Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A thought about Christians and sex before marriage.

I wonder if the view commonly promoted by Christians - that there is a lot more sex before marriage than there used to be - is due to people getting married later than in previous generations? Rather than being entirely the result of the permissive sixties it would seem that house prices and the need to have both partners working is the reason people delay marriage to their late 20's or early 30's.

In the days when people got married at 18 or 19 it was more possible to control those urges for the short period of time, but delaying for 10 years or so is a much harder proposition.

If the church wants to discourage sex before marriage then they need to encourage early marriage and endorse social policies, like increased social housing, that make this possible. I would guess that evangelicals would rather continue to condemn sexual activity than have to endorse progressive political agendas, or would they?

Logik TV with fault - picture breaking up even with strong signal

I came across an unusual fault with a Freeview digital TV over the holidays that I thought I would post the solution to in case anybody else comes across this. The set was a wall mounted Logik (Currys own brand)  L22LDVB21 22 inch with built in DVD player. Occasionally the picture would pixelate and break up as if the signal was dropping out, yet it was in a very strong signal area and the signal strength was very good. I checked the antenna connections and the plug to the back of the set and the wall socket were correctly in place. When I touched the edge of the set there was a static discharge and the picture came back perfectly. After a while the picture broke up again and after touching the side it came back.

It appears that the set is lacking an earth. The power comes from a 12v power supply pugged into the wall so there is no direct mains earth. I think the TV distribution amplifier may have the "earth" side of the aerial cable sitting above earth. Either way there is an insufficient earth, probably made worse by having the set wall mounted. I am going to try earthing the earth side of the wall TV aerial socket to a radiator, assuming that's a better earth, and see what happens.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Do evangelicals choose their religious faith based on their pre-existing extrinsic values?

I went to a conference last week on values and climate change behaviour at which the main speaker was Professor Tim Kasser of Knox College, Illinois. Professor Kasser is a social psychologist who works on values and how they affect people’s outward behaviour. Part of this is the classification of values as either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic values are those of wanting to help others, helping the community or empowering others. Extrinsic values are about power, acquiring money or having status.  During the presentation Professor Kasser used the Schwartz Values Circumplex to show how people tend to be orientated towards either intrinsic or extrinsic values. Intrinsic people tend to be more satisfied, have lower levels of anxiety & depression and greater empathy towards others  than extrinsic people. Extrinsic people tend to be less satisfied and look for the approval of others, acquiring more of things in order to appear more successful. Extrinsic people are self interested and likely to engage with others mostly when this will benefit themselves in some way.

One point he made was that when peoples extrinsic values get activated this suppresses their intrinsic ones. The example given was that people in the UK are exposed to around 1600 advertising messages per day which activates their consumer needs and subsequently suppresses their need for community and empathy. People with extrinsic values associate with others of like minds and exhibit social dominance orientation, believing that their group is superior to all others.

The presentation left me feeling a bit uncomfortable as the model put forward looks so similar to the differences between evangelical and liberal Christians. Could it be that evangelical fundamentalists, with their overriding interest in personal salvation and concern with personal wealth are just exhibiting extrinsic values? If this is the case then the rise in evangelicalism, particularly Pentecostalism (the biggest movement of the urban poor in history) would appear to be caused by, or supported by, the rise in consumerism. If this is true then this rise can only continue.

I have always thought that people are attracted to the form of Christianity that best fits their personality. For example, I have known a number of charismatic churches where all the men worked in sales, but I had not thought about a link with values until I got involved in values in behaviour change, particularly values and frames. Could it be that people’s choice of religious faith is determined by their pre-existing values?

Here is the Schwartz Circumplex. The self-enhancement side relates to extrinsic values and the self-transcendance to intrinsic values.

Click on image for larger version

Post Script
This may go a good way to explaining why evangelicalism is synonymous with the conservative political position. The two come from the same value set. It may also explain why conspiracy theorists are so similar to fundamentalist Christians. Both come from the same values base.

Implications for Evangelism
Evangelical Christians already use marketing techniques to attract new converts. For example, targetting young adults - in particular students - because this tends to be the point that people's beliefs about the world are becoming more solidified. If I put my marketing hat on and apply these values models to evangelism the obvious lesson is that Christians should look for converts amongst those who already hold similar values. This includes people with an interest in achievement, power, conformity and tradition. In other words - those with right wing tendencies. This would not be conversion in the true sense (turning radically from one thing to another), but simply recruitment of the like minded.

Update 13th March 2013
Here is a related article from the independent brought to my attention by Bob Johnston:
God's bankers: How evangelical Christianity is taking a hold of the City of London’s financial institutions.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to convert DIVX or any video format to MP4 for iPad

There are a couple of players for playing DIVX files on the iPad, but this does not get the files into iTunes for synchronisation so I went looking for a simple way of converting the files. After a bit of research I found a free programme called Any Video Converter.

  1. Download and install Any Video Converter from here (being careful not to allow the install of toolbars and other ad related programming unless you really want it).
  2. Follow the simpe on screen instructions to convert your video file to MP4 (Mpeg4) format. 
  3. Select "Customised MP4 Movie". The only setting you need to change is the frame size which should be set to "original". 
  4. Convert the file (this could take an hour or more for a very big file).
  5. Open iTunes.
  6. Add the converted file to your library (you may want to go to file > library > organise library to copy your file into your iTunes folder).
  7. Plug in your iPad to synchronise it.
  8. When its recognised click on it in the left hand menu in iTunes and go to the Movies tab. Make sure your new video is ticked to synchronise and apply the changes. It will be copied to your iPad.
  9. When its all synchronised unplug the iPad go to movies and your video should be listed.
This is not as complicated as it sounds. Just follow the steps and it will work fine.

By the way, if you want to save a YouTube video onto your iPad download it to your computer in MP4 format at and then add it to your iTunes library as above. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

How to make cheaper international phone calls from the UK

Yesterday I had to make a phone call to Switzerland. As Switzerland is not in the EU I knew it would be expensive, but I was not prepared for what I found when I looked up the prices. My land line provider (Virgin Media) wanted 60p per minute and my mobile provider (T-Mobile) wanted 70p per minute. This would have meant spending around £25 on the call so started thinking about alternatives.

