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Monday 29 December 2008

EED Book Club - Ramp Up Blog [DrDave]

I don't read enough anymore, not since I nuked the whole commuting thing. It's mostly just an hour on a Sunday night in the bath with a beer. And I certainly don't read outside my comfort zone. It's all 800 page sci-fi page turners, or clichéd fantasy 10 book epics.I need an excuse to read more, and read better.

So let's start an EED Bookclub. The idea is that we take it in turns to pick a book, each go off and read it, then discuss it - probably in a blog. The turnaround time should be about a month, but that's not set in stone, neither is the choice of book. But here's a few pointers that I think would make good guidelines for selections:
  1. Consider the length. Even with a turnaround of a month, some people read slower than others. While we'd all like to be able to fit in books 1-10 of Robert Jordan's Wheel Of Time series, it simply isn't practical. 2-300 pages seems a good compromise.
  2. Consider the genre. Let's face it, we all are pretty well versed with sci-fi/fantasy genre books. And while there's plenty of good thought provoking stuff out there, it might be nice to expand our horizons. Not saying we need to dig up the Brontes, but let's think outside the box.
  3. Consider the discussion. Since it would be a good to get some serious discussion going on the books we read, the books themselves should be interesting. You might like to pick up the latest Dean R. Koontz, but it's probably not got the kind of literary depth that would provoke comment.

Of course, all of that is entirely at the discretion of the book nominator.

So, if you're interested (and this isn't limited to EED only, if any UKG or others fancy getting involved) then post on this blog. I'll make a list and put them in the hat and draw out the nomination order. To aid those who want a two month turnaround, we'll pick one book in advance and they can dip into every other discussion.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Pure [Slim]

Bought Pure for a tenner from, which is nuts cheap! Fired it up for a quick burn and was still there four hours later. Bastard son of Burnout and SSX riding a quad bike, this has superb visuals and a great trick system. The pressures on to keep your boost high so you can perform advance tricks, or using it to keep ahead of the race. There's a lot to think about, with four trick buttons and then multiple varients of each trick, but it's all pretty intuitive. You've also got a lot of choices to make while hurling yourself through the air, have you got time to chain another combo in, which trick to do next (you get bonuses for not repeating), where you going to land...

There's a couple of different race types too; sprint is just a short blast around a track with a few jumps, almost like a motocross event, race is an event on longer tracks with a good number of jumps and tricking opportunities, freestyle is just tricking with powerups and modifiers dotted around the track and a multiplier for trick points that requires you to trick every few seconds or lose out big time on the final score. Freestyle also adds a fuel tank, collecting power ups gives you more gas and gives you more time to trick but there's more risk-reward decisions to be made, as boosting uses more fuel, but allows you to pull off bigger tricks.

The tracks look amazing, with real belly churning jumps that remind me of the first time playing wipeout on the psx, multiple routes and shortcuts that require split second choices between the shorter distance or the higher jumps for tricks.

Downers? Only that the game has you building your own Quad, which is cool, but very long winded. You've lots of parts, each with a stat balance between handling, tricking, top speed, and more and it can take a while to pick what you need. In the end you can tell the game to just build you one with the best bits, which I think is what most people will end up doing. Realistically you need to bikes, one that's fast and one that's best for tricks for the freestyle events.

Brilliant fun, full on next-gen 'wooooo shiiiiiit' style fun off cliffs and an amazing bargain for a tenner. I know a couple of the chaps bought it too, so hopefully multi will be a laugh as well.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed [DrDave]

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is the latest salvo from the increasingly re-energised intelligent design movement in the US. Fronted by economist/actor Ben Stein (who most will remember as the droning teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and less will remember as a speech writer for the Nixon administration) this slick documentary is a far cry from the production values usually seen in other pro-creationist media.

In fact, one of the few things Expelled has going for it is the quality of the production. It is in places well shot and even sometimes quite funny, but such moments are few and far between. The quality of production is especially evident in the skillful way the producers present their thesis - at least to the untrained eye. It is entirely likely that Expelled, and productions like it, will serve to bolster the opinions of ID sympathisers, and possibly even convert those who had no opinion and no real scientific training.

The main thrust of Expelled is that American ideals of free speech and right of inquiry are being quashed by the imposing edifice of "Big Science". In particular, those who dare to express a dissenting opinion on the question of evolution are being threatened, victimised and ultimately hounded from their positions.

For example, Expelled highlights the case of Richard Von Sternberg, a one time editor of the peer reviewed journal "Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington". Towards the end of his position at this publication, Sternberg oversaw the publication of a pro-ID article by Steven C. Meyer, a leading ID proponent. Of course, this was seen as a major step forward for the movement, since one of the main criticisms of it was the lack of peer reviewed articles. Expelled details how the scientific community then roundly turned on Sternberg and "expelled" him from his position, and effectively black-listed him from similar jobs.

Expelled presents this case, along with others, in a very convincing manner. Each case is shot through the prism of American idealology - free speech, the right to ask questions, the right to dissent from consensus opinion. Expelled paints each of the "expelled" as being victims of a conspiracy to limit these basic rights. It is, in all honesty, quite rousing and would rightly raise the heckles of anyone who values these freedoms.

Of course, it is all bullshit.

In reality, Sternberg had handed in his resignation six months earlier and was coming to the end of the agreed notice period for this unpaid position. Sternberg handled the peer review himself, which is not unusual but definitely not normal practice, and that the content of the paper was massively out of place in a journal that normally handled papers about the discovery of new crustaceans and other marine shell fish. Subsequent to the publication, the journal withdrew the paper, but Sternberg had his contract at the Smithsonian extended to 2006. Hardly the hounding that Expelled claims.

Unsurprisingly, there are other, less conspiratorial accounts of these instances of "victimisation", for those who care to find out what really happened.

Throughout this portion of the film, Stein wanders between the expelled expressing the right amount of faux outrage and concern, while shots of the victims are interspersed with craftily editied soundbites from the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, PZ Meyers, Eugenie Scott and others, that are cleverly chosen to make real scientists appear alternately stupid, oppresive, pompous, condescending or plain sinister.

In fact, at one point, Expelled shows Dawkins having make-up applied prior to an interview. Stein on the other hand is shown entering the interview from a taxi, sitting down and getting straight to it. The intent is depressingly obvious: show Dawkins as vain, even effeminate, while Stein is down to earth, real, just like you. Does anyone really believe Stein didn't undergo the same make-up procedure? Clumsy and dishonest.

Throughout the middle of the film, the merits of intelligent design versus evolution are tackled. Well, not tackled so much as avoided. Numerous assertions are made: "Scientists are increasingly doubting the Darwinist paradigm", "Darwinism is a theory in trouble". "recent findings suggest design". But not one of these assertions are backed up with any kind of support. No attempt is made to show these problems that Darwinism is suffering, no attempt is made to present any of the evidence of design. It is shocking in its scientific vacuity.

But the worst of the film is yet to come. Beyond the factual mistakes, the false assertions, the dreadful logic and plain lying, you get to the final insult to your intelligence: the claim that Darwinism caused World War 2. Throughout its entire length, Expelled liberally sprinkles clips of oppresive regimes - clips of the Berlin Wall, clips of jackbooted nazis or parading soviets. But it is not till the final portion of the film that Stein pulls these hints together as he travels to former eugenics institutes and concentraion camps in Germany.

Stein's claim is that Darwinism is not only a flawed theory, but that it is directly responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews in the death camps and gas chambers of Adolf Hitler. He seems to feel no hesitation in using his own Jewish heritage for dramatic effect as he sombrely wanders the shower blocks and living quarters of the doomed inmates, pausing only to confirm with his guide that it was definitely Darwin's theory of natural selection that was responsible for so many deaths...

To say that this claim is dispicable almost goes without saying. It is of course true that Hitler cited parts of Darwin's theory to justify the killings, but he also cited parts of Christianity, the occult and basic principles of animal husbandary when architecting his attrocities. In reality, Hitler was a charismatic lunatic and would have done what he did whether Darwin had existed or not, and to claim that anti-semitism is a product of Darwinism is shockingly short sighted and ignores the fact that such sentiments and ethnic cleansings pre-dated Darwin by about as long as the human race has existed. See the Old Testament for example.

But the weirdest implication of Stein's hypothesis concerns the reality of Darwinism. His implication seems to be that since Darwinism can lead to awful acts, then Darwinism must be wrong. He falls into the trap of thinking that reality is a moral democracy, where we get to decide which bits we like and which bits we don't. Even if you accept that Darwin's theory led directly to World War 2, and I don't for a single second, then it doesn't change the fact that animal life did evolve from simpler origins. Should we also not accept the theory of gravity because gravity is responsible for all deaths by falling?

