19 October 2005

Linux for Libraries

For some months, as part of the Open Source Academy, a small team in Birmingham City Council's Business Solutions and IT section have been investigating the use of Linux, as an alternative to Microsoft Windows, in the Libraries Service. The project is currently in the live pilot stage.

Tommorow night, Thursday 20th, the first public report on the project will be delivered to the South Birmingham Linux Users Group at Birmingham University. The meeting is open to anyone so, if you're interested and can get there feel free to show up. The venue is on the train station side of the campus.

16 August 2005

I'm not ignoring you honey

A study at Sheffield university discovered that men have greater difficulty understanding women's speech than other men's. It seems that the cause is that whilst men's speech is processed (by the listener) in the speech parts of the brain, women's speech is processed by the areas of the brain normally responsible for music.

How this might be used to improve intergender communication is left as an exercise for the reader.

9 August 2005

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

According to the BBC the rate of rise of house prices has dropped to 5.4%.

Oh. How. Terrible.

How? Will? Home? Owners? Ever? Survive?

Come on! Average house price rise in 2004 was 17%. How much did the average salary go up by? 2%, if that?

[This entry was previously published on Livejournal_uk. The comments recieved do give an interesting insight into how much of an issue the lack of affordable housing is is.]

Issue de jour

It's just been on the BBC news that despite many hospitals claiming shortages of doctors there is infact a glut of junior doctors. It's just that few hospitals will offer them the posts with training that they need to progress.

There is a plan to offer an alternate path, we'll have to see how that works out.

24 July 2005

Birmingham Metroblog a week old

The Birmingham Metroblog is now a week old and seems to be going strong. Hopefully we'll be able to keep up the momentum and maybe attract some more writers.

I've only managed 5 entries so far. One giving an over view of the Birmingham Wheel, one introducing the Council House Clock (aka Big Brum), the three attempts at Op-Ed pieces about the councils plans for the Central Library, the electronic notice boards in the bus stops finally being put to use on the 11 route and, today, an entry dealing with the new technology and access routes to services the city council have introduced and a quick look to the future.

21 July 2005

Birmingham Metroblog Goes Live

The Birmingham Metroblog has gone live.

We actually started posting entries a couple of days ago but the organisers asked us not to direct people to the blog prior to the official go live. They wanted there to be a couple of days of entries for people to see when the blog went live.

15 July 2005

Housing and Civic pride

Whilst searching for something else I came accross this very interesting, and above all largely correct, article on housing and house prices. I don't really agree with the wholesale ripping down of our towns and cities to rebuild them in a more civic light, but I do think that we need to build a lot more housing, especially social housing owned and managed by the local town/city councils and housing associations who have a mandate to provide affordable housing to those on low wages.

Ripping out the neo-slums that have arisen in the last century and demolishing the Big Blue Turd would be an excellent idea. Affordable housing (not Luxury apartments that mostly stand empty) and commerical areas where you can shop and be entertained on a reasonable budget would seem to be what is needed.

More on Corporate Blogging

I was sent a link to a report on Corporate Blogging. I've only had a chance to read a few pages so far (this entry is as much so I'll be able to find the lnk when I get home), looks fairly bland.

The report says it's fine to link to so long as you also linkl to the site's main page so here's the link.

I'll write more when I've read the rest of the article if I can be bothered.

11 July 2005

We're all journalists now

Today's Grauniad had an article about New Media and citizen reporting today in the G2 section. It was mostly about how the bomb attack last week in London seems to have been a tipping point in the media due to the way most of the reporting came not from professional journalists but from members of the public using their mobile phones to take and send in photos and video. Very often these pictures would be on the TV news within minutes of being shot.

LiveJournal got a name check (along with a coment from 'The site administrator') in a section of the article about the rise of blogs. Blogspot wasn't mentioned.

10 July 2005

This weekend

I've been installing Ubuntu 5.04 on one of my PCs (a P II 400MHz with 384Mb RAM which previously has SuSE 8.1 installed).

The install ran pretty smoothly, the hardware is pretty vanilla. Sound isn't working, it doesn't report any errors and seems to try to play the sound but nothing comes out of the speakers. That said, I've never managed to install any distro on any PC and have the sound work without a lot of fiddling and downloading of additional drivers.

I am finding that I'm having problems in that I'm having to fight the operating system to get it to do what I want rather than what it thinks I want.

