Saturday, 31 December 2016

Perceived value of different media

This is a slightly random thought and I warn you now that it’s not likely to go anywhere, but I was grumbling the other day about Amazon’s somewhat random choices on Amazon Video about what is available to rent and what isn’t, as well as the pricing structure.

I was looking for the original Pink Panther film but it was only available to buy for £7.99 while its sequel was available to rent for £2.49 (both on the Amazon Video streaming platform).  I thought that I’d leave it for the moment in the hope that the original would become rentable since I only wanted to watch it once.

What got me thinking though, was that I’d happily pay £7.99 or more without blinking for a book that I might only ever read once. Why do I think that a film isn’t worth paying that much for, but a book is?

I’ve always loved books and since I’ve had a disposable income I’ve enjoyed buying and owning books, even ones that I don’t reread, and although bought films were as rare as bought books in our household (we used the library and video rental store a lot when I was young), I value the books more.

In saying that, buying a new book is still A Thing and not something I would do on a whim, so I wouldn’t just sit down of an evening and buy a film like this in the same way.

Still, I do wish that I could rent a film from Amazon that they have available to buy on the streaming platform.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Paddington’s Message

This evening, I watched the Paddington film, and I absolutely adored it.  It shows a stranger, an immigrant, coming here, being welcomed and then accepted for who he is and what he brings to the country.  It shows a positive view of immigration that is sorely lacking in the media at the moment.

But what really brought a lump to my throat (and, I’ll admit, a tear to my eye) was what Paddington’s Aunt Lucy says to him just before she puts him on to a boat for London, near the start of the film:

Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the countryside where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.

“They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.”  This is my Britain!  This is the Britain that I love; not the Britain of UKIP, brexit and division.  I’m glad that a film can still be made that has that positive message of compassion, inclusion and acceptance.  Messages like this are sorely needed at the moment and I’m so glad that I finally watched this.  Bravo to Paul King and Studio Canal and I sincerely hope that the sequel doesn’t succumb to the zeitgeist of nationalism and insularity currently sweeping the western world.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Not too cool to be clever

Many years ago I wrote a blog post on then topical subject of selection in education.  As they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  With grammar schools back in the news I was thinking about this again, and in particular my own experience in selective education, and comparing it with stories I’ve heard from my peers who didn’t go through the selection process.  And the one thing that seems to come up again and again from them was the stigma of being clever.

Being a geek and having been to university, my friends are a certain type, and being intelligent is very much part of that type.  And the thing that comes up again and again from them is that being intelligent is something that not only wasn’t valued by their peers in school, but it was a trigger for bullying.

This is something that I have trouble with.  Despite having had other problems, I was never bullied at school for being clever.  Every kid in my school had passed an exam to be there.  Being clever wasn’t something to pick on people for, because everyone knew that they had been selected on that basis.  This meant that nobody had to hide the fact that they were bright and, indeed, pupils even respected it.  The top of the class might not be the most popular kids, but they were never picked on for it.

The corollary of this, of course, is the other kids.  The ones who failed the magic test and were sent off to the other school.  This is the big problem with selection based on academic ability.  Those kids are the ones who were tagged as being failures at eleven years old.  Some of them will, of course, recover from that stigma and go on to live happy, productive lives.  Others won’t have.  I left Northern Ireland many years ago and don’t have the experience of living in that society and seeing how the selective education split affected the it, but my gut instinct is that it can’t be good.

(Incidentally, I wonder, in all the sound and fury of the current debate going on in England, if there’s been any research on how selective education has worked in Northern Ireland over the course of the last 50 years, given that it was only abolished properly a decade or so ago.  But then, since we’re all tired of experts, I would imagine probably not).

