Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Merry Yule.

Today we got up nice and early to see the sunrise from our loft window - the sky was beautiful, silver and rose and white, the clouds shifting and changing and becoming more sharply delineated as the sun came up behind them and shone through them. Eventually we were rewarded by the sight of the sun rising above the clouds, whereupon it was too bright to look at. We lit a candle and opened a present each.

Then we went for our traditional solstice walk, up to one of our favourite trees in the neighbourhood, which has a holy well underneath it, where the Romans left offerings.
Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."

--Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas (

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Just finished reading The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson. Quite possibly the most disturbing book I have ever read. Not only because the American military took some fairly fluffy new-age ideas and turned them into horrible tortures and spying techniques; but also because these nutters have an awful lot of power. Which they used to try out their oddball, disturbing and cruel ideas on the unfortunate detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and countless other undisclosed locations. And they managed to make it all seem innocuous by letting the information leak out that they were "only" playing them Barney the Purple Dinosaur - well, once might not have been too bad, but after the hundredth time anyone really would go insane. So next time an American military type wanders up to you and does something completely random, consider the possibility that they may in fact be trying out "PsyOps" on you. All in all, the book is proof positive that military intelligence really is an oxymoron.

Friday, December 16, 2005

leave him alone

BBC News: Politics: The Lib Dem leadership options There is no sight more unedifying than MPs baying for the blood of a slightly tarnished leader (not that Charles Kennedy has ceased to be shiny in my opinion). He is doing a great job for the Lib Dems - it makes a change to have someone who goes in for issues and not tit-for-tat confrontational policies. For goodness sake, leave him alone. It doesn't do the party or its cause any good.

best ever festive songs

The ones I like...

1. The Holly and the Ivy (Christian or Pagan versions)
2. The Sans Day Carol
3. Gaude Te (especially when performed by the Medieval Baebes)
4. O Little Town of Bethlehem (but not the last 2 verses)
5. Stille Nacht (the original version of Silent Night)

Nominations welcome. If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged - blog your own list.

worst ever festive songs

The songs I hate the most....

1. Mistletoe and Wine (Cliff Richard)
2. Last Christmas (Wham)
3. Have yourself a merry little Christmas
4. I'm dreaming of a White Christmas (Bing Crosby)
5. Merry Christmas (Slade)

Nominations welcome. If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged - blog your own list.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

sysadmin God

If God was a Computer Programmer

This explains everything. Really.

yesterday's gym

2km (200 calories) on the cross trainer at level 7. 5km (75 calories) on the exercise bike at level 8. 1km (50 calories) on the rowing machine at level 5.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

happy Monkey Day

Happy Monkey Day / Bueno día del mono / Fröhliches Affentag / Meilleurs voeux pour le Jour de Singe.

Monkey Day is an annual holiday celebrated on December 14th that offers people a reprieve from the traditional religious holidays permeating the month of December. Monkey Day is a fun way to celebrate all things simian, an excuse to hang out with friends and family dressed as monkeys and grunt at one another, and at the same time promoting knowledge and awareness of monkeys and their simian kin.

Speaking as a Monkey, I think it is good to raise awareness of our nearest kin. So here's some links to organisations that help primates (source: Also we should be celebrating the original Monkey King, Sun Wukong.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Iraq: Civil rights groups protest sex segregation in schools
Azzaman reports (December 4): Civil rights groups have protested new rulings that make segregation of sexes in Iraqi schools compulsory. Education ministry has issued regulations under which mixed teaching even at university level will be forbidden. In some universities and schools, girls are forced to wear the veil or scarf and forced to attend classes separately. Mixed education at the primary and tertiary levels was part of the country's secular system until the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.

It's ironic that Americans' much-touted "freedom and democracy" also includes the freedom to turn Iraqi society towards the more extreme manifestations of Islam - despite the fact that much of the population does not agree with this sort of thing.

interfaith solstice

Last night we went to the Bristol Interfaith Group's midwinter gathering, which was lovely. A Buddhist sang a song by Billie Holiday. We heard a Baha'i story and joined in with a Baha'i song. Then there was a Unitarian carol (It came upon the midnight clear), some Methodist kids did a poem, and a Buddhist did a chant. The Jewish community got us chanting Psalm 133 in Hebrew. I read my poem, Winter has come round again and explained the significance of the solstice to Pagans, and got everyone to sing the first two verses of The Holly and the Ivy. Then the Muslim kids told us all about Ramadan and Eid. It was a lot of fun, and I had some interesting conversations with people from other traditions.

death toll in Iraq

George Monbiot » Bringing Out the Dead - the number of casualties resulting from the invasion of Iraq could be as high as 194,000 (with the most probable death toll being 98,000 - if you exclude the Fallujah casualties).

another freedom gone

BBC News: England: London: Activist convicted under demo law

This is the death of freedom of speech (or at least a very serious illness), as John Humphries correctly said on the Today Programme this morning. Maya Evans stood near the Houses of Parliament and read out a list of names of soldiers killed in Iraq whilst tolling a bell. She was arrested, convicted, and given a conditional discharge - but this means she now has a criminal record.

Friday, December 09, 2005

even more gym

Went to the gym again today.
2.48 km on the cross-trainer (that's 246 calories) in 15 minutes at level 5.
3.53 km on the bike (that's 64 calories) in 10 minutes at level 8.
1km on the rowing machine at level 5 (I can never remomber the calories for that one).

two petitions

Defend Asylum for Survivors of Trafficking
A woman is being deported from the US because her asylum case was refused, as she applied for asylum one month too late and the fact that she was suffering from post-traumatic depression after being trafficked to the US was not taken into account.

Urge Jewellery Retailers to Help Clean Up Dirty Gold
Gold mines are destructive of communities and the environment. If jewellery retailers put pressure on the gold mining companies, they could get them to clean up their act, and treat their workers and the environment better. Anyone who has seen Powaqattsi will know how much environmental degradation goldmining can cause.

hostages in Iraq

Guardian: Kidnappers extend deadline for British hostage in Iraq

I think it is awful that these kidnappers are holding and planning to kill a peace protester - someone who went to Iraq to try and promote the cause of freedom for Iraqis. Nothing justifies hostage-taking, it is completely abhorrent. Even if the hostages are not peace protesters.

I think the government is right to say that they will not accede to any hostage-takers' demands, otherwise it would open the door to even more people trying this tactic. But it is awful for the hostages and their families. I really hope the kidnappers listen to the appeals this time.

Another thing, this will seriously undermine the goodwill of many of the people who opposed the war on Iraq. Though of course I realise that the majority of Iraqis are against this sort of thing.

no torture

Guardian: No torture, please, we're British

I think it's excellent that the Law Lords have ruled that evidence procured by using torture will not be admissible in court (whether it's an immigration tribunal or a general court of law). Torture is utterly abhorrent and wrong. Full stop. And it doesn't produce reliable information anyway. Take any historical or recent use of torture, and this can be shown to be the case.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


HERALD-PALLADIUM, South-west Michigan: Bias at the doctor’s office? Wiccan says she got lecture, not birth control prescription she wanted - and he had the bare-faced cheek to charge her $68 for the "consultation"!

(courtesy of mevennen and alfreda89)

don't click here

Why "Click here" is bad linking practice - it's a sure sign of an amateur website when it's littered with "click here" links (or even links that just say "here"). Usability guidelines have been saying for ages that content creators should make links meaningful and predictive of the destination.


Blogpoly - amusing blog-oriented version of Monopoly. Clearly the national game of the People's Republic of the Blogosphere.

it's a hoax...