I can access shared drives on my Windows XP boxes through the file browser app by entering the URI in the address box (i.e. smb://machine/drive) but it won't mount them (it doesn't have smbmount and the package manager doesn't list it as being in any of the available packages, I have all the Samba packages installed). Also whilst the installer found the second hard drive (and it would partition and format the drive) it won't let me create or mount any file systems on it. The box has a 6.2Gb drive (IDE master) and a 10.2Gb drive (IDE slave). It installed on the 10.2Gb drive to give me about 9.6Gb of file system space plus about 500Mb of swap.

The struggles will continue.

Birmingham MetroBlog

Sadly it looks like there's a shortage of people signing up to write for the Birmingham Metroblog, that or the people running the site are getting behind in checking/adding people. They said we need at least 10 contributors before we can get started.

You can apply here if you think you've got what it takes.

Not in Islam's name

Interesting article about most Muslim's fears following Al'Queda attacks.

I can't say I agree with everything in the article (I don't think that a withdrawal from Palestine will reduce the threat from Al'Queda one bit and it's clear from their actions elsewhere in the world that Al'Queda were transnational well before 9/11 and the resulting action in Afgahnistan) but most of it does seem to fit in with comments from my Muslim co-workers.

Here's some stuff about the history of Al'Queda

2 July 2005


One of my friends on LiveJournal pointed out this too me. Apparently what it's about is blogs centred around cities (or at least geographucal locations) with reports from people who live there. They're trying to drum up some more contributors for the Birmingham (England) blog.

There is a LiveJournal community blog for Birmingham, but I don't think that's what they're going for here.

Gmail Ads

I use Gmail for most of my email and, as you may be aware, when you read mail in Gmail you get a few relevant text ads off to one side of the page, that's how the service is funded. Whilst they're easy to ignore occasionally one does catch my eye or I deliberately check them just to see what ads Google has come up with relevant to that mail.

Today I got a news mail about OSHA and US congress being held accountable for the deaths of 4 workers at the Toledo I-280 bridge.

The two ads Google chose to show me were:

Hasta La Vista Arnie in 2006.
Mark Warner for President 2008.

Just struck me as interesting.

So, who is this Mark Warner person?

25 June 2005

UNISON and Climate Change

For the past week (last Saturday to today, inlcuding travelling) ) I'm been at UNISON conference (2 days at Local Governement Service group then 4 days at National). Whilst I was there I drafted an article on climate change for the West Midlands region news letter, an article calling for a motion on climate change to be prioritised and passed. The article didn't get published (largely because it's crap and the fact that a much better one on the same subject was also submitted). I'm planning on rewriting it, to improve it and to take account of the fact that the motion was prioritised and passed, but for now it's below:

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW - will you be going to work on a snowplough?
(Stephen Booth, Birmingham Branch)

Climate change, we've all heard about it. Some of us first heard about it on Blue Peter back in the 1970s and 80s, others more recently on the news or in the publicity relating to films such as "The day after tomorrow", some even heard about it in 1954 when an observatory in Hawaii first started to collect world temperature on a regular basis. Whilst many of us will also recall being told that global warming was a myth, all authorities not funded by the multinational oil companies now agree that it is happening, anyone who has looked out of a window in the last decade can see for them selves that the climate has changed. Even the US National Academy of Science, a body currently funded by the Bush government, are talking about it.

Whilst estimates on how much the global average temperature will rise by 2100 (a year that some of the younger delegates could realistically expect to see, a year that many of the children currently sitting in the SECC crèche could certainly expect to see), it is agreed that it will rise by between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius. To put that in context, the last time the worldwide average temperature rose by 6 degrees 95% of the species on the globe went extinct.

Researchers drilling cores from the Greenland and Antarctic have found conclusive proof that rises in global temperature always go hand in hand with rises in atmospheric carbon, not just once or twice but dozens of times in samples they have so far extracted. The evidence points to the fact that whilst we're looking at a change over a very long period it is very probable that most of the change will occur over a much shorter period, a few years at most. It could start in 50 years times, it could start in 20 years time, it could have started yesterday, we don't know. Suddenly an issue that we thought our children and grandchildren might have to face becomes one that we ourselves will probably have to face!

