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.