The wonderful Museum of Hoaxes now has a blog. Looks like it's been there for a while, I just hadn't noticed. It may on the other hand/tentacle/fin/tendril (delete as appropriate) be entirely illusory.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

WB Yeats - Poetry Archive

William Butler Yeats on the Poetry Archive

I heard about the Poetry Archive on Radio 4, and meant to visit it, but hadn't got around to it yet when I saw Joe's link to it. So I went to the site, and found this fascinating recording of WB Yeats talking about and then reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree. It was a bit crackly, but intensely moving to hear him speaking and reading his own poem. He reads it in a sing-song dreamy way which is appropriate to the poem. Yeats is one of my favourite poets, so this was a real find.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Went to the gym at lunchtime and did 2km on the cross-trainer (200 calories); 4km (75 calories) on the exercise bike; and 1km on the rowing machine. Then ate loads of unhealthy food as I was hungry. Ah well.

Monday, December 05, 2005

gay weddings

BBC News: 'Gay weddings' become law in UK - Civil partnership: the wedding that dare not speak its name. I think civil partnerships are great news, but why couldn't they have just called them marriages? That's what they are, and gay people should have the right to get married the same as the rest of us. At least they now have all the legal protection that goes with marriage. And most people will probably refer to it as a wedding and a marriage anyway.

Friday, December 02, 2005

grass roots resistance Bristol Council opposes ID cards. Excellent. Well spotted, Phil. This is good - if local councils oppose ID cards, it will be much more difficult to implement them. Nice to know there's people in politics with a conscience.

guilty secrets

  1. I like Thomas Hardy (except for Jude the Obscure) and can't stand Jane Austen or Charles Dickens
  2. I enjoy listening to Simon and Garfunkel
  3. Eating the darkest of dark chocolate
  4. I have a large collection of teddy bears
  5. I do believe in fairies (I do! I do!)
  6. I like making miniature stone circles and burial mounds on the beach instead of sandcastles
  7. I still don't understand inner joins in SQL or know what the words epistemology and ontology mean, and I don't want to
  8. I don't believe in ley lines
  9. I thought This Life was cool
  10. I've never bought an item of clothing because it was in fashion
A game of tag invented by thecubiclereverend. If you are reading this consider yourself tagged. What on earth is a Hoagie?

interpretive drift

Currently reading Tania Luhrmann's Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England.

So far I have not actually read the whole book. I am up to the chapter entitled "The Child Within" where she talks about the psychology of magical practitioners. I found this somewhat simplistic and also a sweeping generalisation. Also there is no control group to compare us against, so how does she know that these qualities are unique to magical practitioners (even if what she says is true)?

I think what happened (as suggested by Ronald Hutton in Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft) is that she "went native" for a while, then realised that it would adversely affect her academic career, and a reaction against magic set in.

Also, a lot of people were offended by the concept of interpretive drift (the idea that people start out rational but then drift into the magical worldview by degrees, becoming less rational in the process) and the way we are presented in the book as living in a world of childhood dreams. And I think there's always a problem with setting down what people say in a book - for example the description of some of the people I found to be rather clinical and cold. (It's weird reading about someone you know well in a book - feels like some kind of voyeurism.) When Alexander Carmichael was collecting the material for Carmina Gadelica, one man gave him a poem and then walked 25 miles to ask him not to put it in the book, because he didn't want cold eyes to read it in a book. I know what he meant.

It seems from the book that ultimately she rejected magic & paganism - which is fair enough, except for the way she dismisses them as irrational. And nobody likes seeing their inmost thoughts and emotions analysed and dissected.

The early chapters of the book seem quite sympathetic, but then she gradually becomes more rationalistic as the book progresses.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

the mystic rose

The Great Minimum

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

G K Chesterton

What a beautiful poem.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Pullman vs Lewis #2

Another thing... Philip Pullman accuses Lewis of sado-masochism because of the scene at the end of The Silver Chair where Caspian, Eustace and Jill go into the school grounds and give the school bullies a good seeing-to with the flat of their swords.

Obviously Mr Pullman wasn't bullied at school, otherwise he might have enjoyed this scene more. Anyone who was bullied at school would appreciate this scene. It's not so much that one would actually want to carry it out, it's just a cathartic thing to read.

Also, the Narnia books are fairy tales - i.e. a fantasy version of life, where people get their come-uppance in a fairly graphic way. As in the Brothers Grimm fairy tales (Märchen), such as the original version of Cinderella, where the Ugly Sisters cut bits off their feet in order to fit into the fur slipper (not a glass slipper) which Aschenpüttel (Cinderella) wore to the dance, and the reason they are discovered is because blood oozes out over the side of the slipper. (The Grimm version was bowdlerised by Perrault, the French author who popularised the story. These are psychological symbols, not actual events (see Bruno Bettelheim's excellent The Uses of Enchantment for more examples).

As it happens, I think CS Lewis did confess in one of his more candid moments to SM leanings, but I think he would have been reasonably careful to keep them out of his writings for children.

mad ostrich

Mort the Ostrich - fabulous site discovered by Green. It's amazing what you can do with a copy of Paint, Flash, and a sense of humour.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pullman vs Lewis

I love Philip Pullman's books (apart from his propensity for killing off characters - I was really sad when Roger and Lee Scoresby were killed) but I wish he wouldn't keep on having a go at CS Lewis. He's been at it steadily since 1998, and has had another go recently because the Narnia film is about to be released. At least he likes the Swallows and Amazons books and hasn't had a go at those.

I count both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien as influences in the process of my becoming a Pagan, because of their positive attitude to the natural world and the old gods (for example the bit at the end of Prince Caspian, where Aslan releases the river god from the 'chain' imposed by the Bridge of Beruna that was built by the Telmarines, and Bacchus and the Maenads dance through the woods). I was a Christian when I first read the books as a child, but later realised I am a Pagan, partly because of the wonderful magical worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth, partly because of reading Puck of Pook's Hill and Wizard of Earthsea and of course other factors in my life and spiritual development that had nothing to do with books. I also thought that Aslan was a much nicer deity than Jehovah, and therefore couldn't possibly be the same being, even though Lewis implies at the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader that he is.

Pullman complains that Lewis's books are peddling a version of the Christian message: "It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue," - well, Pullman's books unashamedly (and far more blatantly) peddle an atheist or at least an agnostic viewpoint. The only bits in the Chronicles of Narnia where it becomes a bit obvious that the stories are an allegory for the Christian story are the sacrifice of Aslan on the Stone Table in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (but then he is a sacrifice in Edmund's stead and not instead of the whole world, and it is the "even deeper Magic from before the dawn of time" that brings about his resurrection), and the bit at the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader where he appears to the children as a lamb and tells them that they must get to know him better in their own world.

Also Pullman has taken a lot of his ideas about the Garden of Eden myth from Gnostic thought, and has not acknowledged this (though I suppose it's just possible that he came up with it independently). I think he is right, though, in his interpretation of the myth.
"I thought wasn't it a good thing that Eve did, isn't curiosity a valuable quality? Shouldn't she be praised for risking this? It wasn't, after all, that she was after money or gold or anything, she was after knowledge. What could possibly be wrong with that?"

The other allegations that Pullman makes are that the Narnia stories are racist, sexist and mysogynist. Granted, the Calormenes are a fairly obvious parody of the Arabs, but they are not portrayed as all bad (think of Emeth in The Last Battle) and there are attractive aspects of their culture. Also, the Telmarines are just as bad as the Calormenes in many ways, and they are clearly white Europeans (even if they entered Narnia via an island in the South Seas). As for the charges of sexism, when the boys occasionally make a disparaging comment about girls (e.g. in Prince Caspian when Peter says that the trouble with girls is that they can't carry a map in their heads), the girls respond in a fairly spirited manner with an equally biting comment about boys. Another possible example is when they treat the girls in a chivalrous manner (e.g. when Caspian gives Lucy his cabin in Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Eustace complains because his mother is a feminist) - Lewis is clearly on the side of chivalry. But it has to be remembered that before chivalry was invented (by women in the 12th century), men treated women like mere chattels. Chivalry may be old-fashioned, but it is not misogynistic.