So, what can we do? Many politicians would have you turning turning off your TV over night rather than leave it on standby and switch to low energy light bulbs. Undoubtedly that will help, I reduced my electricity bill by a bout 25% through such measures, but that would just remove a pebble or two from the landslide of climate change. Massive changes are needed to solve this problem, massive changes but ones that will have little effect on our standard of living although they will result in many more public sector jobs. Hmmmm, more public sector jobs. Well, we're UNISON, we like that.

About a third of carbon being put into the atmosphere is from transport, largely private cars and airplanes. Improvements in public transport, both road and rail, are necessary so that where ever you are and where ever you need to go there is a clean, safe, coordinated and integrated system to get you there whether you're traveling at 8am on Monday to work, 3am on Sunday to get home from a club or half way around the world to a conference or demo. Public transport means public jobs to build and maintain the infrastructure, build and maintain the vehicles, staff the stations and drive the vehicles.

Much of the rest of the carbon released is due to wasted heat from homes and businesses. The solution here is a widespread and comprehensive public works scheme to insulate not just new build houses but also to refit older houses to insulate them and reduce drafts (something which my landlord resolutely refuses to do, how about yours?).

Where can you go from here? Raise this issue at your branch, get it on the agenda and get them to inform the membership. Prioritise Motion 92, if you don't, and Bournemouth and Brighton disappear under the sea, we might have to meet in Scotland every year. And I'm talking Ben Nevis, not Glasgow.

PostScript: It would appear that John Hemming, MP (Yardley, LibDem), has had some direct experience of climate change. we can but hope that he and his fellows in the chamber can take positive action to halt the changes and reduce carbon emmissions.

PostPostScript: One very worrying thing I've heard is that a number of multinational companies have been meeting recently to discuss climate change, not to discuss how to stop or at least slow the changes but rather to work out how to survive and even profit from the changes. For example insurance companies have, apparently, been co-ordinating efforts to remove flood and extreme weather cover from their policies as such events are becoming common and resulting in payouts.

It seems that what we may be looking at is much of northern Europe, Asia and America being frigid beneath an ice sheet (similarly for similar lattitudes in the southern hemisphere) whilst equatorial regions are parched. The fertile zone is due to be reduced to a narrow band bordered by fire and ice.

7 June 2005

Lin Homer quits

It was announced in yesterday's Evening Mail that Lin Homer, Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council, has decided to quit her post and join the Home Office to deal with Asylum Seekers. Ms Homer joined the council after a long search for a new chief exec following the exit of Sir Michael Lyons. She has been in the firing line on a number problems such as reports of poor performance in the city's Social Care and Health department and the recent postal vote issues. When Ms Homer joined the council her coming was heralded by fears generated by her record of outsourcing public services.

Councillor John Hemming (now John Hemming, MP) was reported as pleased for Ms Homer and wished her well in her new post.

4 June 2005

Careful who you link to

Just found this (WARNING: page contains banner ads which include partial nudity and mild sexual content) whilst checking out referers to some of my web pages (someone who linked to one of my pages also linked to this article). Basically the US congress seems to have passed a regulation that adult content sites that feature content from or link to other such sites must ensure that models on those sites are of legal age.

Whilst there may be issues around the practicalities of this (e.g. what if a linked site features a new model without notifying sites that link to them, what constitutes a link (would an aggregated RSS feed count as a link) &c) the principle does seem reasonable. To take an analogy, if I own a bar and one of the staff knowingly serves an underage person with alcohol or sells a person who is of age with an alcolholic drink knowing that they intend to pass it to an underage person then I would be legally responsible and could be fined.

29 May 2005

Is this an exercise in irony?

The BBC is reporting that the Respect Coalition candidate for Sparkbrook, Birmingham, in the recent elections is mounting a challenge to the results. She claims that some people were prevented from voting. Given the past behaviour of some of the parties in the Respect coalition in that same constituency the phrase "That's rich" comes to mind.

I live in that constituency. The Respect coalition campaigners (especially the JFK (Justice for Kashmir party, now renamed People's Justice party), a party who campaign mainly on the issue of handing the Kashmir region of India over to Pakistan) would routinely harrass voters outside the polling station (usually targeting white voters, the area is majority Asian) and follow them into the polling station, right up to the pollbooth, to continue to harrass them. Complaints to the officials in the polling station would result in a shrug from them and accusations of racism from the from the campaigners.