Stein rounds off his claims with the following quote by Darwin:

"With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."

Taken at face value, and in the context it is presented, this quote seems to prove Stein's claims. Darwin does seem to be professing support for eugenics, ethnic cleansing, every nasty trait that Stein attributes to him. But, as with most aspects of this film, it is not quite that simple. Stein has taken a real quote by Darwin and selectively edited it to prove his point. The actual quote is as follows:

"With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil."

(Bold text denotes text ommited in Expelled) The true quote is quite different from the butchered version read by Stein and presents an optimistic and eloquent view of humanity's nature.

It is shocking, though not so surprising, the lengths that Expelled will go to prove a point. There can be no justification at all for removing these lines, and the intent must be seen only as malicious and downright dishonest.

Sadly, most of Expelled's audience will not see the full quote, nor will they hear the unedited versions of the interviews with Dawkins et al. They'll never hear the overwhelming evidence in favour of evolution, nor will they hear the truth behind the Sternberg story.

In Expelled, Stein presents an argument that seems rational and worthy - that we should oppose oppresion and strive to allow all valid viewpoints. But in reality, his argument is build under a scafold of fake controversy - a "not-troversy" if you like. There is no debate between intelligent design and evolution, not because ID viewpoints are being surpressed, but simply becuase ID has yet to produce any valid science. Unfortunately, with slick, well funded productions like this (and Kentucky's Creation Museum), most of Expelled's target audience will likely never see this either.

Friday 5 December 2008

Skydrive [Slim]

Windows skydive is now 25gb for free, and that space is sharable with pictures and spaces.

I mention it because as a chubby IT bloke I've been given a few friends and colleagues pc's with sick hard drives. A mechanical hard drive failure is depressingly common and almost impossible to recover from without spending a lot of dosh. When this happens, the owner cares about nothing on there except their digital photo pictures, and the thought of losing your pictures of your kids when they were young is really grim. I know I wouldn't want to tell my wife if it happened!

I automatically sync my photies to picassa, it's a feature build into picassa, and it costs me a tenner a year for enough space to store everything. Microsoft has a similar picture system, and the space is included in the 25gb skydrive offer, which is a flippin bargain, details here:­­2/02/our-new-photos-web-service-is-liv­e.­aspx

I prefer picassa because I use lots of google stuff and it's handy having one account, and the face recognition stuff google has is teh awsome, but if you don't want to pay, skydrive is the way.

Do yourself a favor, upload all your pics to a secure space online, even if you do keep a local backup. It's free, and once they're gone, they're gone.

Thursday 20 November 2008

New EED Experience [DrDave]

If you took EED to the local Gap and told them to go crazy, this is what might happen:

Post more!

Monday 10 November 2008

Fortune favours the prepared [Muz]

So, due to circumstances beyond my control (evil builders taking over garage and trapping bike, followed by being forced to work in the arse end of nowhere), this week has been my first time back commuting on my bike for a couple of months.Second day in, what happens, but the dreaded puncture. It's cold, wet and dark, on the way home. Luckily, I'm prepared for this sort of emergency. However, I did contemplate, while I was changing out said tyre - what is in the essential roadside repair kit?

A spare tube is a must, obviously, along with tyre levers, stored in a convenient saddle-pack. It also contains a patch kit, just in case I suffer two punctures and need to do a field repair.

Then comes the requisite pump. I prefer the Road Morph G; handy because it can be turned into a mini-standing pump, and because it comes with an inline pressure gauge so you know when your tyres are about to burst. All of the above are stored on the bike - in fact, I have duplicates on both my bikes so I don't need to worry about swapping them over all the time.In addition, I normally carry my Leatherman Fuse, along with a ratcheted allen key set; most useful should seat, brakes etc need adjusting on the fly.After today's debacle, I'm considering getting a CO2 inflation canister and/or some gloop tyres.

What do the rest of EED's self-propelled, two-wheeled contingent have in their tool kits?

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Election-err-ing [Am]

Dear AmericansI know that many of you think that we have slightly sniffy attitudes to you but you are still the biggest economy in the world and the biggest military power and as a consequence when you do stuff it tends to matter quite a lot to the rest of us, particularly those of us that are perceived as white western nations whatever the actual mix of the people that live in our homelands.To this end what you are doing today is really rather important and we would be terribly grateful if you could attend to this one with a bit of care and do the right thing. It might seem a bit previous but I'm afraid you made a right fucking balls up with the last president you elected which was a disaster beyond most normal scales.So with affection and all that and because it matters, please get out and vote and, from the lads at Electricdeath, please;DoNotFuckThisOne UpThk, wp, gg

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Media Servings [Slim]

Been a long term fan of Twonky for my unpnp serverage needs. It's small, extemely fast, integrates with Itunes so you can share libraries and playlist and just kinda works. Except that lately it doesn't, playlist supports been on and off broke from version to version with playlists sometimes just disappearing until you load and re-save them, and it randomly not detecting the capabilities of my various devices so you get extra menu levels. Being offered videos on my Roku soundbridge is a bit daft. So I went on a new discovery of the various options and ended up back on Tversity.

This was one of the first I tried, and was written off for being slow, large with an utterly shit interface. Seems they've sorted it out. It's still quite large, Twonky's designed for embedded devices, and is bloody small, takes about 1mb of ram when running. Tversity on the other hand is currently consuming about 50mb and is slowly ticking upwards too, which sucks. Twonky also will rescan my entire media collection in about 5 mins, where Tversity takes over an hour. I also find the added stuff in tversity boggs your menus down a bit. There is a 'custom' setting which I haven't sussed out, so perhaps I can shed some of the unwanted menus, but for now it takes an extra menu level to get to my video's, which isn't ideal but not the end of the world. But then feature wise, the latest tversity kicks arse. It works properly with playlists and doesn't seem to barf randomly on rescanning like Twonky does.

Tversitys biggest draw is its transcoding. You really do want to play native as much as possible, but for the odd thing that doesn't work on the 360 or whatever, tversity will kick in and sort it out. What works really well is those old divx/xvid rips that have video supported just fine but some weird audio codec that the 360 barfs at. Tversity will just transcode this no probs, you wont even know it's doing it. Transcoding sessions are per directory or item you add so you can set it to not transcode if you'd prefer for a particular item.

What I really like though is its support for web feeds. You can now wap an xml feed in, such as a podcast or youtubes 'top favourites today', or even a youtube member name, or an image stream, whatever. Tversity will watch the feed, and present it on the 360 and transcode it on the fly. So I've got youtube and other web video's on the 360, I can bung on a podcast and then flick to a flkr photo stream and have a nice revolving set of soothing earth images while Stephen Fry talks his bollocks. I can piss myself to the Russel Brand podcast while rampaging round the streets of Liberty City in GTA4. It also seems to hook into some alternative feeds rather than just flash vid stuff. Not sure on the details here, might be like youtube goes to the apple tv thing where they offer alternative mp4 downloads?

It's also got a built in webserver and presents itself in Flash. Why is that good? It means it works as a media player on anything that supports flash, such as my EEE pc or my kids wii, video really is a bit ropey on the wii through the browser so you probably wouldn't bother but it's great for photos and music.

Oh they also seem to have improved the speed, it'll scroll quite happily through my mp3 albums, where it was a bit sticky before.

Sadly It doesn't work with your Itunes database, which is a real shame. I'd love to be able to easily share the playlists between Itunes and my media devices. There's a few m3u extractors for Itunes so you can do it manually, but that's not the same. Perhaps I can automate something, it's all xml after all innit...

Thursday 9 October 2008

body branding [shedir]

Like most guys I've thought for years about getting a tattoo done and always found reasons not to. Bad design, horror stories, whatever. This year just thought "why the hell not", so started hunting around for a suitabily patriotic tattoo.

Stage one of course is who.

Survey round friends and family in glasgow and one name always comes out on top.

A father and son business stretching back donkeys years, everyone had great things to say about them and got to say more than justified. Take great care of you and Stuart's manner was fantstic, dicussing the design and what'll happen during and after the tattooing.

Stage two whit!

This is something you've got to live with all your life, which is why I'm 39 and just getting this sorted! Always had an idea of the lion rampant on one arm, but that's going to run when you're old. Chances of me making 60 in this current world meltdown are slim, so time to give it a go!

While rummaging around the net I found the desgn which ticked my boxes, a plain map for Scotland but with a gap where the cross of our national flag runs through it.

Stage three bottle

So now it's about holding your nerve and not pussying out. Went in on Monday only to find they're closed Mondays! So now you've had your try, who can blame you for not going through with it eh? ME!

Spoke nicely to boss and 2 hours time in lieu from a server move last week saw me enough time to pop over.