I used to make lots of calls from the UK to the US and Canada and used an alternative carrier (Onetel) for this. Then I had a phone line from Sky and calls to the USA and some other countries were free. I didn't have time to sign up for another service, but I had an hour or so to do some research. I found a company called Planet Numbers who route via an 0844 number and claim 1p per minute. I had doubts about this as 0844 numbers normally terminate at 3 or 4p per minute so checked their number in the very complicated virgin media call pricing charts and found it would actually be about 7p per minute. Given the time constraints I still used them and the call cost me around £2. Quality was fine and it saved me over £20!

This got me thinking so I did some further research and it turns out that there are lots of companies providing this kind of service. runs a search engine for finding and comparing the cheapest providers:

International Call Checker

If you select "quick and easy" it only lists the ones that don't require signing up in advance. Ideal for the odd call, but if you make a lot of overseas calls then the services you have to sign up for are even cheaper.

(This is an independent review. I receive nothing for linking to these services).

Monday, November 28, 2011

My simple Macaroni and Cheese recipe

Not strictly macaroni as it uses Penne pasta, but this cheese sauce based recipe will serve four people comfortably. For two people reduce the amounts by half. You could use macaroni instead of the penne pasta. Like all of my recipes, this has been simplified so it can be made using the limited range of ingredients I have in the cupboard (e.g. plain flour instead of cornflour). The paprika and nutmeg I use is Asda’s own brand in little jars.

500g penne pasta (bag)
50g salted butter
200g cheddar cheese (you may prefer more, or less, cheese)
50g plain flour
500ml full cream milk (semi skimmed will work too)
½ tsp paprika
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper

Grate the cheese.
Measure out the other ingredients.
Put the serving bowls in a very low oven to heat them.
Put the pasta on at a low heat initially (accelerate or take off heat as required during the sauce making process).

Melt 50g butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat
Stir in 50g flour and cook for one minute, until it turns light brown in colour.
Let it cook for a short time, stirring all the time.
Gradually whisk in 500ml milk, reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes, whisking constantly.

Once thickened, stir in ½ tsp paprika and a pinch of nutmeg.
Season with salt and pepper
Stir in the cheese, retaining some for sprinkling on the top.
Set aside to cook slightly.
Check that pasta is cooked.

Boil the pasta until aldente.
Drain thoroughly.
Add back into the pan and stir in the sauce.
Mix in half the sauce.

Serve in the bowls with a sprinking of cheese on the top

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Alternative to the Metro Newspaper Mobile Version

I notice that the mobile optimised version of the Metro newspaper normally found at has disappeared at the same time as the main Metro web site has been redesigned. The mobile address just sends you to their normal web site now.

I contacted Metro via Facebook, but got no response and they deleted my enquiry from their wall so I can only assume that is a dead duck. The main Metro web site is difficult to navigate on a phone which is why I used the mobile version. There is a way round this though. Google has a web kit which can make a standard page easier to read on a mobile device so try going here instead:

I don't know what this says abut .mobi or the mobile web in general. Quite a few newspapers do not have mobile versions so I tend to bookmark their main sites through the Google web kit.

Update: I just got a message from the Metro that they will be launching a new mobile site in the next few months so we might be back on track. Meanwhile, try the link above.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sending an Email Merge from Microsoft Access using PHP

I was recently faced with a network restriction on sending out emails to more than 20 recipients from Outlook when we had over 800 members on our Access database who required to be mailed notifications for meetings and newsletters. I did try a number of mail merge options including Worldmerge by Coloradosoft, but I felt that what we needed was a simple hosted solution that avoided the need for an onsite mail server. In the long term we need to move to a service like Mailchimp, but everyone would (presumably) need to verify their opt in again and I am not sure how we would keep it in synch with our database.

Because of these difficulties I decided that as a short term solution I would generate recipients as CSV files from a database query and send the emails with a PHP script hosted on a web server. This worked and here is how I did it. I hope this is easy to follow. Its not intended to be a downloadable script solution, but a way of showing how the issue can be addressed fairly simply. It might help teach the basics of the PHP mail function too.

Generating the CSV file
Set up a query in Access which selects the recipients, but shows only first name, last name and email address. By incorporating the persons name into the email it makes it  more personal and I have found I get more feedback.

The Mailer Script
For simplicity, the bulk email script exists as three separate parts. The first (mailer.html) is an html form; the second (writefile.php) is a script for writing the address data to a file and the third (mailer.php) processes it and sends out the emails.There is a fourth file called addressfile.txt which is the list of names and email addresses.

This form I called “mailer.html” and consists of two forms on the one page.
The first sends certain values to the mailer script (from email address, real name, subject, message and footer). the second allows the comma separated values to be written to a text file on the server. here is the html for the two forms on mailer.html (aplogies for the use of tables - this wad done in a hurry):

<form method="post" action="mailer.php" name="mailer">
<table style="text-align: left;" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">
<td align="undefined" valign="undefined">From:
<td align="undefined" valign="undefined"><input name="from" value=""></td>
<td align="undefined" valign="undefined">Realname:&nbsp;&nbsp;</td>
<td align="undefined" valign="undefined"><input name="realname" value="Your Real Name"></td>
<td align="undefined" valign="undefined">Subject:&nbsp;&nbsp;</td>
<td align="undefined" valign="undefined"><input name="subject"></td>
<textarea cols="70" rows="20" name="message"></textarea><br>
<textarea cols="70" rows="10" name="footer">
<input name="btn" value="Submit" type="submit">
<form method="post" action="writefile.php" name="mailer"><br>
<textarea cols="70" rows="20" name="list"></textarea><br>
<input name="btn" value="Submit" type="submit">

You could set a default value for any of these fields so you don’t have to keep retyping them every time you send an email.

Write File Script
Open the CSV file in a text editor and copy and paste the values into the form. Press the submit button and it will write these to a file called addressfile.txt.

