New Toy

Damn, I seem to be blogging so rarely I might as well not be here.  I guess too much of what I have to say is being said elsewhere, or falling victim to can’t be arsed syndrome.

So a little domestic event.  Today I have taken delivery of a shiny new fridge-freezer, to replace the one bought in 2005 (when I moved from a furnished to an unfurnished apartment) and which has been malfunctioning increasingly badly.  Of late the temperature regulator was completely dead and the pump on full blast 24/7 regardless of settings, so it would ice up within a week of defrosting, and everything was too cold.

[really boring paragraph you probably want to skip] Unusually (for me), I went into Currys in person to order the new one rather than order online.  That’s because it has to fit under a shelf at 144 cm above the floor, and I wanted to see and measure one described as 143cm tall – which is the model I eventually bought.  It fits nicely in the space, and like the old one, is low enough to use the top as my spice rack.  The new one has slightly more fridge and less freezer space than the old one: a 60/40 split rather than 50/50 heightwise.  The biggest drawback in the old one (back when it worked properly) was a shortage of even reasonably high shelf space in the fridge, which would tend to get more than a bit overfilled after a big shop.  Now I’ll have space to stand things up easily, as well as a useful extra shelf in the door.  As for the freezer, I think I can live with a little less space.  The main difference is that the top drawer (of three) is a more a tray, and will do nicely for the wine cooler sleeve, icecubes, and miscellaneous small things.

Seeing the new one in action, I’m struck by two things.  One, it’s blissfully quiet, even compared to a well-behaved older model.  Two, the light inside is seriously cold: clearly a LED.  I guess that’s the march of technology, and makes it not entirely a bad thing I had to replace the old one.

One more observation.  In researching my options for replacing the old one, I saw all refrigeration equipment on sale today is advertised as both CFC-free and HFC-free.  Does that mean the recent treaty on HFCs was just hot air, with the industry having long-since left them behind anyway?

I blame Google

When google comes under attack, I’m usually one of the voices in the peanut gallery defending them.  That’s because most of the attacks on them, particularly the anti-trust stuff involving regulators, is grossly ill-informed and follows an Agenda that seeks to subvert Google’s central purpose of supplying the best possible search results for the person searching.

Now I’m going to attack.  It may be true (as I’ve argued here before) that there’s a certain historic inevitability to the Enclosure of the Commons.  But that doesn’t excuse Google’s crucial role, particularly in the demise of the Usenet commons.

The suicide and resurrection of an online community in which I participate has reminded me of that.  It started on November 3rd, with an an announcement that a set of discussion boards was to close on Nov 17th.  Just two weeks notice: quite a large number of boards and a thriving community. The reason given was problems with old/unmaintainable software (which had indeed left a lot to be desired), but we suspect that the more fundamental reason was that the website (which has, in other areas, a number of paid staff) was losing money.

Why they didn’t try to sell the boards – with community intact – to whomsoever thought they could make a go of it – eludes me.  But that’s now water under the bridge.  And it may be a long-term blessing, if a highest bidder might’ve been under financial pressure themselves and perhaps trashed the site with intrusive levels of advertising.

Of course, discussion turned to ideas for how it might be replaced.  My own preferred option of a decentralised solution – individual blogs with an aggregator to focus the community – was a non-starter on that timescale, even if it could in principle have gained traction in the absence of time pressure.   But someone else had a practical solution: they set up an alternative site at a new domain with well-chosen name, and phpbb driving a replacement set of boards.  They announced it within hours of the closure notice, and rapidly gained traction.  The community has been rapidly migrating to the new site, which now also has tremendous goodwill.  Early days, but it seems we have a level of continuity, albeit with archives about to be relegated to what may be found in dusty attics.

So what has this little tale got to do with Google or Usenet?  Well, the old boards originated in January 1998.  The second half of the ’90s was precisely when lots of websites were making a land-grab for online discussion fora, and a rising non-techie user base would follow the best-advertised route oblivious to inherent limitations like private (often quixotic) control and single points of congestion and failure.  As soon as a community moves from the Usenet commons to the private gardens – walled or otherwise – of a website, it becomes vulnerable to all kinds of things, like a rug being pulled.