The other specific incident that Pullman criticises is from The Last Battle, when Lucy explains that Susan has lost interest in Narnia because she thinks it's all just a silly game that they played when they were kids, and now she's more interested in clothes and make-up. So Susan remains in this world while all the others go to Narnian heaven (from which you can see the heaven of this universe). Pullman claims that "One girl was sent to hell because she was getting interested in clothes and boys." This claim is simply not supported by the text.

So, in denigrating Lewis and Tolkien, secularists have entirely missed the point that the books may express a Christian worldview to a certain extent, but they are also about the mythopoeic worldview and spirituality in general, and children are not so gullible that they will uncritically soak up everything from a writer, but are capable of reading critically (I know, because I remember as a child disagreeing with some of Lewis's comments about things). Also, his portrayal of Jadis (the Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) did not put me off witches - I just assumed that there were two different kinds of witches, the wicked sort that you find in fairy-tales, and the village wise-women variety that dispense herbs and healing. That said, I think the portrayal of witches in His Dark Materials is absolutely brilliant, and I wish I'd thought of the idea of daemons (which, incidentally, are very similar to the idea of the external soul explored in The Golden Bough by JG Frazer).

Many people read both the Narnia books and His Dark Materials without ever drawing the parallels between the fantasy world and this world. I've seen Christians happily reading Pullman without turning a hair about the portrayal of their God, and atheists happily reading Lewis without noticing the Christian allegory. Maybe it's because these works are about parallel worlds, and not explicitly about this one, even though you can get to the parallel worlds from this world. Tolkien was a keen advocate of the concept of applicability (being able to apply ideas from fiction to life in general rather than to a specific set of circumstances) and he hated allegory (which was one of the reasons he disliked the Narnia books). But both the Narnia series and Pullman's work are applicable and not allegorical.

Whilst I am concerned about Pullman's attacks on Lewis (who is, after all, dead and hence unable to defend himself), I am also concerned about evangelical Christians trying to hijack the Narnia books and use them as a vehicle for the Christian message, and also about them attacking Pullman's work (or for that matter, JK Rowling's work) because they are afraid of it undermining the Christian message. If the Christian message was that great, it wouldn't need protecting or promoting, people would be instinctively drawn to it.

For goodness' sake, everybody just simmer down and realise that literature is literature, children do have critical faculties and are capable of reading between the lines, and these are, at the end of the day, just stories. We may be inspired by the characters in stories, but we read many different stories, and get different world-views from different authors, which enables us to understand that there are many different possible views of the world, and synthesise our own individual world-view from the many different versions available to us.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

demotivational images

Despair, Inc.: a plethora of beautiful images designed as a healthy remedy for those pompous motivational posters.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Moon trees

The trees that went to the moon - wow, what an amazing story - I had no idea that one of the missions to the Moon actually took tree seeds with them - it was one of the crew of Apollo 14, Stuart Roosa. And these trees were planted in various places in America. Cool.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Libertine

Great acting, interesting chiaroscuro sets, good writing, and lots of steamy scenes with Johnny Depp with not much on. However we still came away from the film feeling a bit depressed. The moral of the story is "Aren't condoms brilliant?" - except they weren't commonly used during the reign of Charles II. (They had been invented by the Romans, but weren't very pleasant.) Johnny Depp did a marvellous impression of Father Jack (looking scabrous and with a filmy eye, slouching in a chair and shouting "Drink! Drink!") and Samantha Morton was very good as an actress who couldn't act, and was then coached by Johnny's character (it takes considerable acting skills to be able to depict a person who can't act). Also I couldn't help noticing that even when Johnny Depp is covered in horrible syphilitic scab make-up, he still has lovely bone structure... Ultimately, as my friend commented, the film depicts a person who has his self-destruct button permanently pressed. Nice cameo role from John Malkovich as Charles II - shades of Dangerous Liaisons, I thought - there were quite a few parallels with that film. Also I liked the device of a prologue and epilogue, borrowed from the plays of the period - a neat Verfremdungseffekt. Also the way the film appeared to end with Wilmot's death, but then actually ended with his stage death in the play about him written by an acquaintance of his, George Etherege.

Johnny Depp Zone
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

Friday, November 18, 2005

killer app

Is it too much to ask? All I want is the ultimate application.
  • The ability to parse text like Excel (Text → Data to Columns function) - useful for breaking up text and inserting XML tags between bits of it

  • A global find and replace function like the one in Text Pad, with regular expressions, and which remembers your previous search strings and replace strings and stores them in a drop-down menu for you to reuse, but also has the ability to search and replace multiple lines of code like the find and replace function in Dreamweaver

  • A directory tree display and site manager function like the one in Dreamweaver (where you can select multiple files from different folders)

  • A pretty-print function like the one in XML Spy

  • The ability to customise how the text appears in code view (another great XML Spy feature)

  • The ability to display XML Schemas graphically (XML Spy and oXygen)

  • The ability to easily expand and collapse the DOM tree (also from XML Spy)

  • Drop-down tag and attribute editor for XML and XHTML (Dreamweaver and XML Spy)

  • and drop-down property and value selector for CSS (Dreamweaver MX 2004)

  • Built-in code validation (XML Spy)

  • A design view like the one in Dreamweaver and the ability to transform XML using XSL like in XML Spy

I'm sure there's more but I can't think of them at the moment. If all the various software for editing code had all of these features, it would be so much nicer. Particularly annoying is the lack of a global find and replace function in XML Spy (you can only do one file at a time).

erosion of habeas corpus

Synesis: Magna Carta? Wossat then?: "Magna Carta? Wossat then?
No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
(Article 39 of Magna Carta)"

Excellent post by Synesis on the erosion of the right of habeas corpus represented by the increase of the police's detention powers to 28 days.

not even numbers

Reg Keys: Letter to Tony Blair: "to you, the dead are not people; the dead are not names; the dead are not even numbers.

You did not, on 1 May 2005, know how many British forces have been killed."

white phosphorus

BBC News: US used white phosphorus in Iraq

If you use something as a chemical weapon - even if it is not classed as one - then it is a chemical weapon. White phosphorus was fired into the covered positions of insurgents, to "flush them out". In that case it is being used as a weapon, not as a smokescreen, and it has a chemical effect on human flesh, burning it down to the bone, therefore it's a chemical weapon.

no compromise

BBC News: UN human rights team will not visit Guantanamo
The UN has formally rejected a US invitation to visit the Guantanamo prison camp, saying it cannot accept the restrictions imposed by Washington.

UN human rights experts said the US had refused to grant them the right to speak to detainees in private.

I think the team made the right decision - one which highlights the criminal way in which the US treats detainees, in both Guantanamo and Iraq.

even MI5 against ID cards

BBC News: Ex-MI5 chief sparks ID card row

Even Stella Rimington (ex-head of MI5) thinks ID cards are a waste of time.

The argument put forward by the former government crime advisor Lord Mackenzie, that an ID card would have prevented the Soham murders (by preventing Huntley from getting the job in the first place), may well be true - but the existing system of safeguards should also have prevented him from getting the job in the first place, if Humberside police had been using it correctly. It is also cynical in the extreme to use this kind of emotive argument to try to whip up support for the flagging ID cards scheme.

