Tuesday, 31 May 2011


I remind myself; every time I find something that isn’t working I’ve found something to do, as opposed to wondering about my choice of font. Since discovering that embedded comments are causing a problem - in that you can’t comment - I’ve switched to a pop-up window; it looks rubbish, but it works. Slightly more difficult will be unravelling the customised HTML, started when I knew next to nothing and continued through various stages of ignorance; it’s more ‘fun’ that way.

How long has it been broken? Possibly only a week, and since I don’t remember tinkering in that time I wonder if Blogger have done something to interfere with my ‘enhancements’. I should probably update to the latest designer, but that would mean starting over which... would give me something to do.

There are better goals. Absurdism may not be the easiest of subjects but I am determined to finish Camus, albeit not ‘finish with’ Camus since it’s well written - or should that be those bits I can understand are well written - as I dare say are the many bits I can’t. I’ve heard The Outsider is good too. And there’s a host of other stimulation to be found from people who I’ve never read. Small steps, something a little more accessible next; and I don’t say that to knock my intellectual capability, only that I’m a little slow.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Blue sky

It's stopped raining - I can even see patches of blue sky between the thick grey clouds. However, this is only a recent event - and since it has been raining for most of the day, it is my excuse for having spent the afternoon on iPlayer. I'm feeling a tad guilty, but I dare say I'll get over it. Dinner - if I can call what I did to the potatoes 'dinner' - has been served, I've the washing to do shortly and then I'll have the evening left in which to relax. Yet I'm in one of those odd moods where even though the chores are (almost) done I can't quite settle.

Four brilliant episodes of The Shadow Line later, I think what I need now is a light comedy, something to lift the heart a little.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The house of mirth

It's performance appraisal time and social convention requires you re-acquaint yourself with the company mantra:
Those who shout the loudest have the most to gain.
Of course that's not entirely fair, but then neither is making you fill in this form. Luckily you stumbled into contract work for several years and were able to opt out of such torture, resisting attempts of well-meaning managers to drag you back in; now however you’re a permanent participant of this divine comedy. The problem being that once an organisation reaches a certain size, the forms start to cater for the lowest common denominator, bloat with unnecessary detail and punish those who already have a strong work ethic. It's difficult to maintain a sense of individuality; especially when you reach the page containing a table of verbs and adjectives "you might want to use".

OK, so they're not that bad, but I am ambivalent. A formal appraisal can feel an admission of failure when continuous informal is the aim, where a well-run company has the least to gain and an ill-run company the most. It is at best an aide memoir for good management, not a requirement.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The last post

This may be my last post. Earlier today I migrated my Google Apps account to become ‘more like a full’ Google Account, whatever that means. Doing nothing would have meant an automatic transition a few weeks from now; this way (I reasoned) I could at least deal with any problems at a time of my choosing. Ever the pessimist I did wonder about the custom domain name on my blog, the setting up of which had resulted in my Apps account. On the other hand, I’d done this within Blogger and there must be numerous such examples. Cue a few uncomfortable hours unable to log in at all, wondering if that was that and not sure I wanted to ‘start again’, followed by a desperate ‘clear the cache’, as if that was going to work... which it did, and millions breathed a sigh of relief. Well, eleven at the last count.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Waving goodbye

I would gladly wave goodbye to the hysteria generated over Ken Clarke’s refusal to play catchphrase, but can only hope (rather than believe) this to be the case. ‘Rape is rape’ is one of those peculiar expressions that manage to be both true and false; it is everything to everyone, a statement intended to end rather than open a conversation.

Yet if we believe in rehabilitation, as I do, we need to discuss what that might mean in practice. Is recovery possible for those who have committed the most heinous of crimes? Can reduced sentences for those who plead guilty form any part? What are the exceptions? Without presuming to answer, these are all valid questions.

Ken Clarke is what some might regard as a rare breed, a pro-European liberal reformer of the Conservative party; it’s a miracle he’s survived so long. He came unstuck for eschewing the usual platitudes, others will take note and avoid making the same mistake, probably they’ll avoid the subject altogether.