Google’s role comes in their own land-grab, and in what they did to Dejanews.  Actually, come to think of it, the first time I ever heard the name Google was in that context: they were a company that had bought Dejanews.  So now the folks who run the fantastic Usenet search engine now also have web search, and … it turns out to be rather good, returning results more-or-less as good as Altavista but without all the clutter and crap that had made Altavista a pain to use.  Nice!

But it turned out to be part of a much more sinister agenda.  Google Groups started life as a WWW gateway to Usenet: all good.  But the waves of new users coming through Google weren’t being told that: they saw web fora, with thriving communities.  If memory serves, it was the whole of Usenet (less some of the wilds of alt.*) that had been hijacked in an audacious land grab.  Old-timers found ourselves fighting a losing battle against the impression that the whole thing was Google’s territory.  Google were far from the only people doing that (and public mailinglists got similar gateways), but they were unique in owning Dejanews.

But Dejanews itself disappeared.  Or rather, became just a tab in an integrated Google search frontend.  Then the tab wasn’t even labelled “news”, which took on the obvious meaning it still has today.  Then the “groups” tab vanished: after all, the content was Google Groups, and that’s just Web content like any other, right?  Over the following decade or so, Usenet content simply vanished, increasingly much of it literally so.

The community mindshare had been grabbed, except for old-timers.  Search had been lost gradually and the community, like a boiling frog, had failed to react to incremental changes and create an alternative.  In the face of such trends, the will to put much effort into other things like newsreader development and combating the rise of spam, also waned.  The land grab has happened, the commons are lost, we live in a world of private gardens.  Worse still, many including the biggest (Facebook) are walled off against us: access is limited to their registered users!  And it’s very largely all Google’s fault.

If I can be arsed I may post a followup to this, proposing a new alternative.  It won’t be Usenet: that ship has sailed.  It will be based on aggregation and syndication of distributed content, under the control of individuals.  Damn, am I fighting the same battle I pooh-poohed Moglen for?

We are ten!

Damn.  I’ve let the tenth anniversary of this blog pass without noticing😦

Still, it was only a couple of weeks ago: it’s still anniversary month.  Readers mug enough to follow the blog can raise a glass of your choice of tipple to celebrate our coming of a certain age.  Cheers!

Funeral

I have today attended my uncle’s funeral.  I’m not entirely clear on the details of his illness (and in any case, it’s not mine to share), but he seems to have gone very rapidly from good health to dead.

Both the service and the meal afterwards were big affairs, with over 100 mourners headed by his immediate family.  The service was Lutheran, and the less said about it, the better.  The meal was more inspiring, in that several people who had known him well had things to say.  I knew some of what they said, but much of it was new to me and showed sides of him I hadn’t really known.  In retrospect, he was the contact I really should have gone to for advice around the end of last century, when I had some of my best ideas but failed to make them into a workable business.

I’m still in Sweden for it, and have been revisiting some of the places and people I first knew when I lived here as a child and in summer holiday (and work) visits through my teens, but have not revisited for many, many years.  One of those people being my aunt, who has featured before in this blog and who chided me for my recent lack of activity here.  That part of my visit has been a huge pleasure, and tomorrow I’m taking time out to enjoy the forest and lake before heading home on Friday.  Sadly the hotel – the only one in town – is a let-down: I think one needs to have transport and stay out-of-town.

RIP Gunnar Magnusson.  The last of his generation of my late mother’s bloodline.

The tail that wags a very big dog

Our new Prime Minister famously said “brexit is brexit”.  The general media responded straight away with “but what is brexit?”.  OK, they’re onto the troubles with it.  No need for me to say anything more.  Right?

Well, something less than half-right.  They’ve grasped the Humpty Dumpty nature of the word “brexit”.  But they’ve failed miserably to follow through and consider the implications.  Dammit!

So what’s the problem?  Brexit is a coalition of differing views, ranging from on the one hand some who see it as an opportunity for more trade and more immigration (like Tim Martin, who had “vote leave” messages printed on beer mats at Weatherspoons, a chain of about 1000 pubs, predominantly big ones in city locations), right through to outright racists and xenophobes who won’t be satisfied until their streets are purged of anyone speaking foreign.  Plus of course a general protest vote.  No outcome is going to satisfy all the brexit voters.  Indeed, it seems unlikely even to satisfy a majority.