So for me, the big question is not about selection, but about how we go about having inclusive schools where intelligence isn’t something to be sneered at and a cause for bullying. Where children of all abilities can be educated together in an atmosphere of mutual respect, whether your gift is academic, musical, sporting, making or whatever. How do introduce this culture into families where the parents might have been the ones doing the sneering at the “swots” in their own school days? This is where the Government should be focusing its resoures, not bending backwards for the middle Englanders who want to go back to a golden age of education that never existed.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Let’s Encrypt for the Raspberry Pi (model B)

After my web host enabled HTTPS on my main website through Let’s Encrypt, I thought that it would be nice to do the same for my private web server running on my Raspberry Pi 1 (model B). I already had a certificate for the Apache server running on my Pi provided by StartSSL, but Let’s Encrypt is a neater solution.  I had some problems with this, so my solution is under the fold.


Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

As the embers of the old year cool
A new one rises from the ashes
With disappointment, heartache, adventure and joy
May the good outweigh the bad, always.

Happy new year.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


In one sense, those who carried out the terrible atrocities in Paris this weekend have won: I’m afraid.  Not of them; I grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I was nearly blown up more than once during my childhood, so ISIS don’t frighten me (in that way, at least).  No, I’m afraid of my government, and those of other European countries and what they’re going to do now in response.  I’m afraid that there will be an inevitable knee-jerk reaction and tightening of security; further reduction of our freedoms; more profiling of those who are ‘different’.  It’s a cliché to say that this is exactly what the terrorists want but it’s a cliché for a reason, and in their hurry to answer the calls of Something Must Be Done, our leaders enact bad legislation that divides communities, provokes fear, and yet does nothing to make us safer.

I’ve been a member of Liberty for some years now and I’ve never been more convinced of the necessity of this organisation and those like it.  In the inevitable melee to come, we need calm heads who will think beyond the next headline in a way that politicians today seem unable to do.  People who will be a voice reminding our leaders what values they’re supposedly protecting and speak truth to power in a way that will be very unpopular in certain sections of the media.  Shami Chakrabarti and her colleagues at Liberty are brave people, braver than me, and I hope that they, and others like them, will be able to stand up to the calls to give up freedom in favour of security.  If they can’t, I fear that we will, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, end up with neither.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

As the seasons change
A new year comes round again
Bringing renewed hope.

Happy new year.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Glasgow Concert Hall steps

The steps at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall are currently under threat of demolition, to make way for a glass atrium.  These steps are one of the few public, non-commercial open spaces in Glasgow city centre.  As such, I, and many other people, oppose the move to demolish them.  I have written to my local councillors and MSP asking them to oppose the move and there is a petition to save the steps, which I’d urge everyone to sign.  My letter to my councillors is below the fold.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Submission to the Smith Commission

Lord Smith of Kelvin has been tasked with overseeing the process of devolving further powers to the Scottish Parliament.  As part of this process, the Smith Commission has launched a public consultation asking for representation from the general public, as well as political parties.  This is my submission.


Saturday, 13 September 2014

The inevitable #IndyRef post

I know, I call myself a political geek and yet I haven’t written anything about the Scottish referendum on independence.  Well, not here anyway.  I’ve tweeted (and retweeted) about it and have discussed in person with almost everybody I know.  And that’s one of the things that really excites me about the referendum: just how much it has engaged the entire Scottish electorate.  The news today tells me that about 97% of the Scottish electorate have registered to vote.  That is incredible; this will be the biggest turnout, and the most important vote, of my life.

And after a lot of thinking and soul-searching, I’m going to be voting Yes.  I’m certainly not a natural nationalist and a few years ago I wouldn’t have contemplated such a move, but a lot of exposure to the arguments over the last two or three years (that the UK-wide media are only picking up on now) and a number of other factors have led me to this conclusion.