Related articles: Ex-MI5 chief lukewarm on ID cards (16-11-05)
Minister rejects ID card fears (17-11-05)

surveillance overload

Gatso 2: rollout of UK's '24x7 vehicle movement database' begins | The Register - even scarier than ID cards. Really. I mean, how did they sneak this in without even getting parliamentary scrutiny?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

DVD for sale

Anybody want to buy Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers? Only £11.
The Shadow War has ended, leaving hundreds of civilisations devastated by the conflict. It is up to the ISA, with the help of the Rangers, to rebuild what the great war destroyed and to maintain peace among the worlds of the ISA. The Legend of the Rangers pilot movie deals with the Ranger crew of the Liandra, a semi-organic ship based on Minbari technology. The Rangers encounter a previously unknown alien race, called the Hand, whose lethal power is far greater than any force previously known to Earth or any other world in the Interstellar Alliance. The Legend Of The Rangers is a movie spin off from the hugely popular Babylon 5 series.

Nick and I both bought a copy of this at the same time, so now I'm selling the surplus one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

multifaith army

Armed Forces' first Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh chaplains officially welcomed to their positions (BBC News)

Hmm, I wonder how many Pagans there are in the armed forces? I know of one. There must be more. I wonder how long it would take to get a Pagan chaplain? In fact, the MoD should be able to say how many they've got, as it is possible to get your religion printed on your dogtag.

There are 183,000 Christians, 305 Muslims, 230 Hindus, 220 Buddhists, 90 Sikhs and 65 Jews. It's excellent that the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs now have chaplains (the Jewish personnel already had one).

who runs the web

BBC News: US retains hold of the internet: "There are other larger social justice issues to be tackled, such as how to ensure freedom of expression and information for everyone on the net, an issue which bloggers will be watching closely."

I would have thought the internet should be governed by an international body, but if that means allowing certain governments to impose tighter censorship on the web (as the US government argued it would) then it would not be a good thing. Also the issue of widening access to the web in developing countries needs to be tackled - 14% of people on the web in developing countries compared with 62% in the US is a yawning gulf by anybody's standards.

See also: The net and politicians don't mix, by Paul Twomey, head of Icann.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Darth Sheep

Darth Sheep That's the scariest-looking sheep I've ever seen.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Museum of Witchcraft

Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle.

If anyone wanted to visit a museum with fascinating exhibits and really user-friendly labelling, this is the place to go. I find it interesting that a museum run by people with no curatorial training (as far as I know) actually has some of the best labelling I've seen. It's also run by an independent body and receives no public funds. Though some other museums helped after the floods by donating display cases and advice about conservation of the flood-damaged objects.

killing joke

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing.

He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

See also: Flexible Dubya

Both sent to me by a friend via email.

Friday, November 11, 2005

chariots of fire

Today I did 11km in total in the gym, and burnt 325 calories. 8 km in 15 minutes on the exercise bike, 2 km in 15 minutes on the cross-trainer, and 1km in 5 minutes on the rowing machine. A personal best so far. While watching the heart-rate counter on the machines, I tend to think of the film Gattaca... And during the cool-down part, I tend to hum the music from Chariots of Fire in my head, as it is a nice slow rhythm to move to.


peace poppy
remembrance poppy

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen
September - October, 1917

TLA number plates

Pip has created the ultimate geek experience: the TLA number plates pool on Flickr. They're mostly file extensions and other acronyms known to geeks, but quite amusing.

When I was a kid, we had a game to pass the time on long journeys, where you had to make up words to go with the letters of a number plate, e.g. WHW might be World Heavyweight Whistler. Maybe you could get extra points for spotting a number plate that already is a three-letter acronym.

post topics

I just came up with this idea, so I'm feeling rather pleased with myself...

Using to tag posts on Blogger

One of the things that Blogger lacks (user-friendly though it is in many other ways) is the ability to group blog entries by topic. I have solved this problem using

Getting set up
1. Create a account and add buttons to your bookmarks toolbar.
2. Set up a 'blog' tag bundle
3. Set up your topic categories (give them the prefix blog_ if you want to use to track other types of link)
4. Add all your previous blog posts to your categories using the procedure below.
5. Change your template so that you have links to each blog post category under the heading (or wherever is appropriate on your template) - and be sure to republish entire blog after changing the template.

1. From now on, whenever you create a post, open it in a new window or tab using the permanent link.
2. Click on the 'remember this' button on the Bookmarks toolbar.
3. Select your categories, e.g. blog_blogging, blog_geeky
4. Add notes if required. Click save.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

in the name of God, go!

Guardian Unlimited: Simon Hoggart: Hubbub then humiliation: Crispin Blunt arrived with the crucial slip of paper. Mr Blunt is a Tory MP who helped push Iain Duncan Smith on his way out two years ago. Yesterday he had a walk-on part in what might be the defenestration of Tony Blair. Rosencrantz and Crispin Blunt! His voice boomed out as if the hand of history were round his throat.

"The ayes to the right, 291! The noes to the left, 322!"

The next thing he should have said was: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go". (The words uttered by Cromwell to the Long Parliament and Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain.)

Apparently a large swathe of the population thinks that the 90-day detention period is a good idea. They clearly haven't noticed the ludicrously long list of people wrongly detained under the existing anti-terrorism legislation: Walter Wolfgang, Sally Cameron, David Mery, and probably numerous others that we haven't heard about, including many innocent Muslims who appear on lists of al Qaeda suspects.

Among human rights campaigners there remains an uneasiness that innocent people are being added to lists and accused of crimes they have never committed
- Barnie Choudhury

no to racist quotas

NUS Statement on Glees Report into extremism on campus

The Glees Report apparently advocated that universities should be allowed to have no more than 8% minority ethnic students, in order to prevent the fomentation of terrorism. That is outrageous and utterly racist. It would be blatant discrimination.

fuzzy boundaries

Salam Pax on religion: "You, I and the whole world talks these days of Sunnis and Shia and Kurds as if they are homogeneous groups. We have lost all nuance and differentiation. As if no Sunni had a Shia neighbour ever. As if Kurds never lived in central Iraq. As if my Shia mother never got married to my Sunni father. AS IF EVERY SINGLE IRAQI TAKES HIS/HER ORDERS DIRECTLY FROM THEIR IMAMS.

Stop trying to label me and then either punish me or bestow your sympathy on me depending on that label you just stuck to my forehead. I don’t believe in your bloody gods. Where does that put me in Iraq? Nowhere I guess, unless the Kurds start taking refugees."

Exactly right - identities (religious or ethnic or political or sexual) are not monolithic and discrete. Just because I'm European, doesn't mean I'm a Christian. Just because I'm a Wiccan, doesn't make me a duotheist. Just because I'm a web developer, doesn't mean I'm 100% geeky. And fortunately for me, none of my various identities makes me a target for persecution (at the moment) or kidnappers.

protect Bloggers

Committee to Protect Bloggers :: Sign the Petitions

Please sign the petitions to save three bloggers from imprisonment and torture.

Omid Sheikhan petition
Mojtaba Saminejad petition
Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman petition

Joe's uncle

The Woolamaloo Gazette: Sit down to stand up - reflections on the death of Rosa Parks: Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This is a great story about Joe's uncle, an ordinary unsung hero, doing the decent thing, and sticking to it. Thanks Joe.


"In a free society you don't need a reason to make something legal, you need a reason to make something illegal" - The West Wing 2:15
- quote at the bottom of my boss's email. I like it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Went to the gym today and did 2.5 km on the cross trainer (225 calories) in 15 minutes; 5km on an exercise bike (75 calories) in 10 minutes; and 1km on the rowing machine in 5 minutes. So that's 8.5 km in total. Hmm, that's half a kilometer less than last time. Still, I more than doubled the distance on the step machine.

