Category Archives: rants

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.

Public wifi menace

A couple of days ago, I was looking up a bus timetable from my ‘phone.  All perfectly mundane.

The address I thought I wanted failed: I don’t have it bookmarked and I’ve probably misremembered.  So I googled.

Google failed too.  With a message about an invalid certificate.  WTF?  Google annoyingly[1] use https, and I got a message about an invalid certificate.    Who is sitting in the middle?  Surely they can’t really be eavesdropping: with browsers issuing strong warnings, they’re never going to catch anything sensitive.  Must be just a hopelessly misconfigured network.

I don’t care if someone watches as I look up a bus time, I just want to get on with it!  But it’s not obvious with android how I can override that warning and access google.  Or even an imposter: if they don’t give me the link I wanted from google, nothing lost!

So has my mobile network screwed up horribly?  Cursing at the hassle, I go into settings and see it’s picked up a wifi network.  BT’s public stuff: OpenZone, or something like that (from memory).  This is BT, or someone on their network, playing sillybuggers.  Just turn wifi off and all works well again as the phone reverts to my network.

Except, now I have to remember to re-enable wifi before doing anything a bit data-intensive, like letting the ‘phone update itself, or joining a video conference.  All too easy to forget.

Hmm, come to think of it, that broken network is probably also what got between me and the bus timetable in the first place.  That wasn’t https.

[1] There are good reasons to encrypt, but search is rarely one of them.  Good that google enables it (at least if you trust google more than $random-shady-bod), but it’s a pain that they enforce it.

Je suis Voltaire

David Cameron

You disgusting hypocrite

It should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: I join the rest of the world in condemning the terrorist attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

I’m not familiar with the publication, and all I know is what’s been reported in the media coverage of the attack.  I’m sure they’ve published offensive things, no doubt often for very good reasons.  Maybe sometimes also gratuitously so, which would be indefensible unless with an apology for poor judgement.  But even if they were completely wrong, nothing justifies gunning them down!

Here in Blighty we were treated to a clip of our beloved Prime Minister expressing sentiments with which we can all agree.  Alas, some of his fine words sit uneasily with his government’s less-than-fine actions.  What I found utterly jarring and what prompts me to comment were his words: “… and we stand squarely for free speech …“.

Ahem …

No you don’t: you have demonstrated that you stand squarely against free speech.  On your government’s watch, people have been imprisoned for having the wrong book, or for being an arse on twitter (the latter looks like a close analogy to the very Free Speech you claim to defend).  Your government shows no signs of rolling back Blair’s police state, but rather looks to extend it, and our culture has moved so far into totalitarianism that a supposedly-serious documentary programme this week on the BBC can be outraged by free speech where it exists elsewhere in the world!

OK, dragging some poor sod through our courts isn’t the same as gunning them down.  That more genteel and sophisticated option isn’t available to private individuals, so while the difference is real, it isn’t a simple case of civilisation vs barbarity.

What a hypocrite!

p.s. There’s another case been in the news recently.  Some footballer who’s been to prison, and whose attempts to return to work have been thwarted by a successful campaign of terror.  That is, real terror: it seems prospective employers have been scared off by credible threats of extreme violence.  Now that situation (of credible threats) is precisely where the State should have a legitimate interest in taking action against the culprit(s).  Will they?

They could have told us!

A report into the killing of a soldier outside his barracks points the finger of blame at an unnamed foreign Internet company, where one of the killers had apparently made comments about wanting to kill a British soldier.  The BBC tells us it’s Facebook, so let’s go with that, though really the identity of the company in question is neither here nor there.

The implication that Facebook should have told the security services and are to blame for not doing so is just too bizarre to be credible.  The authorities would of course be deluged with millions of notifications every day of threats of violence from whatever automatic tools might analyse Facebook posts, and of course spammers have proved (if proof were ever needed) that all such tools have a significant failure rate.  Of course 100.00% (to the nearest 0.01%) of those threats could be dismissed as completely non-serious given a bit of context, but digging up that context would be far from straightforward, even given all of today’s state-of-the-art Big Data and NLP tools and a layer of sci-fi on top.

Wouldn’t it be good to kill a politician by burning at the stake?  Now, WordPress, you’d better report my death threat to the spooks.  What, you mean you don’t read my every post?  How remiss!  Perhaps Google might also get blamed for failing to report it.  At least this one should be easy to analyse: it doesn’t need cross-referencing to any wider discussion to get the context!