This year I avoided the harrassment by getting to the polling station before the campaigners were organised.

20 May 2005

One more step towards gender equality

It's just been on the BBC breakfast news that 42% of bankrupts are now women. Appartently the root cause is that now women are more likley to take out debts in their own name (either because they are staying single or they are just doing it for themselves) rather than making/letting their husband taking on the responsibility for the debt.

They also talked about how women are more likely to take career breaks and to stay in a lower salary job because the employer has 'family friendly' policies. On a related note I remember at a recent UNISON education one day conference it was stated that women are far less likely to attempt to negotiate a higher salary or request training that will allow them to advance to higher paying jobs. One of the speakers (a woman) said that she had found that often female workers saw requesting/organising training was something that was done for/to them where as male workers saw it as something they do for themselves. I suspect that this has a lot to do with early life training and parental expectations (girls were expected to be pretty and play nicely whilst boys were expected to go out and have adventures).

15 May 2005

Discipline in school found to improve exam results

A Birmingham head teacher inproved exam results 12 fold by introducing isolation rooms for disruptive pupils. Basically kids are 4 warnings then they get put in the rooms during the school day for upto 3 days. The school in questioin (Ninestyles) was always known for being very rough and a bit of a dumping ground for problem pupils. When I was in school at Langley (not far from Ninestyles), 1985-87, it was widely known (or at least believed) that a Ninestyles pupil had a far better chance of going to jail than to 6th form, let alone university.

The isolation rooms sound a lot like the pindown rooms that were briefly used in the 1980s before they were banned.

8 May 2005

Keeping the policians honest and dealing with voter apathy

On one of the communities I frequent someone posted an entry asking for ideas on the perenial problem of how to keep politicians focused on representing their constituents and dealing with voter apathy.

Here's my response:
Unfortunately the only things I can think of are long term things and require the people to actually get off their arses and engage with the system.

  • Hold you representive accountable. Go to surgeries/advice sessions, tell them what you need/want done and what you think they should be doing. Write to them using FaxyourMP.com or WriteToThem.com so that their responsiveness will be tracked and look at their past record using TheyWorkForYou.com. Find out if they have a blog or journal (for example John Hemming, the new MP for Yardley in Birmingham, has one on blogspot). Read it and comment as appropriate.
  • Before the next election write them and tell them what you think of them and if you will be voting for or against them and why. Further, write to them at least once a year to tell them what you think of what they've done over the past year or what they did over a particular issue.
  • Get active. Communicate with others in the area. Campaign on the issues important to you. Wave placards, distribute leaflets, join a union or pressure group, put up posters, write to the local newspaper &c.

I really believe that the voters need to engage with the political system and keep contact with their representatives. If enough of us ask questions and challenge the waffle and untruths then maybe we can keep our politicians honest. Also, maybe, if people make themselves aware of the local issues they can campaign on the things that are important, not just whatever the person with the megaphone is ranting about.

6 May 2005

Blogging for business

After months of negative stories about companies firing bloggers for the contents of their online journal, BusinessWeek magazine are telling business to harness the power of blogging. Rather than seeing blogs as just a source of leaks and employee griping, companies should encourage positive blogging.

Blogs can be a useful as a grass roots tool for raising awareness. The frequent interlinking between blogs means that the readership of a comparatively minor blog can jump quickly as links to it spread and that blog posts frequently get Google PageRank scores that, so called, Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs) can only dream of. Indeed the comment spamming that any of us that have had a popular blog for some time have seen often comes from SEOs trying to promote the sites they have been paid to 'optimize'.

The article suggests that businesses leverage blogs to promote their company. No doubt the marketing departments will quickly grasp on to this and start producing hundreds of blogs loaded with advertising. They always do miss the point like that. Who do you think invented spam? Yeah, that's right. Marketeers. It was the marketing department of a large law firm.

So, what will be sucessful corporate blogging?