Monday, November 07, 2005

museum usability again

I sent this email to Jakob Nielsen...

From: Yvonne Aburrow
Sent: Monday, November 07, 2005 4:18 AM
To: Jakob Nielsen
Subject: Usability for museums

Hi Jakob

Recently I have become aware of an annoying example of poor usability and accessibility. It is the way museums label their exhibits. Frequently there is a number next to the object, and this refers to a panel with explanatory text. This is OK for small objects where there is no room to add captions next to the objects, but frequently it is employed for large objects, where the aesthetic value of the object is often seen as more important than its meaning.

Unfortunately this makes it very difficult for people with dyslexia to enjoy the exhibition, because by the time they have transferred their gaze from the exhibit to the interpretation panel, they have forgotten the number, and have to go back again. I myself am not dyslexic but frequently have this problem anyway! In one museum we visited, there was a costume exhibition, and the distance between the numbers and the explanatory text was so great that a lady who was both short- and long-sighted had to
change her glasses each time.

The solution is simply to place a short explanatory caption next to the object (e.g. 14th C English spoon), and a longer piece giving the context below or beside the display case.

If you feel like writing an Alertbox about this issue, I would greatly appreciate it.

And he replied:
Thank you. It's a classic usability problem to place labels or instructions too far from the object they relate to, and it's also a classic warning sign of poor usability when you have to introduce an extra UI element (here the number) to connect/relate items as opposed to relying on direct mappings. Maybe one day I will visit a major museum with my usability hat on and write about it.
I also sent a similar email to some museums I visited recently, and one of them responded to the effect that they will take my feedback into account when designing new displays. I also posted about it on the FISH list, and someone passed it on to the MDA forum, and I got an email from them asking if they could forward my comments to a museum accessibility mailing list. Hurrah!

the nature of consciousness

What is consciousness? What is its origin? Can it exist outside the human brain?

The way I see it, consciousness pervades the universe, but is more dense and focused in certain locales. (Compare matter, which is also unevenly distributed.) We are foci (or perhaps nexi) of consciousness, and so are deities. We arise out of the underlying consciousness of the universe, which has been described in a number of spiritual traditions: the Neoplatonic "one god", the Tao in Chinese thought, the Pleroma in Gnostic thought, and Wyrd in Northern thought, are related concepts (though not interchangeable). I see it as an omnipresent impersonal underlying energy. But precisely because it is omnipresent, it cannot be locally focussed, and its awareness (if it has one) is entirely other, and incomprehensible.

Neoplatonism was a late development in classical paganism, probably in response to Christian monotheism. Most of the ancient classical mystery traditions were either henotheist or polytheist (though the one that has come down to us via Lucius Apuleius was syncretist: It is interesting to speculate why there was a shift in the focus of religion towards the underlying energy instead of the beings who arise from it (apart from the obvious one of people being forcibly converted to Christianity). And now there is a shift back to polytheism proper (i.e. believing in many deities as individuals, rather than regarding them as aspects of a greater unity). Perhaps this is because people are having more in-depth encounters with the gods.

Consciousness (both incarnate and discarnate) arises out of the underlying energy, and can dissolve back into it. But while it is manifested, either in its own realm or ours, it is distinct and individual (I am talking about both human and divine consciousness here). Can gods die? I don't know. Certainly the gods of Valhalla are said to need Iduna's golden apples in order to maintain their immortality. I quite like Terry Pratchett's theory of how gods occur, expressed in the book Small Gods. But I think gods are entities who have continued to exist for thousands of years. However, the way we perceive the gods may well not be what they actually look like, just the "clothing" we put on them when we see them.

Discussion of consciousness dissolving back into the underlying energy reminds me of the question of what happens when we die (an appropriate post-Samhain subject) - there are many possible theories here:

  • death is the final dissolution of consciousness, that's it;
  • everyone dissolves back into the soul soup;
  • everyone goes to an afterlife;
  • everyone is reincarnated as an individual;
  • only initiates are reincarnated as individuals, everyone else goes back into the soul soup (this theory is found among some South American 'shamans');
  • the impersonal soul or essence is reincarnated, the personal spirit gets recycled into the soul soup;
  • the impersonal soul or essence is reincarnated, the personal spirit goes to an afterlife to be with the ancestors

Sunday, November 06, 2005

surreal spaces

Today we went into Bath and caught the last day of an exhibition of works by Philip Bouchard entitled Surreal Spaces, and also met the artist, which was nice. His works are wonderfully surreal and beautifully executed, placing familiar buildings in imaginary landscapes reminiscent of Claude Lorrain. One of his sketches reminded me of the work of Paul Delvaux, and another of a painting called Rivières Tièdes by Ithell Colquhoun (though he wasn't familiar with her work), and there were occasional references to other surrealists as well.

haiku schmaiku...

100 great books in haiku

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Snow-drops hang like tears.
Shy, sweet, saintly Beth has died.
One down, three to go.

These are really funny, I wish I had thought of that. I mean, I thought scifaiku was a pretty neat idea, but this is hysterically funny.

Also available: Haikus for Jews, which includes such gems as:

Is one Nobel Prize
so much to ask from a child
after all I've done?

Friday, November 04, 2005

people of the book

Guardian: Christian group may seek ban on Qur'an: "[The] director [of Christian Voice], Stephen Green, said the organisation would consider taking out prosecutions against shops selling the Islamic holy book. He told the Guardian: 'If the Qur'an is not hate speech, I don't know what is. We will report staff who sell it. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that unbelievers must be killed.'"

Yes it does. Exodus 18:22, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Leviticus 20:13 "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death" and numerous other examples. Okay so it's not advocating killing unbelievers, but it is advocating killing gays and witches, which is just as bad. And there were numerous occasions in the Old Testament where people were killed for being pagans. Hey, does that mean that we can get the Bible banned for inciting religious hatred? Now that would be amusing.


The Guardian: Why is Bell's Blair wearing Major's pants?

A splendid article explaining why Steve Bell used to draw his caricature of John Major with Y-fronts, and why the mantle of the pants has now been passed on to Tony Blair. As the article concludes, everything Blair touches is just pants.

Oh, those heady days back in 1997, when we thought we were going to get a government that would champion justice, peace, and equality, and when Steve Bell was drawing Blair with a thong. What were we thinking of? How could we have been so naïve?


I just did 1km on the cross trainer in the gym, 6.5km on the bike machine, and 1.5km on the rowing machine. Only burnt around 300 calories though. Hopefully it will improve my muscle-tone. Only problem is, I'm hungry now...

madness takes its toll

Guardian: Steve Bell on ID cards
28.06.05: Charles Clarke's ID card
17.06.05: Tony Blair being biometrically scanned
12.11.03: Blair shows Bush his ID card
04.07.02: Suspicious foreign geezer

latest Firefox stats

BBC News: Technology: Firefox fanbase reaches new high

This is good news for web standards. Though since Firefox is completely fabulous, I can't understand why more people are not using it - unless they are just too clueless to download it or something.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

paint it blog

I see a weblog and I want to write a post
No diary anymore I want it all online
I see a keyboard and my fingers start to twitch
I have to turn my head until my geekness goes

I see a landscape and I want to post on Flickr
My love-life goes online just a little quicker
Than you can say Blogspot or Livejournal or Wordpress.
Obsessive-compulsive, it just happens ev'ry day

I look inside myself and see my heart has blogged
I see my inner self and it is all online
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
It's not easy facin' up when your whole world is blogs

No more will I refrain from telling all my secrets
I could not foresee this thing happening to me

If I blog hard enough with all my might and main
My friends on LJ will always know my name

I see a weblog and I want to write a post
No diary anymore I want it all online
I see a keyboard and my fingers start to twitch
I have to turn my head until my geekness goes

Hmm, hmm, hmm,...