I called this script writefile.php

$filename = "addressfile.txt";
// file will need chmod to 666 or 777
$text = $_POST['list'];
$fp = fopen ($filename, "w");
if ($fp) {
fwrite ($fp, $text);
fclose ($fp);
echo ("File written");
else {
echo ("File was not written");

You should create an empty file called addressfile.txt and upload it to the same directory as the script and CHMOD it to 666 to give the scruipt the intial parameters to work from. A simpler solution would be to allow the upload of the CSV file from the form. I didn’t do it this way at this stage as I did not know for sure what the file permissions situation would be on writing a file. I will be replacing it shortly with that system. Some web servers will write files from PHP as a different user and you might not be able to delete or modify them so this is not an exact process.

Mail Processor Script
Clicking on the submit button in the top form of mailer.html posts the form values to the script mailer.php (below), opens up addressfile.txt, reads each line, explodes the entry into an array of first name, last name and email address thensends individual emails to each of these recipients. For simplicity it only handles plain text emails at the moment. It adds a “Dear $firstname” line to the beginning of the email.

There are some in-line comments that help explain what the script is doing:

//assign post data from the form to variables
$from = $_POST ['from'];
$realname = $_POST['realname'];
$subject = $_POST ['subject'];
$message = $_POST ['message'];
$footer = $_POST ['footer'];
//this first section processes the body of the email message
//PHP will escape any apostrophes or quotation marks so first we have to strip out the slashes
$message = stripslashes($message);
//to retain formating we limit lines to 70 characters and prevent leading full stops being deleted
$message = wordwrap($message,70,"\n");
$message = str_replace("\n", "\n", $message);
$message = str_replace("\n.", "\n..", $message);
//add a blank line at end of message to separate it from the footer
$message = $message . "\r\n\r\n";
//headers for the email
$headers = "From: \"".$realname."\" <".$from.">\r\n";
$headers .= "Return-Path: <".$from.">\r\n";
$headers .= "Content-type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1\r\n";
//open the text file containing the recipients
$file = fopen("addressfile.txt", "r") or exit("Unable to open file!");
//read the file one line at a time until the end is reached
  $dbentry = fgets($file);
//split the line from the text file into firstname, lastname and recipient
  $delimiter = ",";
  $splitcontents = explode($delimiter, $dbentry);
  $firstname = $splitcontents[0];
  $lastname = $splitcontents[1];
  $recipient = $splitcontents[2];
//generate first line and add blank line below it
//$firstline = "Dear $firstname $lastname,\r\n\r\n";
//version for just first name - you only need one of these lines
$firstline = "Dear $firstname,\r\n\r\n";
//join the first line, body text and footer together
  $bodytext = $firstline . $message . $footer;
//send the email
//show success message
  echo "Message sent to $recipient. <br />";
//close the file

Limitations and improvements
This all works OK under PHP5 and should do under PHP4 as well. Its a quick and dirty piece of programming and its not claiming to be well written, but it works.

Some issues that might need addressing:

  • The write file process needs to be changed to uploading the CSV file rather than writing the data. 
  • You may need to list your web server as a valid sender in your SPF DNS record to allow mail to be received by some mail services (depending how tightly your SPF records are set up).
  • With a long mailing list it takes a while for the confirmation page to appear. It would be better to open a window with javascript and write each successful send as a separate line.
  • Moving to a proper templating system where [[Firstname]] would be replaced by $firstname wherever that appeared. Could then move to having any number of fields in the query.
  • Allowing HTML if I could find a way of editing html effectively in a browser window.

Some web hosts limit the number of emails that can be sent using PHP so it might not work for you. I am sending emails to people who are members of an organisation and have opted in (in writing!) to receive emails. You should not use scripts like this for spamming. If you are a spammer you probably know more about this sort of programming than I do so you will have learned nothing from reading this.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The day I was virtually slapped by Westboro Baptist Church

So I arrived at work this morning to find police guarding the door. Westboro Baptist Church were in town picketing a conference going on in our offices. Later we had crash barriers outside,  but all I saw were three counter protesters with a dog and a handful of journalists. Apparently three protesters did turn up, but were greeted with apathy. The Westboro people seem to feed off counter demonstrations, but being dour Edinburghers we can't really be bothered with that sort of thing. The Starbucks across the road was busier than the demonstration and nobody over there had even noticed it was taking place.

The day's events ended up with myself and @echurchblog being told by Margie Phelps that we are doomed (via twitter - she wasn't actually here).

According to the Phelps clan there are precious few people who God doesn't hate and most of them appear to be members of the same family! Over here we don't go in for that sort of fundamentalist claptrap. We have bigger issues to deal with and our country is too small to fall out with everyone else.

All I saw was a few counter demonstrators (with a dog) hanging round the door, two policeman and a woman waiting at the bus stop!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A bit of prescience from Rudolf Steiner

This could have been written today:

"You will no doubt have heard that certain people are over and over again proclaiming to the world that democracy must spread to the whole civilized world. Salvation lies in making the whole of humanity democratic; everything will have to be smashed to pieces so that democracy may spread in the world... Concepts are taken for reality, and as a result illusion may take the place of reality where human life is concerned by lulling people to sleep with concepts. They believe the fruits of their endeavours will be that every individual will be able to express their will in the different democratic institutions, and they fail to see that these institutions are such that it is always just a few people who pull the wires, whilst the rest are pulled along. They are persuaded, however, that they are part of democracy and so they do not notice they are being pulled and that some individuals are pulling the strings. Those individuals will find it all the easier to do the pulling if the others all believe they are doing it themselves, instead of being pulled along. It is quite easy to lull people to sleep with abstract concepts and make them believe the opposite of what is really true. This gives the powers of darkness the best opportunity to do what they want. And if anyone should wake up they are simply ignored." Rudolf Steiner, The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness, 1917

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Simple Fruit Scone Recipe

This is my simple recipe for making fruit scones. It uses fewer ingredients than some recipes and can be made with the minimum number of utensils, especially if you have a set of electronic scales that can be zeroed between ingredients.