Stage four waiting game

I was pretty surprised at how busy Terry's place was, I arrived at the back of 10 in the morning to find 4 people waiting and one already underway. Looked at designs there but nothing matched what I was after, so took a palce on the seats and waited.

What was really good is the other bloke in the parlour, he asked about design then took it away.

Stage five car-gh-tography

Came back with a cleaner better setup pic, which they then print onto. Your arm gets something squished on and shaved then the printout goes on your arm giving Stuart an outline to work with. The actual pain from the outlining being done was a surprise, sharp but in short bursts. Well within anyones tolerance I reckon. But the pics of folks with their entire back done, he says FIFTY hours to do that. Which does require real dedication and mental pain management.

Great postcare too, sold some goo to put on it 2 or 3 times a day to prevent it drying out. Only need to do that for a few days, with a pamphlet explaining what you need to do.

Stage six surprise

Pure adrenaline rush when done, I really wasn't expecting that at all. Guess it's the fight or flight choice finally being released from the chair and you are free to go!

Here it is, my finished article at £100 all in.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Ministry of teh Food [Slim]

Caught the first episode of Jamies Ministry of Food last night. It's a revival of the government drive to get people cooking at home at the start of the century. Jamies mission is to target chavs who can't cook and eat takeaways and ready meals and teach them some meals, and then get them to teach their mates, and make a happier healthier country.

It's a noble cause, but why is it even required? How did we get into the situation where people can't fry an egg? How can anyone on benefits afford to eat a takeaway every night? The producers probably did this intentionally, but there's one scene with a young mother in tears because she can't afford to bus it to the supermarket to buy food so has to go to the chippy, a moving scene that's punctuated by her dragging on a fag to the background noise of her massive flat screen TV. How have people reprioritised food out of their lives in this way?

One thing I'd add to his campaign is that that people also could do with learning to use leftovers more. We do at least one soup a week with leftovers that would normally go in the bin. For a family of five, that's a fair ole bit of dosh saved.

What I don't get also is the skills issue central to the show. I can understand this from a convenience standpoint, you can't be arsed to chop veg, you'd rather just heat it up. But if you can heat up an Tesco ready meal, you can heat up a raw spud and make it into a baked spud. Cover it with cheese and salad and you've got a meal. How is this in any way challenging?

Monday 15 September 2008

Interior Decoration For The Leet [DrDave]

Hello Lairlords. A short blog, seeking the wisdom of my peers.

I'm redecorating my home office, where I "work". And I want a decent desk. I don't want one of those mentalist computer desks with fold out flaps and keyboard shelves that jitter and jive when your typing approaches a reasonable pace. I want something long and flat, maybe with some drawers or storage off to one side, but enough workspace to do a couple of monitors, a printer and maybe a novelty dancing plastic flower. Wood, quite light but I'm flexible. About £100 if that's realistic.

So far, my front runner is an Ikea job, but I find myself a little uninspired by that. Please to make recommend.

[Also, an office chair - nothing to expensive, but must have a galant name like "the Matadore", or "the Faustian Lament"]

Friday 12 September 2008

Bike To Work [Spiny]

I got a bike through the government cycle to work scheme* last November, but was too much of a pussy to start till the clocks changed. Having done the commute a few times a week since May, I thought I'd share some of my hot tips & gear.
  • The Bike The bike I chose was a Specialized Allez Elite, mainly because a while ago I'd ridden a friends M4 Stumpjumper & been well impressed. That & the fact that they're red & thus fast :) Carbon seat post, forks & stays help reduce some of the road buzz & the geometry is very comfy. Specialized BG fit saddles are also very good, with a cut out to reduce pressure on your perenium so your old man doesn't go permanently to sleep. You may be tempted to remove the (by the law) fitted bell, but I moved mine under the stem & have found it very useful to warn walkers to clear the way. It usually takes a few dings to rouse people from their catatonic state but the courtesy is appreciated. As the bike is a bit of a racer I fitted some clip on mudguards which have been handy for the sub tropical conditions of this summer. They come off nice & easy too for when you take your bike somewhere that has Sun. This time of year you also need lights. LED Rears are much of a muchness, but I've been really pleased with the Cateye EL530 front I bought. I needed to replace the front tyre, as the originally fitted Bontrager got pretty cut up from road crap. Like a fool, I bought the same again, which lasted about a week, and strangely was very noisy. After a few enquiries, I settled on another replacement Continental GP 4000. This was a bitch to get over the rim (I guess Germans have strong thumbs), but it's a great tyre. Robust, grips well & intact after a few weeks abuse so far.
  • Clothing I'm a big fan of Endura stuff from my MTB days and have just bought a second MT500 long sleeve jersey. It's fab, really well made, decent pockets & zips. Wiggle have these as discontinued so I'd pick one up quick if you fancy one. Jut make sure to wash on cool < 40C as some of the Scotchlite bits on mine have peeled. I have a Goretex for the rain, but it's not high-vis (read "eye-burning yellow") so I'd like to grab an Altura Night Vision o Endura Luminite when funds allow. Socks are pretty important & De Feet Wooly Boolies are fab. They're pretty good at keeping your feet nice & comfy in heat or cold. I've been pleased with the Specialized Shoes I got for Xmas too, though I reckon the comps may be worth the extra for the snugger ratchet fit. Again, dead comfy.
  • Gadgets My Nokia 6220 Classic has been a surprisingly great bike accessory with the addition of Nokia Sports Tracker. As well as tracking your ride with the built in GPS it will geo tag your photos, place them on your routes, even place the mp3s you were listening to too. There's also a gadget for iGoogle. For phone protection, I picked up an Aquapac Micro The phone remains fully useable, but nice & dry, which is handy when it's in your back pocket recording your your route home in the pissing rain. This one's even a UK product \0/. Back to the Jerries for a rucksack though & the Ortlieb Velocity has been uber. Holds a stack of shit (tm) and is completely and utterly waterproof, and almost as importantly big and yellow with reflective logos. There's a handy detachable pouch inside for a few shower things & keys etc. The waist and chest straps keep it very stable on the bike, as do the shaped shoulder straps. Cyclecraft is a great book if you're at all unsure about riding in traffic or need to help your kids with the same. I bought it more for reassurance really, but still picked up some useful tips to avoid being knocked off by stupid car drivers. I'd also recommend The Haynes Bike Book. I've had my copy years & could do with another with updated stuff like v-brakes.
  • 'Tinternet Resources
    • Sportstracker, see above. Also has a Widget to put on iGoogle, Facebook or wherever. The dev blog is here.
    • Wiggle Good web shop, often has offer codes.
    • SJS Cycles another good shop, very nice helpful lady on the phone when I rang up for an order inquiry.
    • On line GPS File format converter.
    • Bikeradar new & reviews.
    • The Bicycle Tutor videos
    • MapMyRide for an alternative to Sportstracker. This has a nice feature that it puts markers every mile of your route.
    • Giro. The best helmets. You may think they look stupid, but you'll look more stupid being fed your liquidised Sunday lunch with a spoon for the rest of your life. You may as well get a cool one.
    • Immac for the legs... just kidding ;)

All in all I'm really glad I've started the commute with cycling, I feel loads better for it, dropped two belt notches & filling the car up half as often. Win!

* They don't help the image of cycling by having crap pictures like this twat but you can't have everything I suppose.

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Sunday 24 August 2008

Microsoft Labs Photosynth - got any tips? [Beej]

Photosynth from Microsoft Labs has been viewable for about a year, but this week it went live and users can now upload their own 3D synths.

You'll know Photosynth from that 2007 demo when the smart chap from MS wowed us with Venice.

After excitedly browsing Photosynth, I found that it's all pretty lame. Like a guy who did St Pauls Cathedral from the same spot on the street and took 9 photos. So it being a bank holiday weekend, I've given it a swizz myself!
  • I chose MINI as the subject... couldn't think of a small enough local landmark
  • I took nearly 400 lores (1024x768) photos walking around the car and inside the car, and of the tree and low moss-covered wall beside the road
  • Processing took nearly an hour on an E6600, and the app said that more than 300 photos is not necessarily good.
  • It has not gone well, though... the synth was 47% "successful" ;-(
My first test synth can be viewed here: Beej's MINI Cooper S (2003)

One of my problems with Photosynth is the interface, so some tips:
  • press P to cycle viewmodes of points/images/both
  • mousewheel to zoom in/out
  • the leaf icon with three dots (in the corner) is very useful - it jumps to areas where it made good matches - press it once to jump to the stick that was near the wall
  • the grid view icon is the only way I can find to get to the tree on the right side of the car. It has done an incredible job at mapping the tree in 3D! Make sure you view it in points mode :)

So, it's not really gone as well as I had hoped. Admittedly, a metallic reflective two-colour car... a building might well be the ideal subject.