I wanna blog it, blog it, blog it, blog
Blog my life, blog my soul
I wanna see the sun blogged in the sky
I wanna see it all written in my blog, blog, blog, blog

(with apologies to the Rolling Stones)
Listen to Paint it Black tune

Lib Dems say no to ID

The Liberal Democrats have stepped up their campaign against ID cards by launching a petition and there's also a page with 10 reasons why they're a bad idea.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Went to darkjewelz' birthday party last night, it was brilliant. Met lots of lovely people. Got chatting to catvincent, ranging over topics such as esoterica, science fiction, and house cleansing ceremonies. If you see a man wearing a Ranger brooch at a party, always go up to him and say "You're a Ranger" - you never know what might happen.

The incriminating evidence...

Monday, October 31, 2005


the adventures of a reluctant pink dot. This is a rather interesting illusion. The appearance of the green dots can be explained by the exhaustion of the cone cells of the eye after prolonged exposure to a single colour, which produces the appearance of its complementary colour. But I'm not sure why the pink dots eventually disappear and you end up seeing just a single moving green dot.

irrelevant? - Prince Charles interview - Oct 30, 2005 Anyone who highlights the issues of climate change, industrialisation, the environment, etc., is relevant, no matter if they're the heir to the throne or anyone else. Prince Charles has been saying this sort of thing for some years now, even before it was generally accepted. He may be in a rather strange position, being part of an institution that's widely seen as irrelevant to modern life, but he's in the media spotlight, so if he can draw people's attention to these issues, that's great. Also he has done some good stuff with the Prince's Trust and his other charities. In a way it's good that he is not the King, because if he was, he'd probably have to be a lot more neutral (look what happened to Edward VIII after he spoke out about the plight of the miners in South Wales). And I think his views on architecture are spot-on.

retro experience

At the weekend we went to the Re-enactors' Market, a splendid place for obtaining stylish historical gear at very reasonable prices. I bought a lovely 17th century coat from the Historical Costume Company and various other bits and pieces, including a bronze pendant of Odin riding on Sleipnir in this design. On the way back we went to the Rollright Stones, and also visited the Whispering Knights and the King Stone. It was very sad to see the paint splashes on the stones, but I suppose they can't remove them without further damaging the rare lichens that grow there. We had an interesting feeling by the King Stone, that there was a line of energy between it and the small ring of stones at the top of the hill (presumably part of the long barrow of which the King Stone was originally the portal stone).

Thursday, October 27, 2005

petition for OpenDocument

OpenDocument Petition: "OpenDocument for an Open Future"

OpenDocument is a format that would allow Microsoft Office documents to be shared with other office software. Microsoft have said that they will support it in the next version of Office if there is enough customer demand. So if you want Office documents that are interchangeable with other software, please sign the petition.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Black Romans

Septimius Severus and other Black Romans.
Not very many people seem to realise that one of the Roman Emperors was Black - Septimius Severus, who was one of the four ruling Roman Emperors to come to Britain (they were Claudius, Septimius Severus, Constantius Chlorus, who died at York, and Constantine, his son, who was declared emperor at York). Hadrian came to Britain but wasn't emperor at the time. You never see depictions of Black Romans. There were also Syrians, and people from all over the Roman Empire. There's a brilliant book which emphasises this: The Emperor's Babe by Bernadine Evaristo.

forgotten geniuses

Black Scientists and Inventors

How come we've never heard of any of these people? Not only did they invent a lot of really useful stuff, they did it against huge odds created by slavery and segregation.

See also: UK Black History Month site, especially the article about Mark Dean, computer scientist and architect of the PC.

goodbye Rosa Parks

BBC News: US civil rights icon Parks dies
The story of Rosa Parks is one of those heartening tales that makes you realise that a single individual can make a difference - it is possible for one person to be the catalyst that starts the avalanche. She deserves to be remembered.

Rosa Parks, the black woman whose 1955 protest action in Alabama marked the start of the modern US civil rights movement, has died at the age of 92.

Mrs Parks' refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus prompted a mass black boycott of buses, organised by Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, October 24, 2005

trip to York

Arrived in York on Friday night after a nightmare train journey (though we met some really nice people on the train), and discovered an excellent Chinese restaurant, the Happy Valley on Goodramgate that serves traditional Chinese food. I had squid in Hoi Sin sauce and Nick had chicken in Hoi Sin sauce. Our sleep was disturbed by mad women screeching and shouting on the stairs from 4 to 6 am. Grr.

On Saturday, after breakfast in a lovely café called the Pantry, we visited Clifford's Tower, a Norman tower on a very large motte mound. This was the site of the massacre of the Jews of York in 1190. They committed mass suicide and set fire to the wooden tower in which they had taken refuge from the ravening mob outside. A few surrendered on the promise of safe conduct and baptism, but the mob killed them anyway. The current stone tower was built as a replacement. Sad story. It was hoying it down with rain, and we got soaked, but went next to the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, a medieval guild hall, a splendid half-timbered place, which still has all the heraldic flags of its guilds. After that we went to York Minster and its crypt. I was again struck by the very Kabbalistic-looking painting of the vision of St Cuthbert on the roof of the small modern chapel at the west end of the Minster. In the afternoon the weather cleared up, so we walked the entire length of the city walls. After that we really needed a sit-down, so we went to the Snicklegate Inn, and thence once more to the Happy Valley Bistro, where Nick had Taiwan sizzling steak and I had Udon noodle soup.

On Sunday, we had breakfast in the Pantry again, then walked along the river to the Yorkshire Museum and its gardens. It was raining again so we didn't spend much time in the gardens. The museum was interesting but there was the usual problem with numbered captions, which made it very tiring to identify all the objects. However they have some really good stuff in there, like the Middleham Jewel, and their Viking and Anglo-Saxon and Roman collections. After that we visited the Treasurer's House, a bizarre confection of styles and periods assembled by an Edwardian gentleman. Then we went to Barley Hall, a reconstructed medieval house. This was great fun as you could dress up in the costumes and play with things. Later we walked to Dick Turpin's grave and then had dinner in the Happy Valley Bistro again. This time we had a Chinese Satay hotpot - a big wok full of hot soup and lots of fresh things to cook in it. Delicious. That's the first time in my life I've ever eaten in the same restaurant three nights running!

Today, Nick went to a work meeting with a colleague, and I went shopping and bought most of my Yule presents in Shared Earth. I also got a really nice bag which was reduced to 2 pounds - what a bargain! The train journey back was better than on the way up.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Microsoft slam ID scheme

Even Microsoft think that the national ID database is a bad idea!

In an article for The Scotsman, Jerry Fishenden, the national technology officer for Microsoft, says the proposal to place "biometrics" - or personal identifiers such as fingerprints - on a central database could perpetuate the "very problem the system was intended to prevent". He says ministers "should not be building systems that allow hackers to mine information so easily".

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

nowhere to hide

Well, only Denmark, Norway, the United States, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland.

Wikipedia: Countries without compulsory identity cards

Australia ('citizenship certificate'), Austria, Canada ('Certificate of Canadian Citizenship'), Finland, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden (from 1 October 2005), and Switzerland have non-compulsory identity cards.