Some of my fruit scones

List of ingredients
225g self raising flour
55g lightly salted butter
25g caster sugar
150ml semi skimmed or whole milk
1 egg
100g sultanas or raisins

List of required utensils
Plate for holding the butter while it softens.
Mixing bowl.
Baking tray
Bowls, if required, to hold sugar and dried fruit
Pastry cutter (1” / 2.5cm)
Table knife
Chopping board
Measuring jug
Bowl for beating the egg.
Balloon whisk or fork for whisking the egg
Rolling pin

Cut 55g of lightly salted butter into cubes of less than 1cm and leave on a plate to soften.
Set the oven to 220 degrees or gas mark 7.
Grease a baking tray.
Beat the egg in a bowl with the milk.
Measure 225g of self raising flour into a mixing bowl (this does not need to be sieved as it is going to be crumbed).
Quickly rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the 25g of caster sugar and stir in using a normal table knife.
Add 100g sultanas or raisins and stir into the mixture - if you prefer you can add slightly more
Measure 150ml of milk into a measuring jug
Make a well in the middle of the bowl and stir in the milk and egg mixture a little bit at a time until there is a smooth pliable dough. It is easy to add too much so go slowly. You will not need it all - the rest will be used later.
The correct dough mix should be wet enough to hold together into one lump and come off the bowl, but not so wet it is sticky.
Turn the mixture on to a floured chopping board and turn/shape smooth then lightly roll out to 2.5cm (1 inch) thick.
Cut scones using a 7.5cm (2") pastry cutter.
Place on the baking tray and brush with the the milk and egg mixture.
Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown and well risen.
Cool before eating.

This recipe will work fine with just milk and no egg, although it may not rise as much. You can brush the top of the scones with milk instead of  egg too.

If you like this recipe you might like my simple fruit cake recipe which uses fewer utensils and makes less mess.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray - the Edinburgh connection

John Gray
Whilst the news is full of church concerns about gay clergy and gay marriage, its worth remembering that a former rector of St Peter's, Morningside, Fr John Gray, was a close friend of Oscar Wilde and addressed by Wilde in a letter as "Dorian" long before the novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was published.

His most important supporter, and life partner, was Marc-André Raffalovich, a wealthy poet and early defender of homosexuality. Raffalovich himself became a Catholic in 1896 and joined the tertiary order of Dominicans. When Gray went to Edinburgh he settled nearby. He helped finance St Peter's Church in Morningside where Gray would serve as priest for the rest of his life. The two maintained a chaste relationship until Raffalovich's sudden death in 1934. A devastated Gray died exactly four months later at St. Raphael's nursing home in Edinburgh after a short illness.

This is just another of Edinburgh's many literary connections.

Gray's poem "Summer Past" was dedicated to Oscar Wilde:


There was the summer. There
    Warm hours of leaf-lipped song,
    And dripping amber sweat.
        O sweet to see
The great trees condescend to cast a pearl
Down to the myrtles; and the proud leaves curl
        In ecstasy.

    Fruit of a quest, despair.
    Smart of a sullen wrong.
    Where may they hide them yet?
        One hour, yet one,
To find the mossgod lurking in his nest,
To see the naiads' floating hair, caressed
        By fragrant sun.

    Beams. Softly lulled the eves
    The song-tired birds to sleep,
    That other things might tell
        Their secrecies.
The beetle humming neath the fallen leaves.
Deep in what hollow do the stern gods keep
Their bitter silence? By what listening well
        Where holy trees,

Song-set, unfurl eternally the sheen
        Of restless green?

How to stop line breaks disappearing in a PHP generated email

I recently had a problem with a PHP script which accepts input from a form, formats it and then sends it out as an email. All of the fields were working fine apart from the textarea box used to input the body of the email. When sent, the emails had lost all their line breaks and just became one continuous line of wrapped text.

The script was intended for sending plain text email and I was using the linewrap command to keep it to 70 columns and preserve some sort of formatting. To try and get the line breaks back I tried the following:

  • Manually adding \n to the end of every line as part of the linewrap process.
  • Commenting out the linewrap command.
  • Adding \r before the \n.
  • Stripping out any instances of  ^P or ^M in case it was a windows encoding issue (I was clutching at straws by this point).

None of these worked, but I slept on it and the next day realised that it was nothing to do with the text of the message at all. It was the headers.

I had set the encoding headers as:

 $headers .= "MIME-Version: 1.0\n";
 $headers .= "Content-type: text/html\r\n"; 

Simply removing the MIME type header and changing the other one to:

$headers .= "Content-type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1\r\n";

fixed the problem and my line breaks started working again.

I will return to the script later and add the ability to alternate between html or plain text, but for now I have the problem of the missing line breaks solved.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seventeen Degrees

Seventeen degrees Celsius is the temperature at which I turn on my heating. Most people heat their houses to twenty degrees or more so seventeen feels quite chilly if I am not moving around. Why seventeen? I can't stand living at sixteen. If I could I would. You see, I am part of the squeezed middle. Prices are going up, but my salary isn't. My only choice for survival is to reduce my spending. Every aspect of my life is being trimmed. Surplus possessions are gradually going to new homes via EBay. I have stopped any unnecessary car journeys, but I need the car to visit my kids. I only buy food that will definitely be eaten and I throw nothing away. Every service I don't use has been cancelled. There is no dead wood remaining. Which brings me to my electricity bill of £50 per month. Unfortunately for the government I can't change supplier. My landlords won't allow it so I am hostage to the best deal I can get from Scottish Power.

Which brings me to the injustice of the regular monthly bill. My £50 per month is based on previous year's spending, so reducing my electricity consumption will make no difference for many months. Maybe I just have to bear with it and get my overpayment back in the spring. It might be the closest I get to feeling like a lottery winner. Until then I will be chilling out at seventeen degrees.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Which UK Web Hosting ?

Having worked in the web hosting industry in the UK for nine years I have seen a lot of brands come and go. I am still involved in some web development work and have set up sites for a few businesses and charities over the past few years. This puts me in a good position to recommend companies based on either personal experience or inside knowledge of how they are run.

Here is my list of recommended UK web hosts:

I have to confess a personal interest here as I founded the company. Although it has changed hands twice it still has some very good hosting plans - particularly for reseller or multiple domain users. The new owners have invested hugely in making the service reliable and with good support structures.