So what’s it really about?  The report coincides with another Orwellian surveillance bill[1] coming from the government.  Or rather, as the report’s authors point out, the 1984 bill coincides with the long-scheduled publication of the report.  Yes, how jolly convenient.  Dammit, have I admitted yet in this blog how comprehensively wrong I was when I thought the current government would roll back some of Blair’s police state, or even just halt the advance of it?

But I’m uneasy about even that explanation.  This particular finger of blame is just too absurd to stick.  The meeja, of all political persuasions, will surely tear it to shreds once someone gives it a moment’s thought (the techie media already have).  The government’s case based on this – if such it be – is surely too weak to be credible even with supporters of a surveillance state.  How could anyone suppose otherwise?

So what’s really afoot?  What are we being distracted from?  I fear I don’t know that.  I may have missed some clues whilst at ApacheCon.  I may pick up some clues as this plays out.  Hopefully at least someone in the mainstream meeja will take an interest and not be too intimidated by Leveson.  Or maybe it really is nothing, and they just misinterpreted whatever they may have known or expected of the report?  Or maybe the reports to date are just misleading?

On the subject of this soldier’s killing, it’s not just Orwellian surveillance at issue.  We also have a heavy dose of Orwellian Newspeak, with two words being corrupted: terrorist and murder.

Terrorist?  Back in the days of the IRA, that word implied a threat to innocent civilians.  Yet the killers in this case went to great lengths to make it clear that they were absolutely no threat to civilians, including those who looked on in horror and went to the aid of the dying soldier.  If the IRA had committed no worse atrocity than that, they might just have enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – widespread support amongst their community and respect outside it.  An act of War, but not of Terror.

And murder?  That’s at least supportable, but if killing a soldier is murder then it’s not just many of “our” soldiers who are murderers, it’s also those heroic but now very old men who defeated Hitler back in an era when we stood for Freedom.  The right word for the crime – executed with precision against the arm of the State – is surely Treason.

[1] Lest it be thought mine is a knee-jerk libertarian reaction, let me add that I think it entirely plausible that there is a valid case for updating police powers, of which the Home Secretary and her department obviously know far more than I ever will.  And the current bill isn’t really about surveillance so much as Blaming Facebook or the above post might suggest.  It’s just that the coincidence with the “Blame Facebook” report suggests it might be yet more sinister when it claims to be too weak on the subject of Internet surveillance!

Sexist flagbearers hypocrisy revealed

This evening, the BBC broadcast the results of a short story prize.  I heard some of the stories as they broadcast them last week, and they were indeed good.  I missed the broadcast of the winning story, but I daresay it was well-deserving of its award.

Being the BBC, they didn’t just broadcast the stories and the award ceremony.  They also broadcast a lot of discussion: of the award, the shortlisted candidates, the stories, of the short story form, of what works well with the form, authors and critics anecdotes, etc.

Never once in all that discussion did anyone remark on the fact that it was an all-female shortlist.  Why should they?  There’s nothing remarkable about it: it’s entirely reasonable (and in the long term statistically inevitable) that a fair and impartial shortlist should, from time to time, be all female.

— However —

This is the same BBC who, a couple of years ago, found itself with an all-male shortlist for another award.  I don’t recollect the award itself, just the huge fuss they made of the absence of women on the shortlist.  This is a huge misogynistic scandal, unacceptable sexism.  How was this allowed to happen?  Do heads need to roll?  This must never be allowed to happen again!

Googling suggests the award in question was probably their “sports personality of the year” (for 2011), which would explain why I had no interest in the award itself and heard only the fuss.  The mindless, blatantly sexist fuss, that is now revealed in the full glory of its hypocrisy by the contrast with today’s very civilised short story award.

A tea party in Boston and Skegness

A junior minister quits the government.

He takes a job in London while his family live elsewhere: what does he expect?  Did he not realise the job was in London?  OK, lots of people have to do that kind of thing, but in his case there’s a real difference: as a member of the legislature, his job is supposed to be about improving the way things work.  He could see the problem, he suffered from it himself: did he never think to DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT?  At least, use his position as a platform from which to campaign, even if he can’t persuade the government to do anything.