I think somethin that shows a degree of sincerity. Not something loaded with adverts and product promotions, something containing real information about the company that doesn't look like it was passed through some marketing droid for spin and polish. Look at the the blogs of the likes of Jonathan Schwartz (of Sun Microsystems), Simon Phipps (also of Sun Microsystems), James Gosling (Sun Microsystems but the Java side of the business), GoogleBlog (Google, a digest from the personal blogs of many Google employees) or even Chris Pratley. All the blogs I've mentioned are from techie people because I'm a techie person and so I'm interested in what they have to say (I also read Wil Wheaton dot Net and many others (look to the right hand side of this page for somemore)). None could be considered advertising or marketing department driven, that's a big plus for me.. Pratley is just talking about the project he's working on. Schwartz talks about new things Sun is doing, similarly for the others talk about their work and the projects or products they're involved with. But in amongst the company stuff is the people interest stuff that puts a human face on the technology. That brings readers in and keeps them coming back.

Another thing that the article talks about is that it gives the company a chance to engage with the customers. Handled right this can be very useful, handled badly (i.e. by the marketing department) it can be a disaster. In her book The Popcorn Report US consumer/business writer Faith Popcorn talks about companies that have handled it right, and those who didn't. The key thing is what happens when things go wrong, when a poorly quality controlled product is shipped or a foodstuff gets contaminated. Companies that handled it badly let the marketing department go on a damage limitation exercise to hide the problem, minimise it, lie about it, say it was just a few isolarted cases. In the long term it hurt those companies badly. Those that handled it well engaged with the customer, admitted there was a problem and then explained how they were doing it. Sure those companies were hurt in the short term but they quickly got back with consumer confidence in them and their products higher than before.

I realize that I've been hard on marketing departments, but it's from years of experience of dealing with them. There's a marketing mindset and it's a bad mindset. It's a mindset that encourages people to place 'position' and spin over actually producing a product that people can use and will want to use.


21 April 2005

Tories set to decimate post-16 basic skills training

The Tories have a statement in thier policy, a deceptively small one, that they are going to cut a large chunk of the funding to post-16 basic skills (e.g. literacy, IT &c) and 'soft skills' (e.g. assertiveness) training. If they get in and go ahead with this The the first effect will be that a large number of people involved in delivering such training will lose their jobs, the longer term effect will be a gradual widening of the educational gap in people over 16. Many people, especially those who went to school under the Thatcher/Major regimes, were failed by the educational system in this country, many now lack training to advance in their careers and the basic skills to get that training (and often their confidence has been so destroyed by the failure of their school education that it is difficult for them to even ask for the training). The long term effect of the Tory policy will be to further marginalise these people and deny them the opportunity to advance and improve their situation.

18 April 2005

Political leanings

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:


Your actual outcome:

Labour 29
Conservative -26
Liberal Democrat 52
UK Independence Party 0
Green 52

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

You should vote: Green

The Green Party, which is of course strong on environmental issues, takes a strong position on welfare issues, but was firmly against the war in Iraq. Other key concerns are cannabis, where the party takes a liberal line, and foxhunting, which unsurprisingly the Greens are firmly against.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

This is worrying, I'm a dedicated Labour supporter. I've only ever voted LibDem where Labour didn't have a chance but a LibDem vote could keep the Tories out.

Choice in healthcare and education

Once again the Tory party are pushing the idea of offering choice in healthcare and education. I don't have kids so the education side doesn't directly affect me, but lets look at the healthcare. Would you rather be told which hospital you were going into, knowing that they were the best able to treat whatever afflicted you, or have a choice of which MRSA ridden dump to be seen by a junior doctor who hasn't slept more than 3 hours in any given 24 since 8 weeks before their graduation from medical school.

I'll take quality over choice.

School Dinners

It has just been announced on the local BBC news that a school is to start serving vegetables with school dinners. In my own school days (1974-1987) it was pretty much impossible to avoid vegetables with your school dinner, even burger and chips came with a salad (which included, for some reason, a slice of orange).

15 April 2005

MG Rover

It's just been on the news that should MG Rover go under the company that owns the site are looking to redevelop it, creating around 10,000 jobs (about 50/50 new jobs/relocated jobs). Apparently they have a track record of doing this and have revitalised other areas including former mining communities destroyed by the Tories.

I remember being on a course with some people from MG Rover last year. They were very critical of the management, feeling that there was a gap between what management thought was going on and what was actually going on.

It seemed like more than the normal workers criticism of management.

14 April 2005

Getting a message through

I discovered today that at counts the returning officer has to show all spoiled ballots to the candidates or their agents. Therefore if you don't want to vote but would like to get a message to the candidates then if you spoil your ballot and write a message on it it will be seen by them.

Apparently some of the messages that get written are rather rude.

