Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to kill the social networks.

After being de-friended by three people on Facebook in the past few days I felt very hurt so decided to get some revenge by randomly selecting three other people and de-friending them. Immature, perhaps, but it strikes me that if anyone wanted to destroy social networking the simplest way would be to encourage people to delete three friends at random. This would cause so much ill feeling that the ensuing chaos would cause the networks themselves to collapse along with their privacy issues and advertising income.

Getting the cost of the Edinburgh Trams into perspective

According to yesterday's Edinburgh Evening News the total spend on the trams so far has been £372 million.

As the population of Edinburgh at the last census was 448,624 this means that the project has already cost the equivalent of £872 for each man, woman and child in the city. If, as expected, the cost should the cost rise to £500 million  this figure would rise to £1114. Over £4000 for a family of four. The city council has already provided £31 million directly, £69 per head, which can only be recovered via the council tax.

Yet, the tram system that is being built is one line going from Leith to Edinburgh airport - or to be more precise from the Scottish Government building to 400m short of the airport terminal - apparently we can walk the last bit  as we will be business types only carrying briefcases.

To work out how the trams will help you in daily life just work out out how often you go to Leith or the airport from the city centre and imagine how much better that would have been on a tram instead of the existing bus service. Yes, Edinburgh does have buses and they go on exactly the same routes as the trams will. Its a pity the council had not noticed that before deciding to spend all that money. And if you never go to these parts of the city you will never see a tram let alone travel on one.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SNP web site is hosted in England

Following on from my friend Michele's investigation of where Irish political parties host their web sites I did a quick check on and found it is hosted in England. Admittedly by a Scottish company (Iomart), but interesting that they have decided to host it south of the border.

Traceroute (click for bigger version):

This is probably for technical reasons. All ISP traffic to Scottish users goes through London so its faster to be hosted in London. At the same time its not very good for morale, especially when you realise that the SNP Scottish government is in a powerful position to improve connectivity to and from Scotland.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bing vs Google

Interesting to note that over the past four months the percentage of visitor traffic coming to my work web site from Bing and Google has remained largely static. There has been a slight increase from Bing, but its not statistically significant. I am recording these figures here so I can come back in a month or two and comment on whether Bing has increased its share since its inclusion and promotion within Internet Explorer 9 through its combined search/address box (Microsoft are calling it "onebox").

Visitor statistics and percentages for last four thirty day periods:

Unique Visitors
1573 (57%)
72 (2.5%)
1561 (56%)
89 (3%)
1282 (50%)
41 (1.6%)
1289 (53%)
52 (2.1%)

Updated - 1 month later:

As promised, I revisited the stats a month later and found no change other than a slight decline in Bing's popularity.

Unique visitors: 3137
Google: 1838 (58%)
Bing: 68 (2.1%)

This shows that Microsoft's advertising spend promoting Bing over the past few months has had no lasting or significant affect on its popularity as a search engine. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What the Pope is really saying about atheism and the Nazis

By equating Nazism with atheism the Pope is making two fundamental errors which are really not very becoming of someone with his academic credentials and knowledge of German history.

1. He is suggesting that Nazism in Germany developed from atheism. However, Germany was a very Christian country in the 1930's and the Nazis themselves had quite strong religious beliefs. Not necessarily a belief in the Christian God, but the SS had a strong belief in destiny and being guided by a higher power. Hitler himself was a Roman Catholic, never renounced his church membership and used it to suggest that God was on the side of the German people. You can read more about this here: was Adolph Hitler an Atheist.

2. He is suggesting that people can choose to believe. In other words if all those atheists just chose to believe then the world would be a better place. As a theologian Pope Benedict should realise that faith is a gift. People either believe or they do not. Their state of belief may change with time, but the suggestion that an atheist can choose to believe in God is flawed. Atheists are asking for evidence for the existence of God. Atheists want to be true believers, not just people who go along with it for the sake of it. The nature of their scepticism is that if sufficient evidence comes forward then it may be evidence for some other God and not the Christian one. I don't think the Pope is in favour of that sort of open minded seeking of God.

