Archive for the 'General' Category

End of Days

Friday, August 30th, 2019

It’s that awkward time of year: kind of the end of summer, but wistfully hoping for a bit more: we still have a UK holiday to take, after the kids are back at school, but all of the bank holidays up until Christmas have gone, the night start to draw in.

On the upside, my place of employment closes frequently. That means that this weekend lasted 4 days.

Friday 23rd involved a few errands; dropping the new purchase off for a precautionary timing chain change, as it would seem that one of those times VAG got it wrong, like the Bosch coil packs or the Teves ABS ECUs would be the 1.2TSI timing chains, so to stop me panicking, it gets the latest variant of chain. While waiting, I and cut the hedge now the stripy stingy bastards have vacated the nest in it.

Saturday involved pubs in Wolverhampton, either just west of the city centre or right in the city.

Sunday was just knocking about the place: waving a vacuum in the general direction of the Ibiza, catching up with stuff, and meeting a mate for a beer.

Monday? A bike ride first thing, taking in Chasewater in the mist, then a walk around Walsall’s wonderful Arboretum. The Arboretum is one of the finest things in Walsall: a huge park, with kids play facilities and space.

The nights are drawing in: before we know it, it’ll be dark by 4pm 🙁

Moderate Behaviour

Monday, February 25th, 2019

I’ve been trying to find alternatives to the awful choice of radio stations, so mixed in with the music I’ve found some downloaded stuff from the BBC, courtesy of the wonderful get_iplayer software, and also the IRL podcast, from Mozilla.

The episode I listened to this morning explored moderation: the process of people approving (or not approving!) content posted online.

This is a bit of a hot topic lately, there’s increasing pressure from governments and others to regulate the web (and social media in particular).

I’ve discussed this before, of course, and I generally get a bit ranty about censorship (and, as the podcast pointed out, moderation and censorship is a close-run thing).

Moderating even a Facebook group or small forum can produce a considerable workload, and not moderating it can rapidly cause it to degenerate into a shit-show. Moderating an entire platform like Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter is almost unimagineable.

There was an angle I’d not thought about before: because computers are not good at judgement calls (like deciding if a particular photo is offensive or illegal), then you need humans to moderate, and these humans get subjected to the full, unfiltered onslaught of whatever the Internet throws their way, and have to deal with that, and the psychological problems that might bring.

As the social networks are companies that need to make money, those humans need to be cheap; so they turn to the Philipines, for example- a very different culture to the west, which introduces another set of problems.

So- who, if anyone, should moderate what we see? My personal choice, as an adult, would be “no-one”, but even if you think content should be policed, is a low-wage young filipino with minimal support the answer?


Monday, December 31st, 2018

Today represents fifteen years of me blogging. Like many things, I’m doing much less of it as I’m nearing 50 :-). Blogs seem to have become deeply unfashionable, but hell, I wasn’t fashionable in 2003. I’m sad to note that The YamYam seems to have stopped working, though not as sad as to remind myself that one of the best blogs (and a really nice guy I’m pleased to say I met a few times) is sadly gone; the local online community seems to be shrinking.

Looking back on this blog, what’s changed? I’ve got more left-leaning, politically, in direct contravention of the old saying, but if anything, politics itself has got less interesting and more frustrating, and seems pointless.

I *think* I try to be a bit less angry generally, although I still have the occasional rant. The one thing I’m deliberately steering clear of on that front so far is Brexit, purely because that does make me really rather angry and sad. I have a number of thoughts on that that may or may not ever reach the “Publish” button, simply because I’m tired and depressed of the whole thing.

I’ve become less vocal about Linux, Open Source, and the failings of Windows, but then Windows has got better (yes, it really has). I’m still *using* Linux, because it’s just easier and does what it is told, and runs well on an antique laptop. There’s been an increase on posts about fixing the Lupo as it ages and some of the bits like electric windows and sunroof need attention, but less car spannering, and more bike spannering, as a rule.

There’s certainly less of my output here now- what might have been a short blog post all those years ago now tends to be a tweet- which is a shame, as here, I control it and it has permanence that Twitter doesn’t provide, unless you look quite hard.

Anyway, I’m waffling. Happy New Year, and as Dave Turner said

Here’s to 2019 not being a total trash fire!

Desi Pubs, Part 2

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

A day off presented the ideal opportunity to continue our Desi pub tour, so once more, we caught a bus out to West Brom, continuing onwards to Smethwick and The Red Cow. Indian barbecue lunch, and then off to The Ivy Bush (on a very crowded school-chucking-out-time bus). A walk up Spon Lane South

crossing 2 lots of canal (the old and new main line) and the railway, and passing under the Oldbury viaduct works on the M5:

M5 Oldbury Viaduct work from Spon Lane South

There’s a lot of transport in a tight space here: the Metro is only just up the road too. Lots of history too; Chance Glassworks, the canals, and the lovely Kenrick Building.

A interesting crossing of Kenrick Way, and The Island Inn, and finally, a non-Desi pub stop in West Brom: The Sandwell, before a bus home. Our bus mojo was working today, our only significant wait was 17 minutes for a bus home from Walsall.