Personally I plan to vote for the candidate that will do me the most good.

3 April 2005

Public Transport and Politics

John Hemming (LibDem), Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, is proposing that the age limit for free travel on public transport be lowered to 60. He has indicated that it is a move to relieve congesation by getting people out of their cars and onto public transport.

I've heard a rumour that he's making another run for MP, perhaps this is part of his strategy?

Whilst I'm very much in favour of enouraging people to use public transport, I feel that the moeny should be spent on improving usability, safety and reliability for all passengers. Not just for those over 60. Plus free travel passes are only usable in off peak times, which are not the problem. It's when everyone is travelling to work/school or home at the end of the day (i.e. the peak times) that are the problem.

For example I have to travel into Birmingham city centre each week day for work. Fortunately I'm on flexitime so can arrive at work anytime between 07:00 and 10:00 and leave anytime between 16:00 and 19:00 (although it's far from unusual for me to have work later). If I leave the house at 09:00 then I generally get into work at around 09:30-09:40. If I leave the house at 08:00 then I generally get into work for about 09:25-09:35. To get the same travel time as at 09:00 (travelling in just after rush hour) I'd have to leave the house before 07:00, not being a morning person I choose the later option.

Similarly at the other end of the day, if I'm not out of the office by 16:15 then I may as well not bother to leave until 18:00 (unless I've got shopping to do). Fortunately that's not often a problem as my managers have perfected the art of dropping big packets of work on me at 15:55 as they head for the door.

29 March 2005

FYI Site stealing blog entries

I discovered today that the site allconsuming.net is copying and publishing entries from peoples blogs to promote sales of books. Basically if you write an entry that mentions a book they copy the entry and publish it on a page that offers the book for sale via Amazon Associates (so they get a cut of the profits). They don't ask permission and, as they publish entire entries, are not covered by fair use. that means they're in breach of international copyright law. It might be worth checking if they've nicked anything of your's, easiest way would be to Google with "site:allconsuming.net [your journal name]".

Contact address is erik@allconsuming.net. The whois record is here.

Permission is explicitly granted to reproduce this entry so long as it is done in it's entirety and a link back to the original is included.

28 March 2005

For my UK friends and readers

I thought it might be interesting to remind everyone that now would be a very good time to FAX your MP if you have anything you want to bring to their attention. An election being on the cards and all.

24 March 2005

Redlake Killer teen kept blogs

Apparently the 16 year old who shot up his school in Redlake, killing himself and 9 others, was user of LiveJournal, weise, and at least one other blog site. Maybe there was more detail in friends only or personal entries (functionally equivalent as he has no friends listed) but the few pubic entries in there look like typical teen angst.

[I found this via a post to abovetopsecret by theta_wave]

21 March 2005

School dinners

According to Sunday's Sunday Times, following on from the TV series "Jamie's School Dinners", the average amount spent by a school on the lunches they provide to their pupils is 37p a day. The average amount collected from parents (or claimed from LEA for free school meals where children qualify), however, according to the article and confirmed by some phone calls to parents of school aged children I know is around £1.75-2 per pupil per day. Where's the rest of the cash going? Even if the 37p is purely for the food delivered to the door I find it impossible to believe that they are spending £1.38 per pupil per day on reheating the food, serving it up and washing the utensils afterwards. I know how little those kitchen assistants and lunch supervisors earn, it's a pittance (I know people who work in school kitchens and lunch rooms). I'd be surprised if it cost more than the 38p, so that's a quid, at least, going astray for each pupil each day

30 January 2005

Signed Photos: Something I don't understand

I was just looking at my signed photos of Amber Benson, which I believe to be authentic because the person I got them off stood there and watched them being signed and is someone I know and trust. I started thinking about Certificates Of Authenticity (CoA). People sell photos and with them offer a CoA to assure the buyer that it is genuine. Why would people trust such a document? If someone has the wit, equipment and sociopathic attitude to fake an autographed photo then surely they could and would also fake a piece of laser printed paper with a signature to say that the associated photo is genuine. I've seen so many sales of obviously faked signed photos (the picture itself is obviously photoshopped, is of a type the supposed subject would be unlikely to sign (usually an actress's head on a body scanned from a porn mag) and the signature looks nothing like the other samples I have available which I know to be genuine) that have a CoA with them.