Here are a couple of voucher codes for money off Hostroute web hosting (use them in the order form):
GordonH 20% off web hosting
GordonHReseller 25% off web hosting

I use Blacknight for the hosting of my work web site and I have used it for several other web sites. Reliability is incredibly good because they use a clustered system (separate mail, web and database servers) and support is very responsive and helpful. Although the company is based in Ireland their connectivity to the UK is superb and hosting in Ireland makes it slightly more difficult for someone to take legal action against you for something you may have said about them. For that reason its a good choice for bloggers and they have a lot of Wordpress experience. The slightly complex control panel system can take a bit of getting used to (see this article) so it might be better for hosting of single sites that need good reliability. Highly recommended.

I know the owner of the company and it is a well organised set up. Providing cheap web hosting aimed at the UK market. Worth considering.

Mini VPS
This is the VPS brand of Xavvo providing VPS servers at remarkably low prices with high reliability (based on their independent uptime statistics). If you need a VPS this is somewhere worth considering.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My take on the potential split of the Church of Scotland

I thought I would make some observations on the current state of the Church of Scotland. As an outsider with a bit of an insiders view, what seems to be going on does not make much sense.

The current crisis centres around the issue of “gay ministers”. Traditionalists (a secret church code word for “evangelicals”) are portraying their complaint against the church as a protest against the ordination of gay clergy. However, in the Queens Cross case the minister was already ordained, and he had the support of the majority of the congregation calling him to his new charge. This means that the evangelicals look like they are trying to prevent a congregation calling their own choice of minister, even though the right to choose their own minister was something people suffered great hardship to achieve in times gone past. Whilst you can argue that the Church of Scotland has presbyterian government, and ministerial approval is somewhat centralised, other than the central administration and a limited number of joint decisions made by the general assembly, the church behaves as a congregational union. If it had been truly presybeterian then the rise of either faction, liberal or evangelical would not have been possible as the majority middle ground would have dominated.

The real situation is that Gay ministers are not the real issue at all. The church has probably always ordained gay ministers. I have known several personally over the years. All were greatly loved by their congregations and played an active role in the local community and the wider church. Nobody complained then, so why now? I think the reason is that evangelicalism in the UK has become narrower over the past 20 years with every splinter faction of Christianity retreating further into its own separate idea of truth. At the same time they have become more authoritarian and quite keen on telling other people what to believe or how to behave. What we see in the Church of Scotland is just a symptom of this. The churches and ministers leaving may get some temporary self satisfaction, but any pretence that they are making a stand or protecting their congregations is patent nonsense.

The real mystery, though, is why evangelicals are leaving the Church of Scotland at all. After decades of wanting to be in control, the evangelical wing of the church has never been numerically stronger and is producing more of the people who do the donkey work than ever before - including ministers. All they have to do is keep on this trajectory and dwindling church memberships will mean that only the hard core of the very keen will be left, and most of those will be evangelicals.  I can’t help thinking that if the evangelicals leave and form gathered churches rather than parish churches their ability to influence Scottish society will be considerably less in the future. They are undoubtedly throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Maybe its time for traditionalists to accept that each congregation has a right to call the minister of their choosing and leave it at that. It may mean losing a battle now, but all they have to do is wait and they will win the war. If they do decide to leave en masse then the church will need a new motto and logo.

Sed tamen ex parte consumptus (“and yet it was partially consumed”)

How to include an RSS feed in a web page or template

Sometimes you want to embed a summary of an RSS news feed in a web page, blog post or template.  Having tried various ways of doing this I have found that the simplest method is to use this service:

Its not perfect and it is remotely hosted, but it works. There are javascript, iframe and php options. The php would be ideal for including in a Wordpress template. There is also a an RSS Include Wordpress widget for embedding a feed in a sidebar or other page element.

Here is an example of what it looks like (this is the iframe version):

Friday, October 14, 2011

How to synch Google contacts with iPad

There are a number of conflicting articles about how to achieve synchronisation of diaries and contacts between  Google and iPad and iPhone devices. I know, because I have been through all the articles. The short answer seems to be that you can use Google Active Synch without needing to plug the iPad into the computer and using iTunes.  This article shows how to do it:

This is how I am doing it and it works. Of course, its cunningly labelled in the settings as "Microsoft Exchange" so it would be easy to miss it or not realise it could be used for this. If you are going to do this you will need to turn off the calendar and contacts synch for any Gmail account you have added to the iPad or you could end up with duplicate entries.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Recreating Miles Davis' muted trumpet sound

I had to do a Miles Davis soundalike recording this week. Specifically I had to try and reproduce his 1980's muted sound. For these records he was using a harmon mute and I have seen some debate about which brand of mute to use. After a bit of experimenting I think the issue is more to do with  mouthpiece choice and processing of the final audio. I experimented with various mouthpieces and my Denis Wick harmon mute and found that the closest was a quite deep Warbrton 3MD with a very large no 12 backbore. Even this was still not quite like the records so I equalised the sound to bring up the bass. See what you think, but I think its pretty close to the timbre of sound Miles Davis was producing in the 1980's:

Cognitive dissonance in evangelical Christian reporting of attacks on Christians in Egypt.

As the BBC reports the deaths of 24 Coptic Christians in Egypt I am left speculating how long it will be before fundamentalist evangelicals try to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand they will want to portray events in Egypt as Christians being persecuted by Muslims, but at the same time they will be discomfited by knowing that they don't consider the Coptic Church to be Christian. Lets face it. We all know that if one of these Egyptian Christians walked into an evangelical church on a Sunday they would not be welcomed as brothers in Christ, they would be a target for conversion from their ungodly faith. The same is true of Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Christians.

This is a regular problem for evangelical commentators reporting in events from the middle east and is something that social psychologists refer to as "cognitive dissonance". Interestingly the term was originally coined to explain changes in religious belief:

Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. The phrase was coined by Leon Festinger in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, which chronicled the followers of a UFO cult as reality clashed with their fervent beliefs. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. (source: Wikipedia)

It will be interesting to track how this story gets reported by Fundamentalist commentators. At time of writing Pat Robertson's CBN has made no comment, deciding to carry a verbatim copy of the AP article. It may be too early for the US media to have picked up the story.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A possible solution to the grandfather paradox?

"Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!"
The grandfather paradox in time travel refers to any issue which would make travelling back in time logically impossible. Named after the possibility of travelling back in time and killing your own grandfather, thus preventing yourself being born, it has been extended to cove other issue through which time travel breaks the rules of logic.