Denmark, Norway, the United States, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland have no official national identity cards.

innocent in London

Innocent in London - So you think that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear? Wrong, wrong, wrong. David Mery was arrested under the Terrorism Act for having a rucksack and a thick coat (sound familiar?) on one of the coldest days of the year. He is a computer geek, so he has various bits of computer and hardware lying round his flat, which the police found suspicious when they went to search it. Please read this story, it makes chilling reading. Especially if you are a computer geek, as the behavioural profile of a computer geek matches that of a terrorist apparently.

Meanwhile in Dundee, a woman was arrested under the Terrorism Act for walking along a cycle path: Times Online: "Two wheels: good. Two legs: terrorist suspect"
She said: "I was told that the cycle path was for cyclists only, as if walkers and not cyclists were the only ones likely to plant bombs. There are no signs anywhere saying there are to be no pedestrians."

3.3 km

Hurrah! I went to the gym and did 1.3 km on the cross-trainer, another 1 km on the belt-type running machine, and 1km on a rowing machine. And all in half the time it would have taken me to do 1 km in the swimming pool. Cool. And it tells you how many calories you have burnt, which is very motivating. Which means I shall be able to do Bridget Jones style blog posts. Calories consumed: thousands. Calories burnt: 200 (approx). Number of times thought about Mark Darcy (1 - v.g.)

Anybody speak Parseltongue?

BBC News: England: Manchester: Snake hiding in sewers is caught

A huge boa constrictor called Keith was found in a Manchester sewer, rather reminiscent of the large basilisk lurking in the pipes at Hogwarts. They could have done with a Parseltongue speaker (a Parselmouth) to coax it out...

pentagram meanings

The meaning of a pentagram: excellent article about the symbolism and history of the pentagram, including its use as a Christian symbol, and an explanation of the meaning of the inverted pentagram.

brown eyes and worn fingerprints

BBC News: Politics: ID cards scheme dubbed 'a farce'
Plans for a national ID card scheme have been branded "farcical" after suggestions it might misidentify people with brown eyes or men who go bald.

BBC News: Magazine: Can fingerprints wear away?
People could apparently be misidentified by hi-tech scanners developed for national ID cards because their fingerprints have been worn away.

Even the Tories are against ID cards now - more on practical than ideological grounds it seems. And some Labour MPs are going to rebel when the Commons votes on whether the bill will go on to a third reading. But the government seems to be determined to push this through. Would the last person out of the country please remember to turn out the lights?

Monday, October 17, 2005

usability for blogs

Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

Hmm, these are interesting. I'm not guilty of mistakes 1, 2, 4 and 6.

I tend to end up using short titles (mistake 3) because of the width of the post links bar on the side of the template. Though as I have heavily redesigned the template, I suppose I could redesign it some more.

Actually for mistake 7 - irregular publishing frequency - I disagree with what he says on this. The whole point of a blog is that it is about the white heat of responding to things, not keeping them back and posting them later.

And number 8 - mixing topics - can be overcome by good tagging (unfortunately I haven't tagged anything on either Livejournal or Blogger, very bad).

As for number 9, if future bosses can't handle my views on Iraq, Wicca, ID cards, etc., then they probably wouldn't be able to handle the rest of my personality either.

And number 10 - yes, this is an amateur blog - so what?

who will speak for the dead?

25000 civilian dead in Iraq since the invasion

"The ever-mounting Iraqi death toll is the forgotten cost of the decision to go to war in Iraq. On average, 34 ordinary Iraqis have met violent deaths every day since the invasion of March 2003. Our data show that no sector of Iraqi society has escaped. We sincerely hope that this research will help to inform decision-makers around the world about the real needs of the Iraqi people as they struggle to rebuild their country. It remains a matter of the gravest concern that, nearly two and half years on, neither the US nor the UK governments have begun to systematically measure the impact of their actions in terms of human lives destroyed."

Professor John Sloboda, FBA

Friday, October 14, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

so farewell then?

R.I.P. WYSIWYG - Results-Oriented UI Coming (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox): Personally I think saying goodbye to WYSIWYG in favour of a results-oriented user interface (UI) may be a little premature. Now if Jakob Nielsen had said goodbye to WYSIWYG in favour of WYSIRN (in other words, creating format-free content in XML using a nice user-friendly interface), I would have been the first to applaud.

The results-oriented interfaces that currently exist (layout templates in PowerPoint and Publisher) really annoy me, as I normally have a different layout in mind, and possess the design and software skills to produce it. I suppose a results-oriented UI will be fine if you can turn it off, but will that option be available?

Maybe they should just create two types of software, one for people who can actually use computers, and one for everyone else. Microsoft have actually done this with the Control Panel feature in Windows - you get the dumbed-down version by default, but you can turn it off and revert to "Classic" view. There's also the option of actually learning to use software properly by doing a tutorial, rather than just diving in and expecting to know where everything is.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

breast cancer campaign

Yes it's that time of year again, when the breast cancer site are asking people to click on the little pink button to fund free mammograms.

witches in history

I was reading a book on Wicca last night and got quite irritated to note that there was still someone claiming wildly erroneous stuff about the history of the witch persecutions and witchcraft in general, in an otherwise very good book with articles by lots of different authors. So, let's get this straight.

The main witch persecutions that resulted in actual deaths started in the 16th century, mainly due to economic and social pressures resulting from the Reformation. (See Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas). People had previously relied on the charity provided by the monasteries; once these were dissolved in England, there were a lot more poor old people around asking for handouts. People felt guilty for not helping them, so when the old women went away mumbling, they assumed that they had been bewitched when they got psychosomatic symptoms resulting from their feelings of guilt. Also the Catholic Church had provided oodles of protection against sorcery, in the form of holy water, amulets etc., whereas the Protestants just told people to pray. Great.

The Inquisition was more interested in persecuting heretics, especially conversos (Jews and Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism) in Spain. The majority of people judicially killed for witchcraft were in Protestant areas.

The witch persecutions in England differed in character from those in the rest of Europe. The things people were accused of were different. In Europe, witches were accused of flying to Sabbats and having intercourse with the devil; frequently, midwives were accused of performing abortions and stealing children (source: numerous broadsheets in German). In England, they were accused of having witches' teats to give suck to their familiars; bewitching cattle etc. In Europe and Scotland, witchcraft was a heresy, and therefore subject to ecclesiastical law, with the penalty of being burnt. In England, witchcraft was a felony, subject to criminal law, and the penalty was hanging.

There is no unbroken line of witch religion stretching back into the mists of time. The foundation date of modern Wicca appears to have been sometime in the 1920s, according to the latest research by Philip Heselton in Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration (an excellent book, as was its predecessor, Wiccan Roots). During the nineteenth century (and possibly the eighteenth century), there were various people who either self-identified as cunning folk or witches, or were labelled as such by their neighbours. However there was no organised movement of witchcraft, only isolated groups 'reinventing the wheel' - and they weren't necessarily pagan either - much of their magic was based on Christian symbolism (cf the story Marklake Witches by Rudyard Kipling). Note that the cunning folk were not witches - during the period of persecution they had often accused women of being witches and handed them over to the authorities.

In England, small snippets of Pagan belief and practice had survived and been incorporated into folk belief and practice - but again there was no large-scale survival of ancient Paganism. In some of the more remote corners of Europe (e.g. Scandinavia and Lithuania), ancient Paganisms survived much longer, and so when they were revived, the revivals were much closer to the original forms. There were also traditional practitioners of magic in Finland, particularly among the Sami people.

People really should be forced to read Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft by Ronald Hutton before they are allowed to make pronouncements about the history of witchcraft.

There's also an excellent article by Jenny Gibbons, Recent developments in the study of the Great European Witch Hunt at the CoG site.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Lost in Translation - a device that goes several steps better than Babel Fish, and does 10 consecutive translations of the same piece of text, resulting in some very bizarre sentences at the end. For example, I'm a little tea pot, short and stout translates to They are a small potentiometer, short circuits and a beer of malzes of the tea.

