Monday, January 24, 2005

Did you get his licence plate?

I've been best man-ed! And I didn't see who did it. Okay, that's not entirely true. It was Dave. So, er, apparently I've got to ensure that Dave doesn't panic; that he shows up to the chapel; that he shows up to the chapel on time; that the rings don't get lost; and, er, the speech. Don't expect a huge amount from this last one, :-).

I'm rather honoured to be asked to do this, and not a little bit scared, since it's my fist position of Responsibility at at wedding and now I've got a stake in ensuring that it doesn't go horribly wrong (something that I'm going to take great pleasure in totally not caring about at my own wedding – my family want me to get married, they can get the stress...*). Still, the stag night has already been delegated and the rest can't be that hard, can it? After all, I'm not the one who's taking the plunge. I'm just one of the blokes oiling the cogs to ensure that it all goes smoothly. Hmm, that was an awfully mechanical analogy, um, how about this: I'm one of the QA folk ensuring that a software product gets out with as few defects as possible. Yes, that's much better :-D.

* Not meant entirely seriously.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Orange peel and telescopes

Today's good news: it seems that it's possible to make plastic out of orange peel and carbon dioxide. That's very cool, and it gives me hope that we might be able to go on using the plastics that we've become reliant on after the oil runs out.

Today's bad news: apparently the service mission to Hubble has been cancelled, due to the US Government not putting up the funds for it.

Friday, January 21, 2005

FoI, Firefox and a defeat by Linux

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while now, in an attempt to raise awareness, since it's a fairly important piece of legislation. 1st January this year saw the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which forces all public bodies to adopt a "right to know" attitude over all documentation that they hold, rather than a "need to know" one, as has been the case in the past. Access has been made quite easy as well, with any request that is made in writing (by letter or email) asking for information to be assumed to be an FoI request, which has to be responded to within 20 working days, although a reasonable charge may be levied to cover costs of retrieval. All public bodies in the UK (inluding my own employer) are covered by the Act.

Obviously there will be problems with the introduction (such as claims that large amounts of documentation was destroyed on purpose just before the Act came into force). And the Act could be stronger (there are loads of exemptions, although even if something is covered by an exemption, it can be taken to the information commissioner and he can decide that if it's in the public interest, the information has to be given anyway) but it is a start, and people should be aware that they're entitled to know things that are held by the bodies that purport to serve them.

On another matter, I've been defeated by Linux. After a fairly nasty disk failure in my laptop, I decided to format the disk and put Linux on it, so after a few false starts I got hold of some working Mandrake Linux discs and an-installing, I did go. However, after three days, I only just had a desktop (barely – KDE 3.2 ran incredibly slowly on this box, a P166) and couldn't get Real Audio streams to work – important since the machine is used exclusively for Internet radio these days (primarily Radio 4 and BBC7). RealPlayer (once I found it on the mess of the website) wouldn't integrate with Mozilla, and Xine wouldn't even compile due to a missing library that I couldn't track down. Finally, I got exasperated this evening, and just bunged Windows 98SE on to it. Done in about three hours, most of which was spent waiting for things to install.

Despite this bad experienc, I'm still planning on installing Linux on a spare machine at work, for playing and learning purposes. This was a partiularly bad machine – really too slow for the window manager that I was trying to use, while the one at work can handle Windows 2000 at a reasonable pace, so should be able to take KDE or Gnome without a problem.

Finally, I also got around to, for the first time, installing Firefox (on the laptop), and I don't really think that I like it. It feels too, um, 'childish', with too many pretty effects (fading in download manager?!) and taking out things that I really like in Mozilla (sidebar, bookmarks button, prefs etc). Cheers, but I'll stick with Seamonkey, if it's all the same with you...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Jerry Springer causes trouble for the BBC

I know that I'm rather late on this one, but the protests over the BBC screening of Jerry Springer: The Opera have left me sickened and depressed. Firstly, the number of swearwords was got at by a tortuous calculation (registration required). Secondly, the religious folk seem to forget that a) there is no right not to be offended in this country, b) that others have the right to watch the opera and c) the existence of the Off button. And before anyone says that I should be expressing these concerns to the BBC rather than here, I already have done. I sent my email of support to the BBC the day that I found out about the whole affair.

What also worried me here is the suggestion that obsolete blasphemy laws could be used to prosecute the BBC. This cannot be allowed to happen. It would be a disaster for freedom of speech and undo decades of work to make this country a more tolerant place to live.

There seems to be a rather worrying trend towards militantism by those wanting to "protect us from ourselves", given the recent protests that forced the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to cancel a play that some claimed was offensive to Sikhs. I deplore the fact that that play had to be cancelled due to the loutish behaviour employed by a bunch of religious nuts.

I support the BBC

PS: I was fortunate enough to see Jerry Springer: The Opera during its run at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago, and it was uniformly excellent.

Blogger sacked

The first blogger in the UK has been sacked from his job of 11 years in Waterstones. Not only have people pointed out the irony of a booksellers censoring an employee, but it raises questions of freedom of speech, especially since this blog was maintained out of working hours. A company cannot expect to control all aspects of its employees lives, even if they are derogatory about the organisation. And I'm not just saying this because I work for a large organisation and keep a blog...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

IBM frees patents

IBM is to license the use of 500 of its computing patents for free to everybody (significantly not excluding open source development). Apparently this is the first step towards a "patent commons", and is very welcome news for those developers (closed and open source) who can never be sure whether or not something they write might be hit by a lawsuit on some obscure patent. I think that this is a great idea, and hope that other companies follow suit quickly, although this in no way excuses the pressure that large software companies are applying for software patents to be applied in Europe as well. A list of the affected patents can be found here.

Friday, January 07, 2005

I'm back

And a Happy New Year to everybody that I haven't yet been able to say happy new year to. It's great to be back in Glasgow, not to mention being great to be have an internet connection again :-). It was nice to see my folks again, but it started getting a bit too quiet out there by about new year.

I wasn't expecting my almost first act on getting back would be to buy a new telly, but since our old one packed up while I was away, I to go ahead and bite the bullet. With some transport help from Dave, I'll be picking up my shiny new 28" widescreen TV on Monday. Until then, I'll be content with surfing the web and reading.

PS: my review of 2004 is now online.

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