In Doctor Who it is often stated that you can't go back to a time earlier in your own lifetime because of the risk of meeting yourself.  If you you break this rule you mustn't meet yourself or something nasty will happen.

It seems to me that in real life this is less of a problem than it appears. By the age of 25 there are very few (if any) of the atoms in your body that were there on the day you were born. In fact, at the time you were born most of your 25 year old atoms were in the bodies of other people or objects. Hmmm. This is often misunderstood because many body cells stay with you for your whole life, but those cells do regenerate and the atoms themselves will have swapped over many times.

If I, at the age of 44, go back and meet myself as a child the two people would be made up of completely different atoms. The only problem would be that my 44 year old atoms would exist in other people and objects. Rather than the two versions of me meeting and something nasty happening the likely outcome of travelling back in time would be that my atoms would take up their locations as they were at that point in time. As has often been said:

In every glass of drinking water there is at least one atom that passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell.

However, even given this problem the situation does raise an important existential question. If our bodies are not the same as 25 years ago then is our consciousness dependent on the physical hardware of the body?  The only logical answer is - no. Our personality and memories are much less connected to the  physical apparatus of our brains than we might like to think. This makes it entirely possible that human consciousness could exist in other atoms not directly linked to the body and therefore exist separately from the living body.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

iPad Home Button for Safari - how to add one

Well, the short answer is that you can't make a home button directly in the Safari toolbar, but you CAN add one to the bookmarks bar. Here is my iPad showing the home "button" just bellow the back button. Clicking on the Home link takes you back to the home page without opening a new window.

Here is how to add the home button:

Go into settings, then Safari and select to always show the bookmarks bar.
Navigate to the page you want to set as the home page.
Click on the add bookmark button.

Change the name of the page to "Home".

Click where it says "Bookmarks" and make sure this is selected as "Bookmarks Bar".

Then click "Save"

You should now have a Home button (link) on your bookmarks bar.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review - Key to Life by Iddo Oberski

Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom is one of the most influential texts in modern philosophy. It has influenced educators, politicians and theologians and tens of thousands of ordinary people whose names will never be publicly declared. It is Steiner’s first major work and whilst it underpins his later development of Anthroposophy, the Philosophy of Freedom is a stand alone work in its own right. An understanding of the ideas contained in the Philosophy of Freedom can benefit anyone even if they have no interest in Steiner’s later ideas.

Unfortunately, the Philosophy of Freedom is a rather complex and impenetrable book. This is partly due to Steiner’s style - he tends to repeat and go over material to make the same point several times - and partly due to some of the older translations which are still in common circulation.

In his book “Key to Life” Iddo Oberski gives an outline of the main arguments contained in the Philosophy of Freedom and explains how Steiner came to those conclusions. The book is written in an  enthusiastic style with many practical examples from the author’s own life. Oberski also gives some advice on the best way to approach and read the Philosophy of Freedom.

Before reading this book I had two abortive attempts at reading the Philosophy of Freedom. Having now read “Key to Life” I have gained the confidence to read have another go and will be able to refer back to this book as I read. I would recommend “Key to Life” as the first step for anyone considering exploring the Philosophy of Freedom.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Similarities between Doctor Who, Rudolf Steiner and Goethian Science

For some time I have noticed that there are some quite strong similarities between elements of Doctor Who and the world of Rudolf Steiner. I have outlined some of them in this article. If you have any thoughts please leave a comment.

Names and appearance
Steiner was known to his friends as “The Doctor”. He usually dressed in the flamboyant Edwardian clothes of his student days (resembling Hartnell and McGann’s Doctor Who characterisations).

The 1st Doctor (William Hartnell)

The 8th Doctor (Paul McGann)

Rudolf Steiner

The Science of Spirituality
The science of doctor who is similar to Goethean science. Steiner edited Goethe’s scientific works and developed many of his ideas from Goethe (and his friend Friedrich Schiller). The difference between the manufactured and organic worlds is blurred. In Steiner we see this in his architecture which seems to grow rather than be constructed. In doctor who the Tardis is not simply a machine, but an organic entity with a life and a life force. In the Doctor Who story Logopolis the planet's physical structure is dependent on the continuous mathematical calculations of its inhabitants. This is an example of spiritual activity (thought) being integral to the physical world, something quite in line with Steiner's ideas.

The Doctor uses his senses to understand the physical world. Often being able to sense things rather than observing them through empirical means as a conventional scientist would.
"Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It's like when you're a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can't quite believe it 'cause everything looks like it's standing still. I can feel it... the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go..." (The Doctor,in Doctor Who episode Rose 2005).
This is rather like Goethe’s idea that we cannot divorce ourselves from nature and have to use our senses to understand phenomena in order to truly understand them. Steiner took Gothe’s idea and developed it into a spirtual science which he called “Anthroposophy”.

Intuitive Thinking
Steiner proposes intuitive thinking as a path to knowledge about the physical world and the spiritual world beyond. The Doctor relies on intuitive thinking, often sensing disturbances in the time dimension in the way that Steiner (or any initiate) senses things in the spirit world.

Steiner often refers to standing outside of time. Here in the earliest written record of his work (a letter written in 1881 when he was 19 years old):

It was the night from January 10th to the 11th. I didn’t sleep a wink. I was busy with philosophical problems until about 12:30 a.m. Then, finally, I threw myself down on my couch. All my striving during the previous year had been to research whether the following statement by Schelling was true or not: “Within everyone dwells a secret, marvelous capacity to draw back from the stream of time—out of the self clothed in all that comes to us from outside—into our innermost being and there, in the immutable form of the Eternal, to look into ourselves.” I believe, and I am still quite certain of it, that I discovered this capacity in myself.

Organic vs Designed
Tardises are said to be grown from a coral like substance.

Tardis Interior (from David Tennant era)

 Steiner’s second Goetheanum has a similar organic feel.

Steiners Second Goetheanum in Dornach

In Doctor Who inanimate objects can take on other significances like the every day objects which make up the current Tardis console. Phenomena that we consider to be paranormal are within the Doctor’s sense of reality.