The democratic deficit

The first, and probably most important, element in my thinking is the democratic issue.  There is one Tory MP in Scotland.  Scotland, over the three or so lustra that I’ve lived here, has consistently delivered centre- to left-wing MPs to Westminster, and yet we’re governed by a centre-right coalition led by the Conservatives, and before that, a centre-right government called New Labour.  When England (which has the bulk of the UK population) is going in one direction, there’s no way that Scotland can counterbalance that.  This is why I believe that a smaller country, with a more representative Parliament would work better.  The existing hybrid constituency-plus-list system works well for us (although I’d really want to see a second chamber for an independent Scottish parliament) and I foresee a resurgence for Labour, and maybe even the Tories, in a Scotland where the whole of politics isn’t overshadowed by the giant that is Westminster.

Governing for the whole country

Following on from that, it feels to me that Westminster doesn’t govern in the interests of the UK as a whole.  It governs in the interests of London and the south east of England.  These regions are where both the population and the wealth of the nation is concentrated, and it distorts the whole of politics.  London and the south east are crowded, so the government tightens immigration rules to breaking point, rather than encouraging migrants to spread to other parts of the country, such as Scotland, which is going to need larger numbers of immigrants over the next few decades as our own population ages.

This isn’t just a function of the current Tory-led coalition, the last New Labour government was guilty of it as well, as I’m sure many, if not all, governments over the decades have been.  And I can see their point: they know where the wealth and population (hence number of MPs) is, so that’s where they focus.  But it means that the rest of the country, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the north of England, suffer for it.  Changing this system would be incredibly difficult without some huge external trigger.  The only one that I can see that might do it is Scottish independence, or possibly the threat of it.  It’ll be good for us, but I hope it’ll also be good for the English regions and the other nations of the rUK.

In recent days, with Westminster panicking as a couple of polls put the Yes campaign neck and neck, or even ahead, of the No, this sort of major constitutional discussion is finally starting to happen.  And it’s too late, for me, at least.  If this had been discussed two years ago, putting forward a federal structure for the UK with powers being devolved down to the nations and regions of the country then I think it would have made a difference.  But now it just seems like a panicked response at the last minute.


There’s been lots of drum-banging by certain kinds of No campaigners about the reduced defence power, prestige and spending of an independent Scotland.  To which I respond: yes, and…?  Trying to be a major player on the world stage has got Britain into a lot of trouble over the years.  I foresee a much smaller armed force for Scotland, something that can be involved in UN- (and maybe NATO)-led peacekeeping operations, with no need for ridiculously expensive jets, missiles, and, of course, nukes.

The difficulties

I have no illusions that independence will be easy, certainly not within the first few years.  Despite what the Scottish Government says, I think that the rUK government won’t go out of their way to make anything easier for us.  In fact, I think quite the reverse.  This article in the Independent has some views of the English on what the rUK government should and shouldn’t do if we leave (and, indeed, if we stay, which is no comfort either).  I suspect that currency union wouldn’t be certain, that there’d be no common research area or many other agencies or services that spanned the nations.  At least not in the first few years.  After a while, things would hopefully settle down and more normal relations would develop.  But then how long did it take for normal relations to develop between the UK and Ireland?  I suspect we’ll eventually muddle our way back into the EU and maybe NATO as well, even if it does take some negotiation and time.

And yet…

And yet, I can’t help but be excited and exhilarated by the prospects of independence.  For me the currency and economics are quite low down on the list of priorities: it’s social justice and the prospects of finer democratic control that are the key.  The idea that Atos won’t be turning down benefits claims of sick and dying people, and that those social tenants who have a “spare bedroom” won’t be charged for the privilege and so forth mean that I’m happy to pay a bit more in taxes to support that.

In the last weeks of the campaign, I think something has changed.  The constitutional settlement of the UK is no longer a settled thing.  If we gain independence, then the rUK will still need to take a long look at itself and change internally.  And if we don’t, then the same will happen.  The English are getting stirred up and are looking enviously at some of the powers that the other nations have.  Devolution to the English regions must happen, and with it, I hope, the democratic renewal that the country needs.  And I go back to the point I made right at the start: 97% of the electorate has registered to vote, many for the first time.  As long as we can retain that engagement over the next years and decades, no matter which way the vote goes, we’ve already won.

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