IMO the UI is not helping Photosynth though, nor is the basic navigation in the virtual environment. How is it not possible to get from the front to the back of the car?

Zoom out in points view. All the way. It's quite interesting. it has done the side of the road better than the car!

The RTFM, which I'd read beforehand, recommends at least 9 photos for the corner of a building. It also recommends stepped close/far linear shooting for going along a flat object like a wall. In both cases, a lot of overlap.

It was hard to break the habit of shooting for a digicam panorama - not enough overlap - and also shooting for texture maps. Both are bad practices AFAIK.

Photosynth seems to be better suited to a public space with public harvested photos - like the Venice demo - where the photos were taken from flickr. Next test - a building - but look forward to one of you trying an inside room!

Friday 22 August 2008

eBuyer? eShit more like! [Brit]

I've really cut down on the amount of computer related stuff I buy these days, pretty much because I've got everything I need and frankly don't have much time to spend building mexes, sniping or generally using a mini-gun and a hearty laugh to mow down unsuspecting peons. Such is life.That said, I do occasionally purchase little things - an upgrade to my powerline homeplug things for example. Indeed, I've literally just tried to use to purchase a new gigabit switch as my current 10/100 router (albeit the excellent Draytek) is struggling under the demands of file shifting across the network.

Simple enough - 8 port gigabit switch please with a few newly minted CAT6 cables. Everything in stock, select 'deliver next week in 5 working days' option (so no delivery charged as this stuff isn't urgent) and use Google Checkout - a service that makes Paypal look complicated. All done. 10 minutes total elapsed time. Happy Brit.

Email number 1 arrives: receipt from eBuyer.

Email number 2 arrives: confirmation from Google Checkout.

Email number 3 arrives: confirmation of order received (but not payment taken) from eBuyer.

Email number 4 arrives: 8 port gigabit switch is OUT OF STOCK.

Email number 5 arrives: confirmation that my order is now suspended unless eBuyer have already taken cash..

So two things annoyed me here:

Firstly, clearly shows that the product in question has 833 in stock. 833! I only want one of them please, and I very much doubt that there has suddenly been a run on these things in the last 5 minutes.

Secondly, what is with email number 5? Surely know if they've taken payment or not?

Anyhow, I cancelled the order. Google Checkout rules for this. Fuck eBuyer. They've spent so long arsing around with their new website, but its clearly just papering over some fairly fundamental issues around inventory reporting and transaction status management.Chances are they'd eventually ship via ShittyLink as well, meaning it'd never turn up anyhow.Just how on earth can they get this stuff so fucking wrong eh?

Monday 11 August 2008

All praise! [Beej]

To cut a long story short...

...God I hate missing deliveries!

UPS this time, and the UPS phone system is pure evil. It asks you to READ OUT your tracking numbers. It's quite a long number. It basically doesn't work and that's no surprise because it's a fucking retarded idea to read the number out. Of course you can't type it in using DTMF, that would be too easy. Then today I have a flash of inspiration - use saynoto0870 to get their real phone number and bypass the shit computer!

Works first time. Phone rang once then got picked up by a UPS human, no waiting in queue and no reading out of 12 digit numbers!

That site rules. While UPS clearly suck.

Friday 1 August 2008

What's in a number? [DrDave]

When I was a wee bairn we used to go on our annual holiday to the Lake District. It was pretty cool when I was younger, but when I grew up and got too-cool-for-school (relatively speaking) I found spending time with the family playing Frisbee to be several storeys beneath me. As a youth, I was never part of any particular "scene" (unless "smart casual" is a scene, and I'm pretty sure it isn't) but I did like videogames. So when the Frisbee came out, I'd wander off to the camp site arcade and stick my football sticker money into whatever game was around at the time.

One particular summer, I remember a battle of wits with an old Slapfight machine. Or, more specifically, the holder of the high score on the Whitecross Caravan park Slapfight machine - "SPU". I don't know who SPU was, I never met him (or indeed her), but I fancy that SPU was tall, broad shouldered, popular with the opposite sex, as adept with a football or cricket bat as he was with a joystick.

I took it upon myself to best SPU, to score a pyrrhic victory that would disrupt the fragile social strata of 80s emo-teens for years to come. I had a Roland Rat wallet full of old ten pence pieces, the luxury of time that only family holidays can provide and the furious purpose of a nerd gone wild! I was ready.

In my mind, I remember that time as a tightly edited sequence of training montages: scenes of despair, desperation, fightback, set to the building crescendo of a soft metal, cock-rock classic. In reality, it was a week of heartache - low scores, endless deaths to unseen bullets - SPU's imagined athletic visage grinning at me from the faint CRT glow of the Slapfight cab: "back to chess club Poindexter, nothing for you here... AHAHAHA".

Then finally, on our final day in the Lakes, something happened. Something inside me clicked, a moment of pure clarity as man and machine melded into one perfect entity. I actually felt something that morning, something bigger than me, some unique resonance with the universe. My score ticked up, 100,000; 500,000; 1,000,000. I was vaguely aware that if I considered my actions, if I attempted to harness this power or invoke some strategy other than blind instinct, I would fail and all would be lost. I held my nerve... SPU was in my sights, my score reaching parity with the on-screen "High Score" that had mocked me so. Then BOOM!, I passed SPU and the High Score began ticking up with each extra kill that I achieved. At that point I lost it, concentration crumbling away with the collapse of neurons and synapses firing in perfect harmony. But it didn't matter, SPU was beaten and I had the top score.

I don't know how long the score lasted. I fancy that maybe, somewhere in the Lake District, that machine still remains plugged in. The high score preserved as a testament to the grim determination of a bored teenager. Maybe even a plaque commemorates the achievement.

Okay, it's a long telling of a short story. One that serves to hint at the unique power in the simple mechanic of high scores. Anyone who has played WoW and visited Molten Core every week for 6 months, purely on the off chance that a random number generator will come good and a particular set of magic pants will fall can testify to this power. But WoW is an evolution of this mechanic, an abstraction that adds a visual component to your achievement. What I'm talking about is the simplistic, repetitive accumulation of arbitrary numbers - the pure "High Score".

Geometry Wars 2 on Xbox Live is a game that captures this power in a way that touches on every base instinct present in every nerd. It is a simple game of hidden complexity, an apparently mindless shoot 'em up, heavy on psychedelia and pulsing beats. But the devil is in the details. See, the scoring mechanic is such that to achieve really high scores, you need to collect "geoms". A geom is a multiplier, each one collected adds one multiplier to your total, so shot enemies provide more points. The strategy comes in deciding whether to kill or collect, to risk your ship to pick up two or three geoms or stay safe and preserve a screen full of enemies ripe for the blasting.

The truely evil part of GW2 though is not the game itself though, it is the Leaderboard. Or more specifically, the presentation of the Leaderboard. Other games chose to hide the Leaderboard away where you can safely ignore the progress of your peers. GW2 slaps it right there on the game selection screen. Every time you select a game mode, you are presented with your position in the pecking order, a constant reminder of your skills or lack thereof. Possessing this information, knowing that Slim or Beej is a mere 20,000 points away, it is simply not possible to turn away from the quick-repeat gameplay. You simply must climb the ladder.

Compulsion is a powerful narcotic to give to a nerd, a dangerous substance that can lead to failed marriage, obesity or ill-advised mailing list posts. GW2 ignores this danger like a heroin pusher in an infant school. It grabs you, it hooks you, it won't let you go.

At the moment, I stand higher than Dunford, but beneath Beej. Unless Dunford logged in after I beat him last night. I bet he did, it's just his style. The scumbag. Maybe I can squeeze in a couple of games over lunchtime? Maybe I could take the afternoon off...?

I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure that somewhere out there, SPU is laughing at me.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Attitude towards bikes [Slim]

I'm on a bit of a consumer mission to buy a new bike (bicycle, not a broom broom). I've been walking to work for the last year or so, but now that I'm close to me target weight, I've been cycling a bit to increase the range and get a change of pace and scenery. Typically UK male, I can't just buy a bike, I have to buy mags, search websites, read reviews, find the very best price, agonize over the decision, change my mind, read forums, blah blah. Realistically, my 10 year old mountain bike is probably fine, it's a bit heavy, and a lot rattly, but it does the job. I want a carbon fibre grippy screaming fanny magnet though, with all the gear!So it amused me to read this thread:Commuting tipsWacky innit? They use bikes like a million percent more than us, the bikes are absolutely everywhere, but seem to care not a jot about the machines, they just get on with it. Wonder what happened to produce such a significant shift in attitude? Is it because they're workhorses rather than sports/recreation items? Could be, but then you could say the same about cars, and people buy flashy cars to commute in.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Map My Stuff [Spiny]

Found a nice Google maps mash up site - Map My Ride. It lets you plot cycle routes, tells you distances etc. For a small fee it will do a fancy print but I've not found the need for that so it's basically free. I think you will also use GPS data but I don't have one of those just yet.