As reported, he seems to be saying that being an MP is incompatible with his family life.  WRONG: being an MP is just incompatible with NOT being a Londoner.  If you’re not a native Londoner, you become a adoptive one by taking the effing job.

That’s why those of us out in the sticks are constitutionally excluded from representation in parliament.  There can’t be many who are such complete idiots as to stand for parliament without wanting to live in London, or at the very least being indifferent to it.  This man with family in Lincolnshire probably represents the place better than anyone qualified to be an MP.  Or would have done, if only he hadn’t so totally wasted his opportunity to put our democratic deficitvoid onto the political agenda.

What a total idiot!

Cut off again

For some time now, my ‘net connection has been up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers.  But for a succession of feeble reasons, I didn’t get around to doing anything about it until today.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  First time it happened I thought it could be a repeat of a recent nationwide cockup, and configured DNS to bypass Virgin.  But subsequent outages showed that it wasn’t DNS, it was overall connectivity that was disappearing, sometimes for hours at a time.  So although I did something, it wasn’t actually relevant to the problem.

I think last night was typical.  Connectivity vanished at about 10pm, returning at 12:26[1] for a tantalising 4 minutes before disappearing for another hour.  Bedtime obscures the record of what may have happened overnight, but in the morning it vanished again at 9:21[1].  It showed no sign of coming back anytime soon, so I finally got around to trying to contact Virgin and ask WTF is going on.

Easier said than done.  For some reason I don’t understand, my connection sharing app (joikuspot on symbian) was unable to acquire a connection either last night or this morning.  So I had just a hopelessly slow 3g connection and a 3-inch screen to try and wade through Virgin’s notoriously crap-filled website and make contact.  And since my home ‘phone uses VOIP, I had only the mobile on which to try and call them.  In other words, everything I do is challenging and very slow, and any ‘phone call going through endless menus and adverts has the add annoyance of mobile costs.

Anyway, I made it to Virgin’s status page, which told me my broadband was just fine – though there might be problems with cable telly.  Then I made it through various help/support options to run a test on my line.  Now it tells me the test was unable to run, and gives me a ‘phone number (hurrah)!

So I ‘phone them.  There’s no option to speak to a human, so I just have to go through lots of menus interspersed with adverts.  These include supplying my details and repeating the same test I’d just run online, which is at least mercifully quicker to fail on voice than on 3g.  After that it told me it was putting me through to an operator.  It didn’t: instead there was another caricature[2] of an advert for the telly and some more menus, before it again told me it was putting me through to an operator.  And finally a denouement so splendidly appropriate to the whole experience I transcribed it verbatim:

Sorry, this number is not in service.

All that call in vain.  No chance of getting through to a human.

OK, back to the 3-inch screen and the crap-filled webpages.  Find another ‘phone number, try it.  Soon converge with a horribly familiar sequence of menus and hang up.

The phone is getting uncomfortably hot to hold (due only in part to it being the hottest day of the year).  I’ve been struggling alone for long enough: time to try and enlist some moral support.  None of the neighbours are around, so I call John, who I expect probably has a decent-sized screen in front of him.  Enlist his help in finding the address of the Virgin shop in central Plymouth, with a view to getting on the bike and demanding to speak to someone who deals with broadband problems.  He also finds – with a lot of difficulty despite a full-size PC screen – another couple of ‘phone numbers.

I try the number for the shop, and after hearing opening hours and adverts, and declining to get directions for it, find myself back in the same menus I’ve learned go nowhere.

By now it’s past noon, and I see next door’s front door is open.  Knowing some of my neighbours use Virgin, I decide to ask.  Karen is just back from work, and confirms her internet is dead too.  So it’s not just me!  She also tells me the TV and phone – also supplied by Virgin in the same bundle – are working fine (so much for that status page)!!!  Using the Virgin ‘phone, a call to 150 is free to her, and takes her through the same rigmarole as my first call.  Only this time, it ends with her being put through to a human.  Hallelujah!

Turns out the human is, to take a charitable view, suffering from the time difference between the Uk and India, and has probably had a good night out or a rough night.  That ‘phone call must’ve broken all records for the number of times Karen, and later I, repeated our respective addresses to the same person.  But we got some information: yes there is a fault in the area, and they anticipate a fix on July 29th.  Aaargh!!!  YOUR WIFE IS A BIG HIPPO!!!!