The only explanation I can put forward for the Pope's statement is that he is using coded language. If we substitute "non catholic" for "atheist" it makes more sense. If the Nazi leaders had stayed true to their catholic faith then they would not have done all those terrible things. A Christian can choose to become a Roman Catholic. Their belief in God and Christian faith is already set. In the same way if all atheists choose to become Catholics then we will have a united and peaceful world. It might well produce a social unity, but it would not be people who truly believed.

I don't think the Pope really wants to engage with the issue of faith and atheism. If he did he might be in a better position to add something than any of his recent predecessors, but his concerns seem to be more for the integrity and growth of the Roman Catholic church.

Friday, September 17, 2010

On Good handwriting and fountain pens

Having just read Humphrey Lyttelton's final book "Last Chorus" where he talks about his interest in italic hand writing I was reminded of my own initiation into the world of good handwriting.

In these modern times, where everything is punched out on a computer keyboard, handwriting has largely diminished to a shorthand for personal use which is undecipherable by anyone else. It was not always so. Until the 1990's handwriting was the main form of personal communication and was used extensively in business. Typewriting was expensive (it usually involved a professional typist) and time consuming (for the non professional struggling with a fearsome Imperial mechanical typewriter and Tipex correction paper). Lots of things were hand written from receipts in shops to personal letters. There was no email and letters had to be thought through before pen was put to paper.

This brings me to the great shame of my own hand writing which at school was a serious cause for teacher concern as it was obvious I was not heading for a career in medicine. Part of the cause is my ambidexterous nature. I never settled on being right handed or left handed so my trachers decided I should be right handed. I also tend to have too firm a grip on the pen and my short thick fingers mean that I can't really grip a thin disposable ballpoint well enough to write properly with it.

As a child I was introduced by my god mother to a book on improving your handwriting by Tom Gourdie. She evidently knew Mr Gourdie, a veritable God in the world of italic handwriting and calligraphy, as the book was personally inscribed. Incidentally this is the same Tom Gourdie who a breathless Humphrey Lyttelton ran down stairs to meet at a hotel in Perthshire as recounted in the book I have just finished. Sad to say that my general handwriting did not improve much beyond a tidied up 1970's school copy book style, but later in life I did master, to some extent, the art of italic handwriting using ink dip pens.

At some point along this journey I realised that my handwriting improved with less friction on ther paper so I adopted fountain pens for every day use. As a university student I set up my examination desk with three Parker Vector pens filled from a bottle, not cartridges, and would pile through my essay answers usually using the contents of two of the pens bny the time I had finished. In those days I prefered black ink. In business, where my hand writing is normally reserved for topping and tailing letters, I have moved to blue ink. The Parker Vector pen is too thin for my fingers, so these days I use a variety of pens of different (and often dubious) origins. There has always been something satisfying about writing with a fountain pen. It may just be the comforting memories of my grandfathers Swan pen kept in its original box with a bottle of permanent ink for signing important things, but writing by hand with a fountain pen does have a certain finality about it, even if Mr Parker now only seems to sell washable (and therefore eraseable) ink.

Typing on a computer can lead to a disjointed style as you go backwards and forwards through the text correcting errors and changing ideas. The flow of expression is never the same as a hand written document. It may be faster and more legible but its never the same. When I write prose by hand it is more natural and easier to read. Its as if the human-ness of the writer is preserved in strokes of ink on paper. Maybe this is one reason why I often add important points in ink as a p.s. at the bottom of a letter. It serves as proof that it is not "untouched by human hands" and seems to put me more directly in touch with the recipient.

While its still possible might I suggest that you dig out that old fountain pen from the back of your desk drawer and write a real letter or a real document, by hand?

This article was typed on a computer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Experiments with Biblical Word Clouds

Word clouds based on parts of the bible generated at Word clouds represent the frequency of a word by its size in the final word cloud image. For this purpose common words are excluded from the word count ("a", "the" etc). Its based on the Authorised Version because I had that available as a text file.