So now a majority – the 52% – have a sense of victory and entitlement to their agenda.  Among them, the outright racists have been making the most noise: within 24 hours of the result they’d screamed “traitor” at Boris (who had been so bold as to hint that brexit didn’t necessarily mean closing the doors to all immigration), and even at Farage.  There were also posts in public fora prophesying blood in the streets if any doors remained open.  How things have changed since Enoch Powell!

That’s an agenda claiming – and believing they have – a 52% electoral mandate, yet not really representing even the whole of the BNP/UKIP.  Give them their isolationism and we can rapidly slip back to poverty, and with less food or energy security than even in the 1970s.  Deny it to them and it seems most unlikely they’ll shut up.

Even the Tory party’s internal troubles, which the referendum was intended to deal with (hence the gerrymandering in favour of Out), seem unlikely to go away.  Mrs May is making a valiant attempt by putting brexit leaders in charge, but some of the backbenchers will surely be back on the warpath as soon as there’s any whiff of compromise in the air.

Thought experiment.  UK general elections give us a choice of several parties and candidates to vote for.  A party that gets 40% of votes cast becomes a clear winner.  If we voted 48% for the status quo (Tories) and 52% for all other parties, that would give the Tories the biggest landslide victory of any party in our history. And that’s how the referendum campaign was conducted: on the “in” side a lacklustre status quo, on the “out” side a coalition of different agendas each with utopian promises they had no expectation of having to deliver.

Well, we voted 52% for the array of promises that were “not the status quo”, and could be handing that 52% not to the mainstream opposition (Labour, or perhaps the SNP – the opposition party with a real mandate in its home turf) but to a loony-fringe party that happens to shout loudest.

And perhaps the worst of it?  Whereas Tim Farron (libdem leader) promised to make it an election issue for positive reasons, Labour hopeful Owen Smith is doing exactly the wrong thing jumping onto that bandwagon with an entirely negative and condescending “you got it wrong” message.  Cameron already alienated enough people to tip the balance, and Smith is consolidating that alienation.  I hope Corbyn firmly beats him.

Lessons not learned

The Chilcot report is due tomorrow.  I don’t expect to read it, so like most of us I’ll hear what the media see fit to report from it.

They’ve already been telling us it’s likely to disappoint anyone expecting it to blame The Liar.   That would fall outside its terms of reference, so any finger pointed at him is likely to be of a secondary and probably tangential nature.  There’s also a suggestion floating around that the current Labour leadership crisis has something to do with it: the Party wanted a more compliant (interim) leader than Corbyn in place to respond to Chilcot.

With the passage of time and the principal warmongers no longer in post, this probably means there’ll be little appetite for further investigation, and The Liar will be off the hook, facing no more than criticism at a level he’s well-equipped to brush off.  A dismal contrast to the vigorous pursuit of much lower-level perpetrators of Bad Things in pre-1945 Germany, up to 70 years on from their crimes.

This may be a lot more than a mere injustice.  We’ve not merely made a horrendous mess of Iraq, but also destabilised the region, pretending all the while that we were the Good Guys.  No wonder there’s the hatred and despair that’s led to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant!  A token of contrition and act of justice – like putting The Liar on trial – might be the last opportunity in a generation to defuse that justified resentment and make a start on winning back “hearts and minds”, so that the Islamic State is not succeeded by something yet more brutal arising out of the same sense of grievance and monstrous injustice.

Summer Concert

We have a summer concert coming up next Sunday (July 3rd) at the Guildhall, Plymouth.

This is a predominantly lightweight programme of modern music: some short pieces and two medium-length works.  As we started rehearsing, I thought that a set of madrigals, or even Beatles arrangements, would fit the programme nicely, though neither is included.

The two more substantial works are Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and Rutter’s Feel the Spirit.  I can recommend both these works as well worth coming to hear.

Lauridsen is new to me.  My first reaction to the score of Lux Aeterna was, nice to do once, but nothing to write home about.  If theme and variations is a classical form, this could be kind-of described as chord and variations.  Since then it’s been growing on me: this is an interesting work (and I hope it’ll be wonderful to listen to), and some of what I first thought weaknesses actually do work and make sense as effects.  The text is Latin and religious, the orchestration sparing, the setting contemplative, and it comes as no surprise to find Lauridsen is contemporary with Tavener and Pärt.  The music also hints at older choral traditions, from plainchant to (possibly) eastern orthodox, though I’m not really competent to judge such things.