Monday, July 2nd, 2018

I’m just catching up. Typing this a clear month late, we went to Largs. just over 30 miles west of Glasgow; so it’s where lots of Glaswegians head on a sunny day, as we found when we arrived after a gratifyingly easy journey north, through the city, and back out the other side. The seafront and the pubs were packed with people.

It was quieter later in the week, though still busyish; with Glasgow so close (under an hour on the train) there’s lots of day trippers.

So then, Largs: so many churches. A couple of impresssive churches, but so many. I’m a great fan of churches, less so of what goes on in them, but here they spent a metric fuckload of cash on them, with two Church of Scotland chruches with impressive towers looming over the town.
Besides that, the town is largely traditional seaside; a big, wide prom, a small seafront collection of funfair rides, a kiddie’s play area at one end, a park and boating lake at another.

There’s plenty of pubs too, which you’ll find over at PubBlog, though real ale, and especially good real ale, was a bit scarce, though we fared better for that on a trip into Glasgow.

Talking of trips, the proximity to Glasgow ensured good public transport: a station in the town on one railway line, another line (with the wonderful Wemyss Bay station) just a short bus ride away, ferries to Bute and Great Cumbrae. We even managed to get Dunoon (lovely, but in need of more TLC) and Rothesay (underwhelming) piers in, and all of this without using the car apart from actually getting there. We also managed a trip on PS Waverley on a gloriously sunny day, in a week of sunny days and returned suntanned 🙂 .

No More Beyond the Northern Wastes

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

With the reduction of subsidies from Staffordshire Council, our relatively recent discovery of Chasetown and Burntwood as places to drink and eat looks like it will end in April, when the NXWM 10 bus route stops going further than Brownhills at off-peak times.

This is a bit tedious; that’s exactly the sort of times I’d be wanting to use it, but it’s just an inconvenience: I don’t rely on that route for work. There’s changes to Arriva services too, which means a Saturday evening trip to The Crystal Fountain is out, too- and even a daytime visit would mean some clock-watching in early evening.

As I said, this is just inconvenience for me, limiting my drinking choices. I’ll live. It could be more serious for working people (let’s not forget that not everyone works 9-5, and not everyone has access to a car).

It is, of course, a direct result of council cuts, caused by government austerity measures, once again most seriously affecting the poorer people the most: those that can’t afford taxis or a car.

The other factor here, of course, is our old friend bus deregulation. The bus companies are private enterprises, with obligations to shareholders. They want t make money, so if a route isn’t profitable, and they’re not being subsidised by a council, they’ll stop running it- and who can blame them?

Why is it a surprise our roads are choked by private cars?

Good old free enterprise, working for the good of all, again. Thank $deity we’re free of the inefficient shackles of public transport run by non-profit organisations.

New Year

Monday, January 1st, 2018

So, I missed a Christmas 2017 post, and the blog reaches its 14th birthday, and I look back on another year. Just where the actual fuck does it go? Not all of it is a blur of beer and curry, but thankfully some has been. Christmas passed for us in a fairly typical way: beer and curry on Christmas eve, dinner with family on the day itself, and a quiet evening at home.

So, what happened in 2017? We went away quite a bit, but unusually didn’t leave the UK, but we visited places we hadn’t been for many years, and did the B&B-hopping thing we’d fancied.

Sadly, our beer festival idea went a bit wrong; logistically being fixed to dates and places doesn’t seem to work well for us and our co-conspirators.

At this point, I’d really like to be more positive about this year, but I think I’ll struggle. I’ll briefly mention Brexit- whatever your opinion on whether it should happen or not, I’m pretty certain that no-one could say it is being implemented competently. We still have a spectacularly inept prime minister, too- politics remains a fuck-up, increasing in impact all the time.

About the only positive thing to think of is family and friends: let’s at least be thankful for those, while the world falls apart around us :-), may 2018 be a good year for you all.

Unitary Authority

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

I’ve had this one simmering for a while, so instead of finishing that post that’s been in drafts for ten months, I’ll write this.

I started recently to see a bit of a resurgence of the statement that “we should return to and/or keep imperial measurements because they mean more to people and make more sense”. This is probably due to me following @AnAcreofpints, a twitter account that is

Making the case for keeping customary units like pints, pounds and miles.

Then of course, the Americans chip in, and I see lots of horseshit claiming that degrees Farenheit make more sense than degrees C “because 100 F is about as hot as 0 F is cold” and “a foot is about the length of your foot” and other such crap.

Then there’s the “well, how would you describe someone’s height? In feet and inches, or metres?”.

I thought that was interesting. I grew up in the 70s and 80s: I’m currently in my late forties. I will:

1. Expect draught beer to come in pints (or thirds/halves thereof) in the UK or Ireland.
2. Probably ask for a pound (or quarter/half thereof) of foodstuff at a butchers/greengrocers/sweet shop etc
3. State estimated weight of a person in stones and pounds
4. State estimated height of a person in feet and inches
5. State long road distances in miles
6. State shorter road distances in meteres or yards
7. Measure (eg: within a room) distances in metres/millimeters
8. State temperatures in Celsius
9. Use a recipe in pounds/ounces
10. Weigh a parcel in grams or kg
11. Have a feel for the weight of something large (eg: a car in kg or tonnes (i.e: metric tonnes)
12. Estimate very short distances in mm, ones a bit longer in inches
13. Fuel consumption is in MPG.