This is the point where I ask Karen if I can have a word with them, to try and ask what they can do for me in the meantime.  A connection over oldfashioned copper?  A 4g dongle?  No use, and asking to speak to her supervisor doesn’t help. Well, actually he refers me on to Customer services when I ask about alternatives, but after several more minutes on hold I regret that.  Where can I send the bill for my time, and for finding an alternative?

At least now I know the Virgin shop in town would be a waste of time.  How soon can I get a connection from someone else?  Fibre broadband is now available here, so there should be alternatives.

Try plusnet.  I was their customer for over ten years, with fewer problems than other ISPs I’ve used.  And there I can get to speak to a human when necessary!  Their website is unusable from the ‘phone, but I have their number.  Dammit, they tell me there’s a 15 minute wait, and the muzak is utterly horrendous.  Guess that’s what happens when a medium-sized ISP gets borged by BT 😦

Hmmm …

What about a 4G dongle?  Would Currys or PCWorld sell me one?  Do we have 4G coverage?  I just about manage to access EE’s coverage map, which tells me yes I should.  OK, worth a try.  So braving the early afternoon heat, I trundle over to Currys, who can indeed sell me one, and a subscription to EE.  Great!

Actually not a dongle.  It’s a gadget that gives me another wifi signal, but whose connection to the outside world is 4G.  But it’s an emergency, and beggars can’t be choosers.  Indeed, in principle it’s a rather good solution: my problem with it is just the wifi-less macbook.

Is 4g as good as its enthusiasts claim?  Maybe I can make it my regular connection and ditch Virgin?  Guess I’ll find out over the coming week, and thereafter if I continue to use it.  Interesting times.

[UPDATE] Composing this on the wifi-less macbook, I’m now disconnected again, so this post won’t appear today.  If I have no connection tomorrow I’ll cut&paste it to another machine and publish from there.  Grrrr …

[1] These times are approximate, taken from when an IRC client – configured to connect automatically – notes connection and loss of connection.  The computer, and with it the IRC client, sleep when I’m not at a computer with IRC (which includes when I’m at the ultrabook, where screen space is too limited to run IRC unless I have a specific reason).

[2] I suspect I’m being over-polite in describing it as a caricature, as that would imply some kind of self-awareness.  Virgin’s current owners “Liberty Global” seem more likely to be the kind of corporation that gives the ‘merkins a bad name for being utterly oblivious to irony.

Amazon grief

I’ve been trying to buy a new toy.  Since (recently) first reading about treadmill desks, I’ve realised that’s exactly what I need to benefit both my productivity and my physical condition.  Sitting at a desk has never really seemed a sensible posture (and difficulty with some desks and chairs is one of the main reasons I gave up working in a regular office).  Standing for any length of time is no solution: it’s uncomfortable and fatiguing.  But walking, yes, I can walk for many hours and enjoy it, and I’m at much less risk of back pain than in a chair.

Having googled for vendors in the UK, I found very few candidates.   Amazon selling this one at £805 seemed far and away the best candidate, so I ordered one.  But at checkout, it told me Delivery: 3-5 days, leaving a serious risk they’d try to deliver while I was away from home.

OK, I’ll try asking support about how flexible delivery is: can I order today but arrange delivery sometime later when I’ll definitely be around?  I select “Pre-order queries” from amazon’s chat menu, and type my opening question:

Me: Hi, if I place an order today, but your delivery folks give me a time when I won’t be around, how easy is it to change it? I’m away for a week.

After some time, I get a non-reply:

Ankush:Hello, my name is Ankush. I’ll be happy to help you today.
Me:Do you have my question?

More time, and another non-reply:

Ankush: [me] yes I have you question and I will also try my best to give you a resolution so for that may I have your order number?

Dammit, not only has the idiot not read my question, it seems Amazon’s system has completely ignored my careful selection of “pre-order questions”.  I repeated (cut&paste) my original question, but after several minutes more gave up in disgust.  OK, postpone this order.

Last night I returned to the browser tab where I had my Amazon order: 3-5 days from now will be just fine.  I note the price now shows not as £805 but £840, and curse a little.  But I proceed to checkout …

… where it now wants a whopping £1500.  So this delay due to Amazon’s sick joke of “support” is going to cost nearly double.  Soddit, I might just have paid £1500 for a life-changing gadget, but I’m sure as hell not paying Amazon £695 for messing me around!