The handy thing I found was it puts markers every mile on the map you draw, which is nice for navigation.

I did a loop today which turned from 23 to 30 miles, due to some creativity in the navigation department... although I found a nice pub in the process :)

Friday 11 July 2008

The Sanctity Of Biscuits [DrDave]

I often hold up the Catholic church as an example of rational, modern religious organisation. They're down with evolution, have a good take on science in general and even occasionally say some sensible stuff about the bible. Oh sure, there's the whole contraception, women's rights, gay rights, abortion and original sin baggage, but on the whole they're pretty progressive for a Christian sect.

Then something like this happens, and you realise that they're just as batshit mental as the average jihad spouting Muslim. To cut a long story short, US student, Webster Cook, smuggled a piece of the Eucharist - a holy biscuit - out of mass to show his mate. He subsequently returned it, but this wasn't enough to appease the holy rollers. Now Cook is receiving death threats.

"We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was," said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it."

As you might expect, having had their biscuit kidnapped, the Catholics were incensed:

"It is hurtful," said Father Migeul Gonzalez with the Diocese. "Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family."

I'd feel the same if someone tried to steal my custard creams and, like the Diocese, I'd probably bring in some of my toughest mates to protect my confectionary in the future:

The Diocese is dispatching a nun to UCF's campus to oversee the next mass, protect the Eucharist and in hopes Cook will return it.

An amusing storm in a teacup. Anyway, outspoken biologist and blogger PZ Meyers heard about this and, in true PZ style, blogged about it. It wasn't a very sympathetic blog, it was a tongue in cheek look at a massive over-reaction. Though, as usual, PZ goes one step too far, promising that if someone would send him some holy wafer:

I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare ... will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart.

Tsk, naughty atheist. Well anyway, the whole thing has gone global now and the US Catholic League has got hold of it and are calling for PZ's immediate dismissal.

Right, the serious part. I don't actually condone either Webster Cook's stealing of the Eucharist, or PZ's subsequent mockery of the Eucharist either. I think both were a little childish and ill-considered, and PZ is rapidly defining himself as being just as rabid and frothy as those he seeks to ridicule these days. But the point of the story is this: Catholics actually believe that the Eucharist wafer is the body of Christ.

This isn't some metaphorical, religious ceremony. They actually do believe that the transubstantiation is real and that they are literally consuming flesh. In that context, what looks like a ridiculous over-reaction takes on a slightly more understandable, if depressing, light. In fact, if you read around a little, you see that "host desecration" is about the worst thing that a Catholic can do. Webster Cook and PZ Meyers can probably think themselves lucky they didn't live in the middle ages:

The first recorded accusation was made in 1243 at Berlitz, near Berlin. As a consequence all the Jews of Berlitz were burned on the spot

I reckon I'd be pissed if someone stole my hob nobs, but burning every Jew in town seems a little... heavy handed. But that's the point, they don't believe they're losing a biscuit, they actually believe they're losing a chunk of the big JC - the obvious implication of this is that they actually believe they're eating, and subsequently shitting, a chunk of the big JC, but they don't tend to dwell on that much.

Maybe I'm missing something, maybe there's a hidden depth and use for religious ceremonies like this, but I can't see it. To me, this seems like a meme that probably started off 2000 years ago as something useful, but which has gradually mutated over the centuries into something ridiculous. And that those practising the rite don't see how inane it is because they've been indoctrinated from birth into believing there's a point to it, that there is a kind of holy biscuit that turns into flesh in their mouth.

Whatever the case, I know I'll think twice before scoffing a ritz cracker from the buffet table at the parish social.

Monday 7 July 2008

Freeware! [Slim]

Fixed up a bust laptop for the nippers, it's not a bad thing, athlon 64, x700 graphics card so it can do games and stuff. Made a real efford to load it up with freeware type stuff just to see how far I can go, and the end result is so impressive, I'd like to share it.Apps:Firefox 3 with Addblock and Procon Latte. The latter is a very smart filter that searches the text on websites and google results and blocks it if its norty. Also allows you to set up white or blacklists. Artrage: Nifty art programme that simulates paint and stuff, they love getting messy with this. Dia: Basically a light open sourced visio, great for doing little diagrams for school stuff.Games Maker: Nifty little app that lets you make your own games. This is really for the older one (11), and she finds it pretty challenging, but its cool.Open Office: They use google docs for word processing, but the presentation stuff's weak and there's no drawing tools. Open Office has those and they're pretty good. They can also prep stuff that's a bit richer in open office, then upload it to google docs for access at school. Bitmap package, a photoshop light, and bloody brilliant. Particularly good for photo shit. Scratch: Smalltalk based scripting thing that's geared towards making interactive stories and other procedural creations. Ace visual introduction to programming that can be very simple or pretty advanced. Scribus: Open source desk top publisher. Remarkably powerful, can use pdf files to printing standard. Nice for party invites and school newsletters, etc.GamesNow the fun stuff! De Blob: Started life as a student project, and is now getting a full commercial release on teh wii. The original PC version is free though, and ace for kids. It's a bit like Katamari, you roll a blob around and have to paint a town by absorbing the colour from it's residents. Weird, but ace.LinCity: Freeware Sim City, doesn't need any introduction surely?Ocular Ink: Roll an eye around using the mouse, and paint lines to attack things. Kind of like okami a bit? Anyway, ace.Secret Maryo Chronicles: Another Super Mario Bros rip off, but a very well done one. Crayon Physics: Draw things with a crayon, move the red ball. Pretty basic tech demo for an upcoming game, but loads of fun and the kids love it. Very smart 'what if i.... type game that's perfect for kids'.Knytt Stories: Looks like a very basic and abstract platform game, but elegently simple and highly enjoyable for all ages. Comes with a nice level designer too, which the kids enjoy.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Conservapedia vs The Scientific Method [DrDave]

In the last month or so, evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski published one of the most ground breaking scientific papers of recent years, though it may not appear that way at first glance. The paper describes the latest findings of a 20 year study into the evolution of E. coli bacteria.

The details of the experiment are simple, but extremely elegant. Lenski's team started with 12 populations of E. coli, and transferred them daily into environments of fresh nutrients. Samples were tested regularly for changes in mean fitness and interesting variations were noted. Cleverly, every 500 generations samples of each population were removed and preserved - creating a snapshot of the evolutionary history.

At around generation 33,000, Lenski's team began to notice an interesting change. Members of one of the populations had suddenly gained the ability to ingest citrate. Now, one of the defining characteristics of the E. coli family is its inability to use citrate, so the development of such a novel trait was extremely interesting.

Lenski's team then looked back through the 500-generation snapshots of this population and replicated the experiment with progressively older samples. The results showed that the citrate ingesting ability was re-evolved by samples preserved after about generation 20,000 with a high frequency, but that samples preserved before this generation didn't evolve the trait. The conclusion being that the citrate ability is contingent on an earlier, possibly neutral mutation.

The significance of this result may not be immediately obvious. It is really a confirmation of Steven Jay Gould's famous prediction concerning the reproducibility of evolution:

If the tape of life were rewound and played again a quite different set of organisms would probably succeed.

In other words evolution has no goals, no defined end-point. Since mutations are dependent on contingency, the probability of reproducing any particular trait is low.

However, though this is an interesting affirmation of a famous prediction, it may be seen as somewhat obvious. Of far more interest is the fact that Lenski's team observed not one, but two (and possibly more) subsequent ultimately beneficial mutations and the evolution of a complex, novel function. This is, naturally, quite a blow for intelligent design creationism, since this is precisely what they claim cannot happen (or happens with such low probability as to be ignorable). In fact, Michael Behe, the closest thing ID has to a real scientist responded to Lenski's findings with a quite perplexing turnaround. Behe's writes:

I think the results fit a lot more easily into the viewpoint of The Edge of Evolution. One of the major points of the book was that if only one mutation is needed to confer some ability, then Darwinian evolution has little problem finding it. But if more than one is needed, the probability of getting all the right ones grows exponentially worse. "If two mutations have to occur before there is a net beneficial effect -- if an intermediate state is harmful, or less fit than the starting state -- then there is already a big evolutionary problem." (4) And what if more than two are needed? The task quickly gets out of reach of random mutation.