I can also, for approximations, freely switch between units. Metres and yards are neither here nor there for road distances of a hundred or two; the conversion difference is neither here nor there. A pint is a bit more than half a litre, a pound is just under 500g. Unless you’re needing any level of precision, the error doesn’t count. Some countries have the concept of a “metric pound” which is 500g.

So what?

My point here is that it’s largely familiarity here. I’m mixing and matching as I see fit, and I think here’s the key: units are a measurement, nothing else. They’re not a expression of Britishness (“I voted Brexit so I can buy potatoes in pounds again”), a political statement, or a way of sticking it to the Eurepeans, and largely, it’s a comfort and familiarity thing, like Windows vs Mac vs Linux, Apple IOS vs Android or Vi vs Emacs. I have this eclectic mix of units because I grew up during a time of change: my Mom taught me to cook, and she’s 30 years older than me, so that was pounds and ounces- many people older will have a much larger swing towards imperial units because they’re familiar with it, it’s not because it’s inherently easier, it just seems so to them. (though how anyone can claim imperial units, with non-decimal subdivisions is easy, is totally beyond me, similarly Guineas and £ S d– I meant, just why would you do that, 240 pennies to a pound?).

Coming back to precision, engineering and science uses metric units. The maths leaves less room for error, when you’re below whole units- something that engineering decided for itself before metrication with “thou”, a metric fraction of an imperial unit…


Sunday, May 28th, 2017

We went off to Torquay. It was lovely. We had a good journey (amazingly, both ways, despite coming back on a bank holiday Saturday) great weather, a nice flat to stay in. We went and saw three piers: Torquay Princess, Paignton, and Teignmouth- though they were all a little dissapointing, if I’m totally honest. Torquay Princess has lovely cast-iron railings, but is othewise a jetty with planking, to be honest. Paignton’s signage might as well say “no fun, ever”, and the end of the pier was unreachable because the rides there were locked off.

Just one of many signs prohibiting *everything on Paignton Pier.

Teignmouth’s pier was shut off from just behind the amusement shed too, though at least this was seeemingly because the pier is in need of repair:

Teignmouth’s pier- in need of TLC.

We’d been to Teignmouth together before- our first holiday together, in fact, almost 30 years ago: we recognised bits, but couldn’t remember what the pier was like then.

In between the pier-bothering, we had a lovely ride on an old bus:

Leyland PD1/2, since you asked.

Rides out on the train to a lovely pub at Tospham and around Torbay, had lovely Thai food and a slightly underwheming Indian with a proprietor that gets terribly upset about any criticism, got sunburned and generally relaxed.

NHS & Ransomware

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

Last night, news of a big ransomware outbreak within the NHS came out. This is very bad news: ransomware takes control of your PC and then encrypts any files it can, including any network drives it can get to, then demands money to decrypt them.

Ever since this outbreak was disclosed, there’s been a parallel out break of fuckwits. Stating that various people, from the NHS IT techs to the government are (ir)responsible, and this was entirely avoidable.

It was, of course. But at what cost? Lots of network admins will say how easy it is to keep systems up to date, and at one level it is. My home network is continually up to date: firmware on my domestic router is recent, all the PCs are patched. This is really, really simple, and I barely have to lift a finger to manage it.

It’s also quite simple in a large corporate network if the machines are simple- if they’re all recent PCs, and running little more than Windows and Office, you set up WSUS, keep the OS up to date by having an MS subscription, and it’s job done, and you’re in the pub by lunchtime.

Except, as usual, it’s not that simple.

There are times you can’t update an OS, or at least it’s prohibitively expensive and/or hard. This Twitter thread says it better than I could in relation to the NHS, but all over the place, in industry, education, and everywhere else, there’s systems that are only certified for old operating systems, systems that use bodged, modified OSs (Nortel Callpilot, I’m looking at you) and systems that are untested with patches and/or new operating systems. These cannot be patched or upgraded, and may have millions of pounds of hardware attached which can’t talk to anything else, so the choice becomes to air-gap them, stop using them and buy replacements, engineer a gateway between them and other systems, or just try to beef up the firewall and other edge-protection, and hope nothing gets through; and the compromise is a matter of judgment and risk management, balancing risk against cost and practicalities given limited resources of both staff and cash, and trying to maintain service in something cut to the bone by the current government. It’s worth remembering her that the NHS isn’t the only victim: anyone with finite resources can get hit- so that means basically, all businesses. As complexity increases, the dificulty of keeping it all up to date increases exponentially. Keeping tens of PCs and one server up to date is trivial, hundreds of servers and thousands of PCs with bespoke, complex software is most definitely not.

Finally, spare a thought for the poor NHS sysadmins, fighting this while probably not getting paid, and please, if you’ve suddenly discovered an interest in patching operating systems and are trying to grind a political axe with it, shut the fuck up until you know what you’re talking about.