You will need to click on the images to see them full size.

Genesis Chapter One
Its interesting to note what does not appear in this chapter. There is nothing about sin (although to be fair Genesis does not get onto that until chapter three); no mention of creation or even of flood geology. Messrs Morris and Whitcomb must have missed this chapter of Genesis when they wrote their book.

The Entire Gospel of John

Nothing here about sexual behaviour. Nothing about sin or repentance either. The emphasis is on God acting in the world.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The problem with sending Twitter updates from YouTube

Some YouTube users have started automatically posting comments and updates from their YouTube channel and videos on Twitter. I am not sure how they are doing this and a quick Google search has not thrown up any obvious methods, but it has a fatal flaw. YouTube changed their comment system a while ago so that comments are prefixed with @username. As my Twitter username is "hostroute" any replies to comments I leave on a video  by someone who uses automatic twitter updates end up mentioning me as @hostroute in a tweet. The problem with this is that I am NOT the @hostroute who is on Twitter, but all these comments end up in THEIR Twitter timeline as mentions. This is quite misleading to anyone reading the tweets and I can't be the only person who has this problem.

Its even more embarassing as the @hostroute on YouTube is my former company. One of the results of this is that I have had to abandon my old YouTube channel and set up a new YouTube channel under the username "39GH". However, and this just gets better and better, "39GH" is two characters too short for a Google username so although it works on YouTube it will not work for any other Google service. In spite of this, YouTube (a Google service) allowed me to select this username on sign up.

All of this is symptomatic of the underlying lack of interoperability between the different online services even when two (YouTube and Google) are owned by the same company.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why the outcome of labour's leadership election will make no difference.

I have been thinking about this since I found I had a vote in the election through my union Unite, who incidentally are supporting Ed Miliband. Earlier today I was prompted by someone on Twitter to read this article by Luke Bozier and I left a comment on it which is the basis for the rest of this article.

Luke Bozier's belief is that C1 and C2 voters are the people who win elections and that David Milliband appeals more to them. My position is that the leader is not the issue, but whether the Labour party is seeking electoral victory or social justice for the poor. This could easily be caricatured as "Old Labour" or as a circular argument with the ability to make change being dependent on power and the only route to power is by appealing to middle class voters. But what I don't see in this election is any personal vision being set out by the candidates other than "I am more likely to win an election". That's simply not enough.

I am an unreconstructed Fabian and I am still haunted by Fabian Tract no. 1 "Why are the many poor?". If you have never read it you can download a copy here (pdf file). Although written in 1884 it is still resonant today. Whilst I accept the Fabian's emphasis on campaigning for the rich to recognise their obligation to the poor and act on it, the fact is that C1 and C2 voters are not rich and they did not vote Labour for those reasons. In 1997 they voted Labour because Labour weren't Conservatives. In the same way they voted Conservative in 2010 because they weren't Labour. Rather like the vox populae of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar they will lend their support to one or other group, but to what end?

This morning on twitter I posted "Why are there still homeless people sleeping rough in Edinburgh? This should not be happening." Its quite interesting how many of us who campaigned for labour in the dark years from 1984 to 1987 abandoned politics for careers in the voluntary sector where such questions matter, and where action (no matter how superficial at times) is taken. We are Labour's lost generation of leaders and we took our vision with us.

Politics is clearly missing something, but so are the electorate. Especially the C1 and C2 voters who seem to be repelled by leaders with strong convictions. Because of this the future seems to hold very little hope for the homeless of Edinburgh or those without the ability to fend for themselves. A very, very sad situation to find ourselves in 116 years after that first Fabian tract was published.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Touch Guitar - What more can I say?

If you have never seen anyone play touch guitar then you should watch this. Its part of Markus Reuter's teaching material and its an exercise rather than a piece of music. Touch guitar is a leap forward in stringed instruments and always feels space age to me.

Prelude from Touch Guitar Circle on Vimeo.

If you fancy hearing more of Markus's music you will find one of his collaborations with Ian Boddy here.