What Behe is saying here amounts to "I predicted that getting two mutations is impossible, and now this paper has shown it happening, it has proved I was right all along". Erm, what?

But this blog isn't really about Behe, it's about conservapedia (the self styled "trustworthy encyclopedia"). Conservadepia, being the religious right's response to wikipedia, naturally has a vested interest in creation "science", so took it upon itself to challenge the filthy liberal Lenski, who had obviously falsified or misinterpreted data in order to shore up the collapsing edifice of materialism.

Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer and conservapedia founder took up the fight, sending a rather terse and unfriendly letter to Lenski. Schlafly's letter is rude, and contains a number of factual inaccuracies, and in it he demands that Lenski send him the experiment's data so that an independent party can verify the findings. Here's a sample, see if you think this is a reasonable tone to take:

Skepticism has been expressed on Conservapedia about your claims, and the significance of your claims, that E. Coli bacteria had an evolutionary beneficial mutation in your study. Specifically, we wonder about the data supporting your claim that one of your colonies of E. Coli developed the ability to absorb citrate, something not found in wild E. Coli, at around 31,500 generations. In addition, there is skepticism that 3 new and useful proteins appeared in the colony around generation 20,000. ... Please post the data supporting your remarkable claims so that we can review it, and note where in the data you find justification for your conclusions.

Nice eh? Lenski responds, pointing out politely the error in Schlafly's claim of three new proteins, and urging Schlafly to actually read the paper - which already contains all of the data Schlafly requests.

Of course, Schlafly ignores this and once again reiterates his demands for the data (that he already has access to):

Given that this is my second request for the data, a clear answer is requested as to whether you will make the key underlying data available for independent review. Your response, or lack thereof, will be posted due to the public interest in this issue. Thank you.

At this point, even Schlafly's toadies and sycophants are cautioning him that he's acting like a complete tool. Have a read of the discussion page. Schlafly, naturally, responds by banning dissenting users.

Lenski's second reply is a thing of internet smackdown beauty. Have a read. Here's a good bit:

It is my impression that you seem to think we have only paper and electronic records of having seen some unusual E. coli. If we made serious errors or misrepresentations, you would surely like to find them in those records. If we did not, then – as some of your acolytes have suggested – you might assert that our records are themselves untrustworthy because, well, because you said so, I guess. But perhaps because you did not bother even to read our paper, or perhaps because you aren’t very bright, you seem not to understand that we have the actual, living bacteria that exhibit the properties reported in our paper, including both the ancestral strain used to start this long-term experiment and its evolved citrate-using descendants.

Brilliant. Lenski goes on to offer to send Schlafly samples of the living bacteria, provided all necessary protocols for exchanging biological material are followed. One suspects that Schlafly will not call his bluff.

You may think that this exchange is trivial, that it is representative of what can be found on most forums on most of the internet these days. That no reasonable minded person would place any credence in the ramblings of an obvious nutcase. But you'd be wrong. A recent Gallup poll of Americans showed that a staggering 60% of republicans and (alarmingly) 38% of democrats subscribe to a young earth creationist viewpoint. If there is any truth to this poll, it suggests that getting on for half of all Americans would side with a lawyer over a biologist in matters of good science, no matter how elegant or enlightening the experiment is, just as long as the lawyer took his cues from a 4000 year old manuscript.

Does this not strike anyone as extremely disturbing?

Sunday 15 June 2008

The triviality of British Politics [Lurks]

I'm struck by a sense of deja-vu concerning the latest wranglings over the 42-day terrorism suspect detention bill. It feels to me like fox hunting all over again. That is to say, it feels to me like a trivial issue picked out of a massive cauldron of simmering issues of the day, purely for it's merits on being able to actualy win on the issue and thereby divert attention from an otherwise beleaguered government.

Hang on a moment, I hear you say, surely Brown can't have picked the 42-day dentention issue as a popularist issue? Actually that's exactly why he did it. See there's not a whole hell of a lot of Brown policies today that the public do feel a great affinity towards, as evidence by his remarkably low poll scores. In fact when polled, the public come up north of 66% approval concerning the 42-day issue.

Browns miscalculation here, and it's a hell of a miscalculation, is that he's picked precisely the sort of issue where actual politicians examining proposals are going to make a heck of a better informed judgement than the public will (who will just hear the question 'are you in favor of locking up terrorists longer?'). Politicians might and have noted that virtually no one is actually asking for 42-days. There's no cases where it was necessary. There isn't a shred of evidence to say it's worth doing at all.

The heart of the bill also rudely points out the odd streak of British politics. Socialist government but with a heavy authoritarian theme up against a conservative oposition with a libertarian theme. The issue is more of a socialist traditional fighting ground so it's hardly surprising that when it comes to the fight suddenly there's a heck of a lot of genuine dissent on the labour back benches. Right at the time when Brown really can't afford more hard questions be asked of his judgement and, yes, his leadership of the party.

Convservatives were all set to benefit from rising popularity, yet another major strategic Brown blunder which was going to undermine the only Brown policy that had popular support. Then David Davis resigned as an MP (and hence his shadow home secretary role - a very senior role indeed it should be noted) and chucked a proverbial sack load of spanners into the works.

Cameron's problem is that he opposes the bill, but wont say up front that they'll reverse it if (let's face it, when) the Conservatives get in power. David Davis is abit of a maverick who really isn't enjoying time under Cameron, not agreeing with the leader on several key points. He's decided to make his personal play here but who knows how he's actually justified it in his head because his friends around him are really none the wiser. What does seem clear is he's not exactly slashing his wrists about the headache this is all proving for Cameron.

The rest of the Conservative party are rightly, very displeased. As one of them, unnamed, in a recent Guardian story sdescribed Davis as being 'out of his fucking mind' for drawing attention to one of Brown's few popular policies.

Course things have taken an unexpected turn with rebel Labour MPs feeling so strongly they've announced they'll campaign for Davis' in he by-election which kind of forces Brown to sack him and potentially escalate the issue further.

With all this cut-and-thrust of political activism and, you might say, genuinely heart-felt cross-party support on issues people obviously feel very strongly about, how can I say it reminds me of something as trivial as fox hunting. The trivality is why although it is more significant in one major way:

If you look at the bill itself, it's been watered down so much with so many safe guards - Eg. prosecution has to present cause to a judge to apply for an extension, it only applies to terrorism cases, the order lapses after a fixed period whether applied or not and hefty compensation for victims etc - that really, it doesn't represent this great evil it's been made out to be. It's just representative of an idea, the authoritarian versus libertarian debate. It looks like it's really not the actual bill but the idea of it, the straw that broke the camel's back. There's an upwelling of feeling that the years of labour have eroded too much.

Which is all very nice and a debate worth having but let's just stand back a bit for a moment shall we? Take a look at what's going on in the world. Rampant oil price rises, Zimbabwe, Iran and of course the horrifying prospect of a genuine recession. Yet what our MPs are arguing about is the theoretical ability to detain suspected terrorists for a couple more weeks without charge.

It's a fucking insult to be honest. If we had an effective political system the cut and thrust of political debate would be on these issues. Not grand standing and party politiking on absolute diversionary nonsense such as this! Yet this is the crap on the front pages of papers. Not fuel running out in petrol stations across the country. Not Zimbabwe (former British colony right) decending into a military junta. Not climate change, the very real prospect of a frighteningly militant Islamist state aquiring nuclear weapons. Fucking 42 days.

Not for the first timeI feel like we need a new political party altogether.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Neglect or Independance [Slim]

A parent has been labelled the worst mother in america by the press for allowing her nine year old to return home alone, via the public transport system from a shopping trip in New York.

A modern day parental dilemma. Give your kids independance and let them get around themselves, and you're a slack parent raising uncontrollable ferral kids. Ferry them about everywhere and keep them in the house all other times and you're a cotten wool wrapping nanny who's stifling their kids independance. How do you win? I'm trying to let me kids have some independance, my 9 and 11 year old walk to and from school themselves, and the older one will go to town on her own or with mates, but it's definately not the easiest thing to do here on the Isle of Man, let alone in a huge place like New York. I think I'm doing the right thing, and I could be doing more. I am accutely aware however that if something happened to my kids on that trip, the finger of community judgement would be pointing directly at me for carelessly letting them out of my sight. Where's the guidebook anyway? What age can you leave a kid home alone? What age can they use the bus system alone? What time should they go to bed? Nobody will tell you, but ever bugger will judge you on it.

Thursday 5 June 2008

The Right To Offend [DrDave]

I've recently been following the case of Mark Steyn, a Canadian conservative journalist and polemicist. Steyn is a well known critic of the "Islamiphication" of the west, having published articles and books on the subject, including the gloriously rabble rousing America Alone. He also appears regularly on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, as well as other conservative outlets in the US. In short, he sounds like the kind of person I'd vehemently disagree with on a number of issue, but, to use the usual paraphrasing of Voltaire, "I may not agree with what he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say it."

