was wrong when the church in South Africa allowed itself to be co-opted by the Apartheid state. Churches anywhere which refuse to include people based on race, nationality, or the colour of their skin are ignoring the basic truth about human beings' relationships with Almighty God. We are all in the same situation!

As it says in Galations 3 v 28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."

Not the least of the ironies of this unrelenting blackness is that it would seem to exclude Christ himself. And that can't be right!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sleepwalking further into a surveillance society

As if Gordon Brown hasn't enough disasters on his hands, the government are working on another one, the Times reports: Big Brother wants complete records of everyone you phone, all your emails, everyone you talk to on the internet - in fact details of every time you go on the Internet - and it wants them in a big, central database that it (for want of a better word) controls.

Unfortunately, given the government's record with data, it's questionable how long they'll be able to go without losing it in the post (like records of UK children and parents' banking details), or handing it out to visitors to their websites (like with the automated visa application site).

This is supposed to be about implementing a (rather intrusive) EU directive about the information that is gathered about us, and how long it's kept - but the government seem to be taking the opportunity to do some extra snooping and forcing the Internet and Phone companies to hand their records over to a new and completely unnecessary database, or "target for hackers".

When the proposals emerge, it'll be worth seeing if there are any real limits on who can get the data, and how good an excuse they need. Given previous plans to allow district councils and the food standards agency to raid your phone records on demand, I'm not holding my breath.

Assistant Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford, called it a step too far. "We are not aware of any justification for the State to hold every UK citizen's phone and internet records", he added. "We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Holding large collections of data is always risky - the more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen."


Let your MP know what you think through write to them (it's very cool - go see!)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Once more, without feeling

BMI did it again. I arrived in Belfast, but my luggage didn't. Fortunately it caught up with me a few hours later. And maybe it was SL Airlines' fault instead. Or Heathrow (though I don't think they can still blame terminal 5). I think I'm getting used to it by now.

At least it gave me an excuse to catch some sleep before driving off to my niece's first birthday party.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

mirages of luggage

I thought that avoiding Heathrow terminal 5 and BA would be enough, but it seems my business travel is true to form.

today i'm in Cairo, and my luggage is... who knows where.

After I get to the front of the queue I'l find out where my stuff is. But then I'm off to meet some colleagues - and there is apparently a mall under their hotel.

here goes... apparently my bag is still in heathrow.

bye for now...

Saturday, March 22, 2008


You know a language has arrived when the Bible is translated into it!

Psalm 23:

1 Ceiling Cat iz mai sheprd (which is funni if u knowz teh joek about herdin catz LOL.)

He givz me evrithin I need.

2 He letz me sleeps in teh sunni spot
an haz liek nice waterz r ovar thar.

3 He makez mai soul happi
an maeks sure I go teh riet wai for him. Liek thru teh cat flap insted of out teh opin windo LOL.

4 I iz in teh valli of dogz, fearin no pooch,
bcz Ceiling Cat iz besied me rubbin' mah ears, an it maek me so kumfy.

5 He letz me sit at teh taebl evn when peepl who duzint liek me iz watchn.
He givz me a flea baff an so much gooshy fud it runz out of mai bowl LOL.

6 Niec things an luck wil chase me evrydai
an I wil liv in teh Ceiling Cats houz forevr.

There is a serious debate about contextualisation and cultural effects in translation, but mostly it's just funny. And one up on Ulster Scots.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Record companies on the dole

The UK Government has just proposed [BBC] creating a special benefit for the increasingly desperate recording and film industries - and it's going to be funded by increasing what you pay for the Internet!

Here's how it works. All UK Internet Service Providers will have to police their networks (read, snoop on your internet traffic) for signs that someone, somewhere may be downloading music. If they find music files, they'll have to check who "owns" them. That's who owns the publishing rights, not who wrote it, or even who bought it. And if they think you're naughtily downloading some music that someone else owns (even if you've bought it yourself, and just want to listen to it on the move), they have to warn you, and then cut off your internet access.

This won't come free - so the cost will be passed on to you, the customer.