The Master
At the age of fifteen, Rudolf Steiner began learning the secret occult lore of plants from Felix Korgutski who later introduced him to another man Steiner always referrs to in his writings as "the Master”. The Master spiritually initiated him. Steiner never revealed the identity of “the Master”.

In Doctor Who we never know the true identity of The Master. The relationship between the Doctor and the Master is never made clear although it was apparently intended to reveal him as the doctors brother just prior to the death of Roger Delgado, the first actor to play him. In Doctor Who spin off books it has been suggested that the Doctor and the Master were childhood friends, but the title “Master” does suggest some teacher/pupil relationship.

Hidden history and the hidden universe
The Doctor is always portrayed as being wise and having lots of knowledge of historical events. This is often special inside knowledge as if he had witnessed those events. He has access to additional hidden history about people and events from world history which he obtained from his time travel. In a similar way Rudolf Steiner got special hidden information from his spiritual investigations (e.g. The Fifth Gospel).

During his public lectures Rudolf Steiner displayed the same characteristics as the Doctor, as described here by his friend Friedrich Rittelmeyer (founder of The Christian Community):

...whether he was dealing with the burning of the Templars, or of the "Friend of God" from the Oberland, Dr. Steiner always spoke as if he needed no history books, but had himself been an actual witness of all these events. (From "Rudolf Steiner Enters my Life" by Friedrich Rittelmeyer)

In Doctor Who, Time Lords are initiated through education on Gallifrey within an enclosed, hierarchical, society. The latest series of Doctor Who have shown flashbacks of the initiation of The Doctor and The Master.

Many of the Doctor Who stores feature archetypes like messianic figures. The Doctor himself has become more messianic as the series has progressed. Often creatures of mythology are said to exist in the  real world. Vampires, angels and witches are just three recent examples. Steiner believed that magical creatures exist whom he refers to as “sylphs” within a different realm or dimension of reality which can be accessed by spiritual investigation (usually involving clairvoyance and meditation) in a similar way to The Doctor visiting a distant planet or going into another time stream where the rules of physical science are different. The Doctor experiences clairvoyance at various times, especially in relation to the Time Lords and Gallifrey. There is an assumption that the supernatural exists and Atlantis and other mythical ideas are common to the world of Steiner and Doctor Who.

Doctor Who (since its return in 2005) has contained the back story of a time war, which is not dissimilar to the "war in heaven" with The Doctor and The Master almost replacing Ahriman and Lucifer.

Is there anything to this?
Doctor Who developed over many years and has no single originator. People like Verity Lambert, Sidney Newmann and Barry Letts were pivotal figures in its early development, but there is no evidence that any of them were anthroposophists. Still, Steiner’s writings are well known and influential beyond the confines of the Anthroposophical Society and if someone was to pick a big thinker with an other worldly personality then he would be an obvious choice, especially in the world of the 60’s and 70’s where the esoteric was considerably more mainstream than it is today. Also, if you were a writer looking for a different phenomenology of science then Goethe and Steiner are obvious sources. Easier to base something on their ideas than start from scratch I don’t think the similarities between Steiner and Doctor Who are deliberate, but they do make sense in the context of the time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How to create photo albums on an iPad 2

The iPad is a great device for viewing photographs. The screen is bright and realistic; the touch gestures make looking through photographs very easy, but there is no inbuilt function for creating albums directly on the iPad. Here is how to get round this.

When you set up your iPad you did this through iTunes on a computer or laptop. Plug the ipad into the same computer and launch iTunes. Click on the name of the iPad in the left column. Click on "Photos" in the central window (above where it shows remaining memory etc). Select a directory folder on your computer that you would like to synchronise the photos from. You may want to create a new folder for this purpose. Once this is set up all you need to do is put photos in this directory and every time your iPad synchs it will add new photos.

To create albums create other folders within this folder and put photos inside those. The names of these folders will be used as the name for the album on the iPad, which will automatically have those photos loaded into it. This all sounds easy but there are two catches:

1. The directory you created must have no photos in it at this top level. They must all be in directories below that one. If you have any photos inside the main directory folder then all your photos will just appear as one big album.

2. Sometimes the iPad will not copy new photos over and says to check they are the correct format even if they are all; jpegs. To fix this go to the directory on your computer and delete the iPad photo cache files from it. This will force a complete reload of all the photos, not just the ones you added. be careful to check that the synch settings for photos is still set to your specially created folder as sometimes deleting the cache files on the Windows version of iTunes forces your entire myphotos directory to be copied onto the ipad (not great). [update June 2012 - since the last iOS upgrade I have not experienced this problem so it seems to be fixed].

Once you have synchronised the iPad you should find that the photos app has the "album" button active and you can browse your albums. There will also be another album called "photo roll" which contains any  photographs you have taken using the internal camera.

Update June 2012
Since the last upgrade to iOS 5.01 and greater integration with iCloud it has been possible to copy photos between albums on the iPad itself.

  • Select an image so it displays on the screen. 
  • Touch it and the menu bar will come up. 
  • Click on the box with the arrow coming out of it on the right hand side. 
  • Select "copy" and it will be copied. (you can actually copy and paste by touching on an image in album view also).
  • Go to another album and click paste.
  • It will now appear in that album also.

However, you can't then delete the original version or it deletes it from the copied location too! For this reason I still think that iTunes is the best way to work with photo albums on the iPad.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Some ground rules for assessing reported UFO sightings

This article proposes some ground rules for getting to any truth contained in reports of UFO sightings and other paranormal activities. I would be interested to know what other people think about them.

  1. Because people tend to exaggerate about every day events we should assume that ALL UFO reports are exaggerated to the same extent. This means that the reported events should be wound back a notch with the most bizarre elements deleted or figures like times and distances reduced. An example of exaggeration from everyday life are hotel reviews, which can often be exaggerated to be far better or worse than the actual experience. To get to the truth most review web sites recommend ignoring the very good and very bad reviews. In large scale UFO sightings we should ignore the reports at either extreme.
  2. What is seen is always slightly ahead of current technology - airships in the 19th century, disc shaped craft in the 1950's and triangular craft in the 1990's. Sightings outside the current trend should be considered to be more accurate as people tend to interpret what they have actually seen to fit the current fashion for sightings. Anyone going against this is likely to be giving a more accurate, less polluted report.
  3. Where there are two witnesses who saw the event together there is a real risk of conflation, or the merging of the two reports. Of the two witnesses one may have a dominant personality and the second persons report may be altered to fit with that of the dominant party. In these cases the lowest common denominator of the two reports should be taken as closest to the actual event.
These are just some thoughts about bringing some sanity to the interpretation of reported sightings. I should say that I am a sceptic when it comes to UFO's. I have an open mind, but I do wonder why the more bizarre a claim the greater the credibility it seems to be given. If we are to get at the truth then we need to find the core of the event from within the unconscious deception.