Not everyone is as enlightened as Voltaire and me though. In 2007, a group of law students associated with the Canadian Islamic Congress issued a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission accusing Steyn of promoting hatred of Muslims. What in particular has promoted this particular complaint? It seems that the following passage is one of the offending bits of writing:

Signora Fallaci then moves on to the livelier examples of contemporary Islam -- for example, Ayatollah Khomeini's "Blue Book" and its helpful advice on romantic matters: "If a man marries a minor who has reached the age of nine and if during the defloration he immediately breaks the hymen, he cannot enjoy her any longer." I'll say. I know it always ruins my evening.

The offending part being the accurate quote of Khomeini, rather than the tasteless gag at the end. The complaint lists a number of other pieces of writing, including a piece where Steyn quotes a Norwegian Muslim Iman as saying that "Muslims were breeding like Mosquitoes", and a review by Steyn in which he unfavourably reviews a Candadian sitcom "Little Mosque On The Prairie". I'm really not making this up, the meat of the complaint centres around Steyn's quotation of what leading muslims actually said.

Now, you may be sketical. In cases like this, there is normally the hidden detail that the sensationalist news media or blogosphere fail to mention. There must be more substance to the complaint than this, right? Well, apparently not. If you have a spare 20 minutes watch this Canadian broadcast. Initially supposed to be two seperate segments in which Steyn puts his case forward, then his accusers do the same, Steyn instead hijacks it and turns it into a full on debate. It's clear from watching this that the three over-achieving law students plainly have no case, or no case in any sensible system at least. A point highlighted beautifully when one of the complainants makes the ludicrous claim that if she wrote a book quoting Hitler, then white Christians in Canada would be equally offended. Right.

So there you go. In an otherwise progressive and civilised society like Canada, what passes for hate speech is the accurate quotation of one of the most influential figures in one of the world's largest religions. Or failing to enjoy that religion's comedy. Does this not strike anyone as a little bit absurd?

Free speech is a very important right to defend. It ensures that the publication of unusual viewpoints is not met with state-sanction, and allows for criticism of governments and institutions that might otherwise run amok. Similarly, the right for members of groups to not be the victim of organised hatred and oppression is also a value that should be defended. But there needs to be a line drawn between the two rights, and a clear differentiation made between them.

What Steyn has done clearly falls under the protection of free speech, and the correct way to oppose it is to counter it with your own free speech. Attempting to label it as a "hate crime" and to oppress it through the courts is no more acceptable than attempting to suppress the publication of the Danish cartoons by burning down embassies.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Be Ray Kurzweil: EED-Predict-o-Tron [DrDave]

I frequently see frothy news articles like this one that wax lyrical about how ace life is going to be in the future (presumably when we invent proper VR porn). The one thing these articles all have in common is the wisdom of reknowned futurologist Ray Kurzweil. Now, I'd always assumed that Kurzweil had the best job in the world. Write a couple of books, crop up every now and again and make wildly speculative predictions about times in the future that are so far away that no-one will remember what you said. Sit back, rake in the cash.

But reading through his wikipedia biography reveals that he's actually quite acurate. For instance, his predictions about 2009 (published in 1999) include:
  • Solid state memory taking over from hard drives;
  • Distributed computing becoming prevelant;
  • Cheap laptops for kids.

Of course, he was wrong on some things, but he gets a pretty good hit rate normally.

Now, it seems reasonable to assume that barring a catastrophic BeejTech incident or epic huffquit, this blog will exist in ten years time. So wouldn't it be interesting to see if we can out-Kurzweil Kurzweil and come up with some predictions of our own for the year 2018? Just imagine, we can dig up this blog and gaze at our younger selves' naivity (before returning to our VR environments to have Gail Porter (1997 edition) lick our cyber-balls). To kick us off, here's what Ray himself reckons will come to pass by 2019:
  • A $1,000 personal computer has as much raw power as the human brain.
  • The summed computational powers of all computers is comparable to the total brainpower of the human race.
  • Computers are embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.).
  • Three-dimensional nanotube lattices are the dominant computing substrate.

Have a think about it, and post three (or more, if you're feeling particularly Nostradamian) predictions for what luxuries we'll enjoy in 2018.

Friday 30 May 2008

The UK government's false green policies [Beej]

Buying fuel - it hurtsssssss! Here's one of many gripes on the hot topic:

Britain’s diesel prices are the lowest in Europe before tax – but the highest once tax has been added on, official Government figures have revealed.

In Britain the average pre-tax price for diesel was 48.8p per litre during April, but that spiralled to 116.6p per litre at the pump. This means taxes account for a mighty 58% of the total price.

The Tories said the latest statistics showed that the Government could not blame international fuel costs for sky-high prices at the pumps.

A Treasury spokesman denied that fuel taxes were too high, saying they were justified because they were green and designed to reduce carbon consumption.

In less than 10 years, driving has suddenly become so very bad. It's killing the planet (isn't it?) but fortunately the Government are doing something about it! Yes, they're raising taxes so that now we think twice about about our habitual driving. Well, oh genius green-minded Government, I still need to go to work in the mornings and buy food at the supermarket. I work in the next town, there's no bus or sequence of buses, and there's no train station let alone a train. So like pretty much everyone who doesn't live inside a city, I still need my car.

Taxing drivers for buying fuel is said to be a green policy. It is supposed to make people drive less. Thus spewing out less evil CO2, thus saving the previous planet.

Except for the teeny-tiny problem that it isn't a green policy, and it isn't saving the planet.

iTunes TV Shows [Spiny]

This is a small JavaScript I knocked up to fix an annoyance with iTunes.

When you import a load of videos they always default to being movies. There is no option to bulk edit the video kind or season for several video files at once.

To use the script, just select the shows in iTunes you want to set to "TV Show" and double click it.

You can also set some or all of Season, Genre and Show by running the script via a shortcut and specifying

Show="Family Guy" Genre=Comedy Season=1

for example. Note that of you have spaces in the show name, you'll need the double quotes.

In other news, movie rentals are coming to the UK iTunes store soon \0/.

Friday 16 May 2008

Pride before a fall [Brit]

With a little over 47m people and nearly three times the landmass of the UK, Burma is not a small country. For years it has operated in near isolation - ruled over by a military Junta who probably consider Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields as something of a near perfect training tool, and as they have done so, we've watched from afar.

Of course, since there is little in the way of natural resources worth a plunder and it is surrounded by some fairly major Asian nations (India & China) "The West" has pretty much left it alone - occasionally popping up to issue a useless resolution decrying the abuses the Burmese suffer at the hands of their regime, but thats pretty much it. Dictatorial barbarism and abuse of power is legion in Burma, yet I expect reruns of Fu-Man Chu would cause more interest.

We now see of course that Burma is seriously in the shit, with tens of thousands dead and millions more seriously affected by Mother Nature. What we also see is just how desperately ineffective and positively disinterested anyone is unless there are riches and rewards to be had.

The Burmese Junta have virtually refused entry to specialist rescue workers who, under UN mandates various are deployed around the world ready to assist in the event of a large scale disaster. This is (logically speaking) inexplicable; the Burmese are unable to help themselves, and bodies are simply piling high. Medium to long term management of such an event (with respect rehabilitation, diseases, food & water, etc) will also be out of scope for the Junta - all of whom are the epitomy of selfish, ruthless, mind-numbingly idiotic moronism.

It has already been mentioned on various media outlets that the (in)actions of the Junta are tantamount to genocide; indeed, the United Nations (a more useless and self obsessed organisation I could not hope to Google) has powers to raise, debate and ratify unilateral action in situations very very similar to what we're seeing now. They don't of course.

The Burmese Junta should be ignored, and aid specialists and equipment deployed into Burma, protected by armed escorts. If the Burmese Junta interfere, they should be removed... this level of disaster is way beyond politics and polite memorandums when it becomes so terribly clear that those responsible for the safeguarding of their own people are so utterly incapable of timely, useful action.

Contrast the situation in Burma to the recent earthquake in China; yes the cynics may say that the reason for such a massive response in such a quick time is linked with the forthcoming Olympics, but I suspect not - I suspect this is China doing what it does best; looking after it's own people (of course, the definition of "looking after" is historically subject to interpretation).

Maybe if someone suddenly discovers oil underneath Rangoon, we'd sort this stuff out.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Fancy A Free 25Gb Online Storage? [Spiny]

Though that got your attention :), now here's now.