Try putting in bits of Shakespeare, the results are hilarious.

Llanfair PG

Llanfairpwll - How to say the name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave) - another great site from pointless

Monday, October 10, 2005

cool towels

The history of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy towels. Do you know where your towel is?

my ancestor

Cricket History - Hambledon. Just been thinking about my origins in Hampshire, and the fact that I am allegedly descended from Edward "Curry" Aburrow, one of the Hambledon team in the Golden Age of cricket (late 18th century), and stumbled across this web page with information about it. It says that the location of Edward Aburrow's grave is known, but I couldn't find it when I visited Hambledon, and on my first visit the churchwarden (now sadly passed on) said he "remembered to have seen it twenty year ago" but could no longer call to mind where it was. On my second visit, a lovely local lady invited us in, made us a cup of tea, and dug out a book on cricket in an attempt to assist.

broken promises

AUT - It's pay back time It looks as though the UCEA is not going to spend the extra money given to the university sector by the government on increasing salaries after all. Why do they always do this in winter? Last time we went on strike it was in February, and it was very cold on the picket line.

a small victory

BBC News: Anger over 'Operation Pagan' name: Kent police changed the name of their crime crackdown operation to something less offensive after the Pagan Federation (or possibly the Pagan Association) complained about it being called "Operation Pagan" (they had generated the name at random apparently). You'd have thought they'd have worked out that it might cause offence, since there is even a Pagan association within the police (or there was a few years ago - and their totem animal was a pig).

Friday, October 07, 2005

cutting edge science

The Ig Nobel prizes - I think my favourite is probably the prize for literature, awarded to 'The many Nigerians who introduced millions of e-mail users to a "cast of rich characters... each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled".'

quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

BBC News: Lords condemn anti-terror plans: "'Experience shows that governments frequently ask for more powers than they need and when they get those powers they abuse them from time to time,' he [Lord Steyn] said."

What would we do without the House of Lords? They are frequently (and ironically) the last bastion of common sense. The government have effectively abolished the right of habeas corpus, and now they want to abolish the freedom of speech as well. How on earth are they going to define "the glorification of terrorism"? Or indeed the modified version, now that they have climbed down on that, where it will be an offence to glorify terrorism with the intent to incite someone else to commit a terrorist act. So how are they going to determine whether the intent to incite terrorism was present? And three months' detention without trial - that's far too long, and I can't see it being exercised with restraint and caution - let's face it, it didn't work with the shoot-to-kill policy, did it?

them furry things

Curse of the Were-Rabbit spooks island

Posters for the new Wallace and Gromit film in Portland Bill will not feature the word 'rabbit' due to local quarry-men's superstitious avoidance of the word. They'll have to be careful in most fishing communities as well, then, as they have a thing about rabbits as well. But what are they going to do, produce a version called "Curse of the Were-Furry-Thing" and dub the soundtrack specially to avoid mentioning rabbits? And anyway I don't see the connection with quarrying - with fishing the mythological connection is that the Moon rules the sea and rabbits and hares are associated with the Moon - but where does quarrying fit in? Oh well, whoever said superstitions were supposed to be logical?

ad parodies

These are funny...

Banner Ads #1
Banner Ads #2
Banner Ads #3
Banner Ads #4
Banner Ads #5
Banner Ads #6

This is my favourite:
Microsoft Passport - We're not a government.  Yet.

Howl's Moving Castle

We went to see Howl's Moving Castle last night, it was brilliant. I would like to read the book now. The characterisation was excellent, and the scenery was beautiful. There's a particularly good bit where Sophie is looking at the waves lapping on the shore of a lake, and the water comes in, then as the wave recedes, the sand takes longer to dry out. It's beautiful. The fire demon, Calcifer, was really well done as well - it's amazing how much character you can get into a fiery blob. The characters were complex and interesting, especially Howl. I loved his shamanic transformations into a big bird of prey.

Rumour has it that Miyazaki is going to adapt The Wizard of Earthsea next. That would be brilliant. I'm sure he will do an infinitely better job than the ridiculous SciFi Channel version.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

cat of character

Fat cat photo by Hugh Janis - I have an incriminating photo of my cat in this posture. It's not the most dignified way for a cat to be caught on camera, is it?

intelligent design?

Intelligent design - a camp version of the creation story.

(Courtesy of mevennen's and nineweaving's Livejournals)

sleep... mmm

Top 10 things to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk - this is very appropriate today, as I need caffeine. That number one best thing to say still cracks me up, even though it would probably only work in America.

10. "They told me at the blood bank this might happen."
9. "This is just a 15 minute power-nap like they raved about in that time management course you sent me to."
8. "Whew! Guess I left the top off the White-Out. You probably got here just in time!"
7. "I wasn't sleeping! I was meditating on the mission statement and envisioning a new paradigm."
6. "I was testing my keyboard for drool resistance."
5. "I was doing a highly specific Yoga exercise to relieve work-related stress. Are you discriminating against people who do Yoga?"
4. "Why did you interrupt me? I had almost figured out a solution to our biggest problem."
3. "The coffee machine is broken..."
2. "Someone must've put decaf in the wrong pot!
And the #1 best thing to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk:

..............." in Jesus Name, Amen."

quantum optics

The 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to three physicists. Roy Glauber has apparently reconciled the particle-wave duality with his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence. The other two winners have increased the accuracy of measuring light frequencies, which means increased accuracy of GPS and clock technology.

Kansas State University has "Explorations of the Quantum World for non-science students" which looks very interesting and accessible.

paradigm shift

Nobel prize for stomach ulcer discovery.

Excellent. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, the scientists who discovered that Helicobacter pylori is responsible for stomach ulcers, have been given the Nobel prize. I watched a TV documentary about this about ten years ago, when the scientific establishment didn't believe them, and it seemed extremely convincing at the time. So I'm really pleased they have got the recognition they deserve.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

product placement

BBC News: Politics: Cameron is a political iPod, says Bremner. Meanwhile the other candidates claim to be Coke (the Real Thing), Heineken (reaching the parts that other beers do not reach - a bit out-of-date, that one), and a Hamlet cigar. What is this, the commodification of politics?

Thursday, September 29, 2005


heckler ejected

So farewell then, free speech. If an 82-year-old man who is clearly not a security threat cannot heckle a speech at a party political conference without being manhandled out of the hall by huge bouncers, then it is clearly a death-knell for free speech, especially when he is subsequently held by the police under the new anti-terrorism legislation.

...the prominent anti-war campaigner Alice Mahon also witnessed the incident.

She said: "We were listening to Jack talking about Iraq. This gentleman shouted 'That's rubbish, that's a lie'.

"Two or three of the security people dived on him. This other chap a couple of rows in front turned round and said 'You must be joking', because this was simple political heckling. He wasn't threatening anybody.

"He got manhandled out as well. I think they were really over the top." [BBC article]

See also: Guardian article

Just did a quick search on Walter Wolfgang (the heckler) - he is a veteran campaigner for Labour CND and a member of the Stop the War Coalition Steering Committee, and widely respected for it. So it's hardly surprising that he should have strong feelings about what Jack Straw was saying about Iraq.

sham 24/7

Can it be right that politicians can hijack music for their own ends? It is a rather dubious honour for any musician to have their cherished composition used to bolster the fast-fading image of Tony Blair. His latest attempt to harness the power of popular culture, in using Sham 69's If The Kids Are United seems especially cheesy given the divisive and repressive tactics he is using to promote his neo-conservative agenda. As a left-wing stalwart quipped, "More like sham 24/7."