I can understand the desire to have signed photos, I have six in my Amber Benson Shrineon my walls. But, why trust a document that would be easier to fake than the item it claims to authenticate?

22 January 2005

Average house costs more than maximum mortgage for an average salary

According to a BBC report 92% of UK first time buyers cannot afford to buy a house. In 548 of the 597 main postal postal towns of the UK the price of an average house is greater than the mortgage a person on an average salary could hope to get.

People on lower incomes have long since been priced out of the housing market, now those on average (around 18,000 pounds) or good salaries are being squeezed out. Central government have been trying initiatives to provide affordable housing to 'essential workers' (nurses &c) but that has had little positive effect. It has been known for some time that people are lying to thier lenders to get a mortgage that will allow them to buy a house, so intense is the pressure to be a home owner. So long as house prices are allowed to rocket ever higher and out of control we're going to get stagflation and stagnation of the general economy as more and more of people's incomes are tied up in mortgage repayments and the resulting imobile lumps of brick, mortar and slate. Without a correction to the market we are likely set for another negative equity slump such as triggered the recession of the early 1990s.

So, what is the solution? Obviously a price crash isn't a good way out, nor do I think that traditional government tools, such as taxation, alone will work as a solution. Government need to get creative, literally:

  • Stop large scale sales and stock transfers of council housing would be an ideal first step. Keep what social housing we have in public hands and public administration.
  • Cleaning up derelict sites and replacing them with large tracts of affordable council housing to reduce demand and replace what has been sold.
  • Limit sales of council housing to the tenants, no more speculative purchasers who just want to kick the tenants out and sell the housing on at a premium, and get the councils to plough some of that cash in to building new properties to replace those sold.
  • Use taxation and subsidies to promote the building of low cost residential properties and deter people from buying second and third homes.
  • Stem the flow of British jobs to overseas outsourcing companies.

The biggest, and hardest, change will be to reduce the stigma of renting. Perhaps giving tenants some of the rights and tax breaks enjoyed by homeowners will be a start?

17 January 2005

Workplace Bullying

Recently workplace bullying has been recognised as a a major risk to the health and safety of workers. Below is the text of a poster I produced as part of my duties as a trade union shop steward (where you see XXXXX is where I obfuscated the name of my union):

Bullying is:

  • Shouting, swearing or rage

  • Humiliating or denigrating you in public or calling names

  • Persistent criticism (especially negative criticism)

  • Spreading rumours

  • Ignoring, excluding, maginalising or freezing out

  • Threatening or persecuting

  • Withdrawal of office facilities or relegation to less prestigious facilities

  • Talking about someone as if they were not there or cutting them out of a conversation

  • Undervaluing effort

  • Dispensing punishment without warning or outside of established procedures

  • Labelling or discrimination

  • Physical attacks

  • Removing authority

  • Imposing menial or pointless tasks

  • Sabotaging or impeding work performance

  • Refusing to delegate

  • Changing targets or goals

  • Withholding information

  • Overmonitoring or micromanaging

  • Interfering with post, email or other communications

  • Setting unreasonable goals/targets or fiddling figures to cause a person to fail.

  • Refusing leave, training or promotion

  • Destroying relationships of another person

  • Tampering or adjusting personal reports or appraisals

  • Raising or encouraging spurious complaints

  • Encouraging others to take problems to a person who has no responsibility for them or does not have the authority to resolve them.

Sound familiar? Happening to you?

Some managers call it their management style!

What can you do about it?

  1. Become a clock tower sniper? Cathartic but not really practical, plus it tends to attract the attention of police and military types.

  2. Drink yourself comatose? Doesn’t really solve the root problems and gives you a whole heap of new ones, you do actually need your liver.

  3. Drugs? Same as drink really, plus has that whole illegality thing about it.

  4. Quit? Your next job may be just as bad and you’re probably relying on this bully for your reference.

  5. See your XXXXXX shop steward? A shop steward can put you in touch with a range of support services that can help you deal with the problems of Bullying. They can also help you to raise grievances and complaints to get the bully stopped. They can put you in contact with other people who are being bullied and, together in XXXXXX, you can deal with them!

Useful Information:

BBC anti-bullying campaign: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/onelife/personal/bullying/bullying_action1.shtml

BBC workplace bullying: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/healthy_living/health_at_work/emotional_bullying1.shtml

Advice on dealing with Bullying: http://www.bullyonline.org/

It's CopyLeft so, if you want, use it.