If it's not you copying the files -- say it's your kids, your neighbours accidentally or otherwise using your wireless network, or someone visiting your home -- then you may still be disconnected. And if your job depends on internet access, then you're stuffed!

Even if we're just talking about access to information, the consequences are disproportionate to the so-called crime. It's like banning someone from listening to the radio because they taped a song that was playing!

On the other hand, if there is someone you don't like, you could download a couple of Britney Spears' latest masterpieces through their wireless connection, and get them cut off. Or Cliff "50 year's royalties are not enough" Richards' music, and add public humiliation to the mix.

A few points leap to mind:

  • The threat is hugely exaggerated - if these music executives think that everyone who copies a tune to see what it sounds like was going to buy it anyway, they are sadly deluded.

  • If they think that exposing more people to their music is always bad for sales, they are misled. Before MP3s, student copying of cassettes (reduced quality versions of the originals, just like MP3s) was rampant, and music somehow refused to die, the sky did not fall down, and records were still sold.

  • If they pretend that the most important threat is people downloading the odd tune informally, rather than industrial-scale piracy, they are lying.

  • If they think that you and I should pay to keep their "intellectual property" safe, they are being just a little greedy and selfish. Shocking thought, I know!

  • In fact, they probably think it's bad enough that they have to pay to get these new unfair laws passed, and are trying to work out how to get you to cover their lobbying expenses!

  • If they are so worried about the interests of the poor starving artists, why are they still deducting huge amounts for breakages - of CDs, I mean to say (!!!!) before paying any of them their royalties?

  • And maybe it's not piracy that's the problem. Could sales possibly be falling because of poor quality music, reduced catalogues, or increased competition from other media or even the Internet itself?
This initiative should be resisted, firmly.

It is disproportionate.

It demands too much snooping.

The wrong people are paying for it.

And it's unnecessary.

Just say no - and mention it to your MP, especially if you're in the part of the country where New Labour are brave enough to face the voters.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Did I say warmer?

Colombo is certainly warmer than Belfast. There are other differences as well. Yesterday I realised that driving lessons too are not the same - though given the traffic, that's not so surprising.

The appointed time was 1.30 so, naturally enough, when we arrived we were told that our instructor would not be there until 2pm. At least Maithrie was told (What do you think, Paul). We sat in the office, immersed in the sounds and smells of the street.
Unimpeded by door, wall or window, the sensations wafted (or blasted) from the road, across the rough ground in front, and straight into the room.

A minibus drew up across the road, and four of us stood up. "An interesting lesson this will be," I thought, as we weaved our way through the streaming traffic, towards the vehicle.

With seven of us wedged into the back, the minibus started slowly, unsteadily. For at least one of us the lesson had begun. As we weaved slowly through cars, buses and trishaws, parked, whizzing madly, or unexpectedly and randomly stopped, Maithrie and I realised we were heading right back where we had started from. Where we had caught that trishaw, rushing for our mythical deadline.

We meandered slowly onwards, yet backwards, the instructor gently nudging the wheel when the student's shaky course seemed desperately attracted to sudden death by bus or lorry, or to instant carnage for pedestrian, cow or passengers, or by a horrid fascination with the trenches that ran, hungry and inviting, along the roadside. Maithrie too had her turn in the fateful seat, reversing and threading ever closer to where we had started.

One hour later, and further than ever from our destination, we dismounted and ran for a bus. It stopped, half off the road, half in traffic, and we searched for a seat by a working wondow. It's good to breathe and watch as death and mayhem lurch slowly by!

Friday, January 04, 2008

When life gives you snow, make snowmen

At least that's what they were doing when I got home last night.

It's quite an impressive snowman, isn't it? Putting the head on must have been quite a job.

Now I think I'll go somewhere warm.

It's not normally like this

A slight change in the weather, and suddenly cars were moving slowly sideways at traffic lights, and sliding down hills. We're not used to this sort of thing.

Finally it looks Christmassy. Some of my neighbours were even building a huge snowman last night.