The Rutter is a set of seven well-known negro spirituals.  Like Tippett’s settings, these are for classical forces.  But compared to Tippett this is lighter, more playful.  Glorious tunes and lots of fun, and full of characteristic Rutter syncopations and cheeky modulations.  You’ll be whistling those tunes as you go home, but they’ll catch you out!

The Devil always cheats

Once upon a long time ago, my dad told me about selling one’s soul to the devil.  I think it must’ve been in connection with (a childrens version of) the Faust story, but the suggestion was that there were quite a few such instances.

The Devil would always cheat on his side of the bargain.  The archetypal lawyer, he’d find loopholes in a literal interpretation of the text, and catch you out on them.  You of course don’t stand a chance – unless perhaps you’re Goethe’s very metaphysical Faust, or maybe a modern sendup.

Today it seems Boris is caught.  The charismatic, populist toff has all the attributes of a diabolical bargain, and in spades.  Indeed, altogether more so even than Trump, from whose wildly successful campaigning style Boris has clearly taken inspiration.

The master plan was obviously a Boys Own scenario: come to power at the nadir of the the worst crisis since the 1970s (perhaps even the 1940s, at least in his dreams) and turn the country around.  But that needed a scapegoat, to take the impossible (but eminently blameable) decisions that will now lead us to that low point.  Cameron’s resignation today came too early for the master plan: he’s not going to be that scapegoat.  So now it seems Boris has to take over too early and take that blame, or else chicken out at this obvious moment.

Whoops!

Oh, and though it’s not really the same story, I can’t resist a picture:

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Celebrity and Punishment

I have long detested Sir Cliff Richard as a purveyor of inane muzak that gets inflicted on us in public places.  Today I loathe his noise no less, but I also applaud him for biting back at the Witchfinder and the system that’s been persecuting him for the past two years or so and dropped the case just a few days ago.

Who’da thunk that being dragged through a criminal investigation could be as stressful and damaging to the victim as his eventual sentence if convicted (if not more so)?  If Sir Cliff can highlight to the world the bitter hollowness of the whole pretence that an innocent man has nothing to fear from the system, I might almost forgive the noise – at least until it next gets inflicted on me.

Ironic that he should contemplate doing so through the very “justice” system that had been pursuing him.  But I guess when you’re as rich as Sir Cliff you can take your cue from Sir Leicester Dedlock: just sit back and let the sharks play.

Death to Traitors, freedom for Britain

It’s not exactly catchy, is it?  But then, the Breivik-wannabe[1] who murdered an MP and wounded a bystander had already shouted “Britain First”, only to be disowned and his act unreservedly condemned by the fringe political group of that name.  He seems to be politically-motivated yet to have (thankfully) no hint of political support.

I hadn’t heard of the victim Jo Cox before her death.  But I have to confess, I find the tributes to her unexpectedly convincing, and the sister’s speech today was lovely.  My inner cynic has nothing to say.

What a shame that’s the background to someone who appears to be doing a fine job of highlighting some of the absurdities of our judicial system with the full attention of the media.  There’s plenty of scope to disappoint, but to have stood up in court today and given his name as “Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain” is a good start.  Strangely everyone concerned refers to him by a less-unlikely name, which kind-of highlights the absurdity of the court’s question.  After all, a defendant on a charge involving identity theft might easily tell a convincing lie.

Apart from giving us a welcome respite from referendum nonsense, this has raised the question of shielding MPs from the people.  The odious Luciana Berger, from the totalitarian wing of the Labour party, wants to make it an excuse to hide behind red tape and screen out unwanted members if the public.  I hope that level of contempt for her electorate puts her in a minority as small as the assassin’s: I certainly can’t see those who (like Jo Cox) actually care about people going down that kind of route.

I shall also be mildly interested to see how the courts treat this case in comparison to another recent politically-motivated killing.  If the killers of a military target, having gone to some lengths to make it clear that civilian bystanders had nothing to fear, could be given an (exceptional) absolute maximum punishment, there is no scope left to punish proportionally the murder of a civilian and serious wounding of a third party.  Will we see a shameful double standard of any lesser punishment for the greater crime?

[1] Or does he see himself as Gavrilo Princip or Yigal Amir, the assassins whose deeds unleashed war on the world?