15 January 2005

LiveJournal down 24 hours

As mentioned in my profile, my regular blog is on LiveJournal. Due a power outage in the data centre where it's servers are hosted the site has been down for about 24 hours at time of writing this entry. At the moment this is what those behind the service have to say about it:

Our data center (Internap, the same one we've been at for many years) lost all its power, including redundant backup power, for some unknown reason. (unknown to us, at least) We're currently dealing with verifying the correct operation of our 100+ servers. Not fun. We're not happy about this. Sorry... :-/ More details later.

Update #1, 7:35 pm PST: we have power again, and we're working to assess the state of the databases. The worst thing we could do right now is rush the site up in an unreliable state. We're checking all the hardware and data, making sure everything's consistent. Where it's not, we'll be restoring from recent backups and replaying all the changes since that time, to get to the current point in time, but in good shape. We'll be providing more technical details later, for those curious, on the power failure (when we learn more), the database details, and the recovery process. For now, please be patient. We'll be working all weekend on this if we have to.

Update #2, 10:11 pm: So far so good. Things are checking out, but we're being paranoid. A few annoying issues, but nothing that's not fixable. We're going to be buying a bunch of rack-mount UPS units on Monday so this doesn't happen again. In the past we've always trusted Internap's insanely redundant power and UPS systems, but now that this has happened to us twice, we realize the first time wasn't a total freak coincidence. C'est la vie.

Update #3: 2:42 am: We're starting to get tired, but all the hard stuff is done at least. Unfortunately a couple machines had lying hardware that didn't commit to disk when asked, so InnoDB's durability wasn't so durable (though no fault of InnoDB). We restored those machines from a recent backup and are replaying the binlogs (database changes) from the point of backup to present. That will take a couple hours to run. We'll also be replacing that hardware very shortly, or at least seeing if we can find/fix the reason it misbehaved. The four of us have been at this almost 12 hours, so we're going to take a bit of a break while the binlogs replay... Again, our apologies for the downtime. This has definitely been an experience.

Update #4: 9:12 am: We're back at it. We'll have the site up soon in some sort of crippled state while the clusters with the oldest backups continue to catch up.

Update #5: 1:58 pm: approaching 24 hours of downtime... *sigh* We're still at it. We'll be doing a full write-up when we're done, including what we'll be changing to make sure verify/restore operations don't take so long if this is ever necessary again. The good news is the databases already migrated to InnoDB did fine. The bad news (obviously) is that our verify/restore plan isn't fast enough. And also that some of our machine's storage subsystems lie. Anyway, we're still at it... it's long because we're making sure to back up even the partially out of sync databases that we're restoring, just in case we encounter any problems down the road with the restored copy, we'll be able to merge them. And unfortunately backups and networks are too slow.

LiveJournal was recently bought by the company behind MoveableType and TypePad. One can only marvel at the coincidence. I have been using LiveJournal for over 4 years now and this is the first outage I've seen over a couple of hours in all that time. A long outage for a volunteer run service (as LiveJournal was when I first got a paid account) is bad enough, for a service on a commercial footing it's very bad.

Carbon Dioxide and Pollution, pulling in opposite direction

Just saw an interesting episode of the BBC science programme Horizon about "Global Dimming". The theory runs that whilst excess Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere promotes global warming by trapping heat and infrared radiation close, particulate matter in pollution, especially in the high atmosphere, reflects heat away from the earth before it can reach the surface and be trapped. Purely from the grounding of all air civilian air traffic over the US in the three days following September 11th, 2001, the temperature dropped by 1 degree centigrade (to be precise the day/night temperature differential increased by 1 degree).

In a bitter irony our attempts to reduce pollution has reduced global dimming and so reduced its moderation of global warming. Hence the recent jumps in temperature that lead to the deaths from heat accross Europe over the last few summers. Previous models of global warming, before the effects of global dimming were known, predicted a 6 degree rise by the year 2100. Now we're looking at that rise by 2040.

Predictions now indicate that we're looking at the Northern European climate becoming like that of North Africa, death of the Amazon rainforest followed by it burning and becoming savannah (perhaps even desert), melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of methane currently trapped deep undersea. By the time we get to 2025 reversing the effects will be difficult, according to the updated models, by 2040 it may be impossible.