You've heard of hotmail (not hotmale!) and probably,, Microsoft's cloud computing effort. This is the revamp of the old MSN spaces stuff offering Google like apps such as mail, and calendar.

Well, as well as some other cool stuff, one thing they do is a bit of free on line storage called SkyDrive. So, basically if you have a messenger id or windows live id (which used to be called .NET Passport) then you have a free 5 gig that you can upload files to. You can also create private, shared or public folders as you see fit.

Didn't the title say 25 though? Yes it did. You can obviously create as many windows live ids as you have the patience for, but the crucial thing is that you can link these together, so signing in under one id signs you into all of them. Not only that, on the SkyDrive management page, there's a handy little drop-down where you can instantly switch between your linked IDs.

So, the end result isn't 25 gig of contiguous space, more like five 5Gb on line hard drives.

SkyDrive is still in beta, so expect more features to be added. For example you can't upload folders at the moment, only either individual files, or by dragging & dropping several files onto a special uploader ActiveX control.

Still, s'free eh?

Saturday 3 May 2008

The ultimate HTPC keyboard? [Muz]

So, I'm thinking about setting up an HTPC to feed into the telly; no doubt the vast majority of the clan have sorted this shit already, but I've always been a little slow. Anyway.

The main thing about an HTPC, I think, is having a small, unobtrusive keyboard, and some sort of integrated touchpad/nipple/trackball. No one wants to piss about with laser mice on the sofa arm or something lame like that.

After some Googling, I came across this lot, who appear to do all sorts of crazy keyboard variants. The one that interested me in particular was the Periboard 701; top one on this page.

As you may have guessed from the name, it's wireless - but that's not all, dear readers. It's basically a laptop keyboard, complete with numpad on the main qwerty keyboard that you enable with an 'Fn' button, and a touchpad below the keyboard itself. Another nice touch is that the right hand side of the touchpad emulates a scroll wheel - you slide downwards to scroll down, upwards to scroll up. It's very responsive and easy to get used to.

As with any SFF/laptop style keyboard, there are a couple of keys that are out of place, concessions made in the name of compactness. The '\' key is now next to a shortened spacebar, and home/end/pgup/pgdn are in a vertical line at the right hand side - I hit 'home' by mistake a couple of times while trying to backspace. The touchpad is also fairly close to the space bar - I've found myself left clicking with my thumbs by accident a couple of times, but I appear to have retrained myself around these niggles fairly quickly over the course of typing this blog. (Pictures of the layout to come when I can find my camera).

Hardware wise: it comes with an RF dongle the size of a thumbdrive (no Bluetooth craziness here) and just emulates a standard keyboard/mouse, so no need to install any drivers. The keyboard itself is powered by 4 AAA batteries (supplied). The range on the thing is pretty mental too - typed several lines into IRC from 10 meters away through a couple of walls with no problem whatsoever. Overall, a superb bit of kit.

What's that? Where can you get hold of one of these marvels? It just so happens that Micro Direct sell them for a little over £40 of your English pounds, and what's more, they accept Google Checkout. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday 30 April 2008

movie certification and targetting [Shedir]

OK, my kids love superheroes. Comics, games, toys and movies. Lub it. Yet while they're aimed at directly in marketing, the main movie isn't really OK for them to view.

12a for Iron Man. F F S.

In this digital age is it TOO much for the movie companies to have different versions for the cinema and on DVD. As a parent I'd love to be able to pop in the U version of spidey3, for example, knowing that the dodgier bits are missing and it's OK for them to view.

After all we have a board of certification who check each scene of the movie, if they can identify 3 or 4 scenes which push from U to PG, 4 from PG to 12, then thats a pathetic 8 changes required to broaden it's market. Once thats budgeted in at the start, for a film AIMED at kids, it would become the norm and make folk like me much much happier.

Then the cinema could have a morning version which is more family friendly, cut rate for families and a post midday screening of the regular version. Everyone wins!

Now I've got the prospect of taking my youngest (at 4) to a 12A, I'm not thrilled about it but he loves the character and I reckon I'll do it. But take him out if he's scared, cover eyes/ears during more suspect moments. Sit at the back of the hall so it's not filling his FOV.

But it's very very annoying that we are expected to shell out for all the associated toys for these franchises, but they won't customise the actual main event for the actual buyers!

Spiderman and superman have really been ok for the kids, only dodgy bit was venom taking over Peter Parker in his sleep. But batman, the new batman stuff is a headfuck. I can only imagine the one due out will be worse. Yet batman and robin suits are aimed at pre12s, bloody double standard shite.

I'm sure I'll burn in hell for taking him, but he can build a pan dimensional suit of armour and come rescue me.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Cruel cruel release day [Am]

Today there is a game called 'Grand Theft Auto IV' being released. You may not have heard of its predeccesors, a minor franchise it would seem, of little note, import or consequence. The gaming equivalent, if you like, of Rudgely.

As if....

It's heartening, if you're gamers like us lot* that a game can generate news items on national news on its day of release. On the way in to the office this morning, I was listening to XFM whose principal hook for the morning show was that they were cutting to two of their people playing GTA IV throughout the morning. The commentary was slightly lame, not least of which because they kept on having to duck the sound for fear of the in-game dialogue suddently advising London's emo-brethren to go and cap some mo'fo in his mo'fo azz. Shame really.... Holborn could do with a bit of a guns-a-blazin chase between the police and a bunch of people in 12 inch platforms who can only move at a briskish walk due to their trouser legs being shackled together....

But, with the major presence of online retailers I suspect there will be some wailing and nashing of teeth today. For every story of an early arrival ahead of official release day, I suspect there will be a hundred nay a thousand pissed off people who will find that the postie has brought nowt today. If it's Slim, we'll laugh loads and then duck because he will be mightily pissed off.

Not I, fortunately dear readers. Due to a stunning display of ineptitude, poor temporal awareness and latterly holiday, I had singularly failed to pre-order til a couple of days ago (not despatched as yet, now cancelled). So when I breezed into Canary Wharf Game this morning at 7.40am, I was, without doubt, a jammy bast to catch one of the last 7 copies of GTA IV which were not allocated to pre-order (a stack it must be said that was piled up behind the sales counter with a physical presence equivalent to a Grade AAA+ Muz-wall). I clutched my bag and breezed out with a look of triumph cast afore the anxious faces of those rushing in who were now, literally, two minutes too late....

So this Eagle is in the nest after a quick double-back through the Starbucks, a family bag of yoghurt raisins emptied onto the floor behind me and shacking it up the down escalator to make sure I wasn't being followed for my precious cargo.....

Everyone else got their's in?


*Although that's the subject of some debate - some say there is only one true Gamer -note cap- who name is Pod 2.0 (not 3.0 that's the dangerous variety) and the rest of us are mere dilitantes who prod a controller with a foppish paw encased in a ruff from time to time....

Wednesday 23 April 2008

FPS your way [Am]

As previously blogged on this here site, we have long been suspecting the death or at least genre-death of several types of game on the lair-based PC in favour of the generally flawless implementation of Live on the Xbox 360. And to be frank, it looks pretty much like that point has come with even the staggeringly good Call of Duty 4 now being bought on console by the vast majority of clannies. This is despite the fact that as a first person shooter, the move to controller over keyboard + mouse control is enough to induce a strong shudder and profound disquiet in many (but not all) of EED.

I have mixed feelings on this - nostalgia for what has been a very enjoyable decade of PC based gaming for me but also a certain shrugging of the shoulders. Playing games on big tellies rocks. The stability of the console and equality of system (no more graphics card whoring) not to mention the huge ease of picking up games with mates on the Live system are all condusive to more gaming. I also suspect that since games have to be bought, it probably induces a bit more inclination to spend time on them. Whatever the reasons, one can't help but notice that the amount of non-MMORPG online gaming being played by our clan has risen pretty markedly.

But I hates that controller for FPS's with avengence. COD4's brilliant implementation on PC is augmented with an aim assistance of tapping the scope button repeatedly on the 360 controller. And I can't help but feel there's a nod from the programmers that frankly, yes, it's all a bit shit playing an FPS on a controller. Not absolutely (it's a great game) but relatively to a superior control mechanism.

Now it's pretty easy to counter this assertion with the obvious 'but you haven't spent any time practising with it Am'. Yes perfectly true. But I have to admit, since I do do a fair amount of gaming in my lair, this has caught my eye today in no uncertain way. A keyboard and mouse plug-in-to-controller whatchermcgadget.

Now I don't know if this will be considered to be an 'unfair' piece of kit to get in. Perhaps, we'll have to see what's voiced. Perhaps the sensible thing is to practice with the controller for weeks and get vaguely good at it. But on the other hand, it would allow me to play the game the way I want to. Is that a bad thing?