Friday, 20 May 2011

To be trusted

I have just one on my browser, the RSS subscription extension, and that is all. The problem with any add-on, or to be more accurate the problem I have with any third-party add-on, is amply demonstrated by the message box displayed before installing the Amazon Wish List extension. Do I want to install something that can access my data on all websites and all my browsing activity? Not really! The advice is to only install from those you know and trust. The obstacle is that other piece of advice; when it comes to the web, trust no-one. I’m not sure who said that, maybe it’s just me, but when the help page informs you ‘Your data on all websites’ could mean the following...
This item can read every page that you visit -- your bank, your web email, your Facebook page, and so on … Besides seeing all your pages, this item could use your credentials (cookies) to request your data from websites.
... it doesn’t really help at all. Yes, I ‘trust’ Google and Amazon, but the power of any app. store (and I hope Apple don’t mind me using the term) comes from the thousands of developers who contribute to it. Insufficient permissions granularity means it relies on – and is possibly even hindered by - misplaced consumer faith and worse, in some cases ignorance - including my own.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Finding the difference

In the televised debate of the 1988 US presidential campaign, candidate Michael Dukakis was asked whether in the event of the rape and murder of his wife, he’d favour the death penalty for the killer. Dukakis replied “No”, pointing out he’d always been against the death penalty and explaining the reasons why. Some analysts believed this answer a contributing factor towards him losing the election that year; others considered the question itself unfair.

Guardian angel
Two weeks ago, Osama bin Laden, after years on the run - or more accurately years hiding next to a Pakistani military base - was finally tracked down and killed in a US operation. Despite my best efforts, I am unmoved by the summary justice (call it revenge if you will) meted out for his crime. The moral twist is the possibility that information leading to his whereabouts may in part have been obtained through the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.

I find this “torture is immoral and anyway it doesn’t work” argument, unsettling; for the simple reason that I imagine it can work. Likewise, the question to the former Governor of Massachusetts was valid, as was his answer, though something was missing; if a member of my family were murdered I’d want to kill the bastard. Yet both these acts - torture or state execution - are wrong. I don’t think there anything amiss in acknowledging this contradiction; it reminds us we are but a few steps from barbarism. Our response is the measure of any compassionate society.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

In case of emergency, break glass

It’s all over. Only it isn’t. When the polling stations closed at 10pm on Thursday I barely limped over the line, and the count didn’t even begin until 4pm on the following day. I’d never make it in politics. I’m exhausted and all I did was read a few blogs, follow the conversation on Twitter and occasionally engage; not always successfully.

Not so long ago I bumped into an introduction to what Eli Pariser describes as online “filter bubbles”; this is the end result of a personal web, where services and results are tailored to our individual tastes. Amazon makes this clear by allowing me to ‘fix this recommendation’. Google less so; perhaps they judge it not so advantageous to them for me to control the web history that affects my search results. The consequences are a web that once broadened our horizons can now narrow our view of the world.

But am I complicit in these phenomena, for example when choosing who to follow on Twitter? It’s clear at least that after the trials of the AV referendum I need to think a little more on the etiquette. Getting blocked, it’s a modern-day rite of passage - or more likely a sign I need to temper my comments - since the result is to create a “bubble” of one’s own.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Not so simple and a lot more tactical

From the very start of the debate, many advocates for the alternative vote (AV) have insisted it eliminates the need for tactical voting. Whilst I’m sure this is a genuine mistake it does rather point to another common fallacy; that AV is simple. On the surface it is; what could be simpler than ranking your preferences in order? However, it would be foolish to judge a system solely on how it is intended to be used, whilst ignoring how it can be used.

With AV, if I vote “Conservative, Labour, Liberal” am I expressing a preference for Conservative ahead of Labour, and Labour ahead of Liberal, or am I actually expressing a preference against the BNP who also stood? Perhaps the “Conservative” preference is genuine and “Labour, Liberal” is tactical? A tactical vote, to quote Wikipedia, is when a voter supports a candidate other than his or her sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome; I would re-phrase this only slightly to say it’s when a voter expresses anything other than a sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.

Tactical voting under our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is still a clear indication of how I intend my vote to be counted. Tactical voting under AV is nothing of the kind. It may indicate how I intend my vote to be counted, it may only in part, or it may be wholly designed to exclude an unwanted option; and there are other variations which, for the sake of brevity, I’ll omit.

A mantra of “voters should rank the candidates in order of preference” doesn’t cut it when - frankly - they don’t have to, and if AV were as simple as some suggest, then its advocates would be more aware of this. That they’re not shows that it isn’t.