So, back to google: can I find any other options?  There’s another potential candidate here, but does it really exist?  I tried ‘phoning them today to ask about it: they promised to get back to me but haven’t, so it’s not looking promising.

Where else can I look?

What can I say?

It’s customary to complain about ones own service providers.  But compared to the competition, problems with wordpress are trivial: no more than minor annoyances.  Which is not to say it’s immune to losing data, or royally fouling up writing/editing when faced with an unfamiliar platform: just that it’s comparatively stress-free.

In particular, relative to blogger, I’m happy to say wordpress just works.  Blogger’s comment system just becomes more nightmarish by the … well, almost by the day.  Here’s my latest attempt to comment on my brother’s blog:


OK, so it’s an error message.  Wouldn’t be so bad if it were a one-off.  And if I hadn’t just spent longer just rotating captcha crap in search of one I can read than it takes to write this little rant.  And, most annoying of all to a geek, if the link to “Search the Blogger Help Forum” wasn’t such a cruelly misplaced come-on.  Follow the link, and this one, to see what I mean.

Bah, Humbug.

POSTSCRIPT (nearly two days later)

It seems I’m not the only one to get that error code.  Searching for it now turns up a result, saying in effect “we know it’s a bug”. Oh, and I came up against one of WordPress’s defects getting it to allow me any markup that puts the postscript reliably below the image.

Twelve Angry Men

They have outlawed the Truth!

With whistleblowers tackling the mighty US government, I could easily have something to say about Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden[1].  But I don’t think I really have much to add to what’s already being widely said.  Glad the latter has escaped from airport limbo: whatever his eventual fate, the Russian authorities had to do something, and I don’t envy them the choice!  A year should provide the opportunity to arrange travel to one of the Latin American countries that’s offered asylum, if the Russians allow it or turn a blind eye.  I expect he was interviewed by Russian agents: wonder what deal they may have reached?

What motivates me to post now is a couple of lower-profile cases where people have been locked up for a lot less.  No whistleblowing, just in one case expressing an opinion, and in another googling some information.  All the mainstream media (e.g. BBC) have reported this week that two jurors have been locked up for not Playing the Game according to strict Club Rules.  One juror expressed a (probably prejudiced) opinion on Facebook of a defendant, while another did a bit of research to inform himself.[2]

Is there no such thing as a prejudiced juror?  Are courtroom stories and dramas such as Rumpole always talking nonsense when they describe them?  Hardly seems likely: one might just as well ask if there’s no such thing as a human juror!  No, the first juror’s crime wasn’t his prejudice, it was the fact he expressed it in a medium that can’t reliably be hushed up.  He blew the court’s cosy game of make-believe, and went to prison for it.  His simple truth – like thousands of others, MUST remain ritually unspoken.

As for the other juror, that story is even more disturbing.  If you believe in a naïve concept of justice – the sort of thing where you get found guilty if you committed a crime and innocent if you didn’t – how could you not want to inform yourself?  Yet that’s outlawed: you are required on pain of imprisonment to limit yourself to what you can make of a story spun to you by (ideally) two career liars and control freaks, who may or may not have made the effort to inform themselves.

Have you stopped beating your wife?  Yes or No?
The barrister has years of practice; the average honest witness has little or no defence and comes across as evasive or even dishonest.

How many jurors out there are wracked with guilt for years – even a lifetime – after being suckered into reaching a verdict that, as soon as the courtroom story fades and the real world re-enters their minds, they know or suspect to be profoundly wrong?  I can see it in anyone with the kind of borderline-obsessive personality of a typical geek who gives attention to detail.  Or those with a strong enough social conscience to let it affect their lives.  Indeed, I wonder if you have to be a full-blown sociopath to do jury service without at least some risk of lasting damage to your psychological wellbeing?  That second juror should’ve taken his lead from my little rant.

[1] Anyone else feel the merest hint of Schadenfreude when the US Govt denies the description “whistleblowers”?  I guess it’s easy to think a whistleblower is a person who reveals someone else’s guilty secrets, not ones own.
[2] This is general comment on issues raised by the headlines, not on the particular cases about which I know no more than is reported in the linked story.