Friday, September 2, 2011

So Napoleon was abducted by aliens - yeah right...

A story is doing the rounds on the Internet this week claiming that a Dr. Andre Dubois of France found an alien micro chip inside the skeleton of french emperor Napoleon. The source of this story is Weekly World News of 11th August 2011 under the headline "Alien chip in Napoleon's skull" complete with a picture of the removed chip:

However, this story first appeared in Weekly World News 8 Apr 1997 with the doctor named as Dr Antoin Lefebvre complete with a picture of the good doctor pointing at a laboratory skeleton:

Click here to see a scan of the 1997 article.

The image of the chip in the latest version of the story is the same image as used in this article on the BBC News web site from 2004 which is about the US company Applied Digital’s Verichip technology. This is commonly used for pet tagging, but may be extended for human use:

Its interesting that a large proportion of web pages using versions of that chip image (as found through a reverse image search) are about Christian “end times”, “rapture” or “prophecy” issues. This is another example of the close link between Christian fundamentalism and conspiracy theorists which I have written about previously.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guido Fawkes gets it wrong on climate change

I felt I had to comment on political blogger Paul Staines (AKA Guido Fawkes)  attempt at climate change denial today as it shows how many on this side of the atlantic are falling for the ssame spin as US presidential hopeful Rick Perry, who recently came out as a climate change denier. it now seems standard for those of the right to be opposed to action on climate change. I can see how Perry might gain from this (his campaign is funded in part by oil companies), but Guido? Who knows, but one thing is sure - Guido is wrong.

If you look at a map showing increase or decrease in temperature over the past 30 years you will see that the UK has stayed about the same and some parts of the world have got colder, BUT temperatures in Africa and some other areas have increased dramatically. This has reduced growing seasons. Overall temperatures ARE increasing and this IS affecting some of the poorest people in the world.

An increase of one degree here would signify a change of much greater proportions nearer the equator. Pointing to snow here as a way of denying climate change is cold comfort to subsistence farmers living in these areas.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A web application for reading ebooks without software.

Sometimes it would be useful to be able to read an ebook (stored as an epub file) on a mobile phone, laptop or other device without having an ebook reader or having to install special software. Well this is now possible using a site called Magicscroll which you will find here:

On visiting the site you are presented with two options, either to upload an epub file or read one that resides somewhere on the internet. Many web sites that provide free ebooks show a link for downloading the file. Right clicking on this should allow you to see and copy the link address and out this into Magicscroll. There is an option to turn on online synching. If activated, this allows the current page to be remembered. A cookie is used to store your recently read book titles which should appear as links on the front page the next time you visit the site. Visiting Magicscroll on a mobile device calls up a special mobile version. 

Here is a link to Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom, stored at the Rudolf Steiner Archive, but displayed in Magicscroll:

Once the book loads you will see icons on the left of the screen for book contents, full screen and other useful functions.

For a source of free epub ebooks try

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why the iPad is better than any Android Tablet

When the Apple iPad first came out I was ambivalent about how useful a tablet PC would be. I already had a touch screen smartphone and the iPad apeared to be not much more than a larger phone. However, as time has gone by I have become more aware of people using iPads usefully in business for presentations, document viewing at meetings, typing notes and keeping up with business Twitter accounts. In home life I have used a friends iPad to view a rented movie, shop online and play music from iTunes.

The iPad’s battery life is extremely good with 10 hours or more possible and it is very light. This takes it beyond a laptop and into a multipurpose device I could see myself carrying it back and forth to work for reading documents, viewing videos, listening to music or keeping up with my basic word processing needs. Other than music playing, these are all things that my mobile phone does not do particularly well because of the screen size and keyboard restrictions. My laptop can do them, and a netbook could too, but the netbook screen size and quality is not as useful as the iPad.

Having used an iPad I can see the pluses and minuses.

First the minuses:

Lack of Flash player
Regardless of what apple says about Flash, the lack of it means you can only access the BBC iPlayer and YouTube via applications which use other versions of the original files. You do not get the full web experience. We7 on demand streaming is not available without a paid account as the as supported version requires flash. Many web sites are not fully functional or more difficult to use without flash. My Android phone handles Flash perfectly well so I am left with the nagging suspicion that the lack of flash is more to do with the current patent war between smart phone manufacturers than any real technical or usability issues.  The silliest argument used by Apple against Flash is that it is not open source, ignoring the fact that their own software is all proprietary.

Lack of tabbed browser
Safari works well, but new sites visited create new windows. Navigation would be a lot easier with a tabbed browser like Chrome or Firefox. I have not explored alternatives to Safari. There may be a solution to this.

Lack of front mounted camera on the iPad 1
The original iPad has no front mounted camera making it useless for any video conferencing applications and severely limiting its usefulness for business purposes. The iPad 2 does have a front mounted camera, but as Apple were developing Facetime at the same time as the iPad it is nonsensical that the iPad did not have a front camera at its launch. This is more unforgiveable than the lack of flash because it was an in-house Apple issue.

Lack of USB or SD card socket
The iPad loks like a photo frame, but to view your photos you will be stung £25 for a “camera connectivity kit” which provides SD and a USB socket. In spite of this the USB socket will not allow the use of USB memory sticks because the power supplied by the iPad is too low. This seems like a deliberate way of forcing you to pay £100 for a version with more memory.

Micro SIM card
I have an old Vodafone PAYG sim card with bandwidth that never expires. At £10 per GB its a very cheap way to connect to the internet. I thought I could use this in the iPad, but it uses a “Micro Sim” card which is smaller and has additional onboard memory. There are a few online articles showing you how to cut down a full size SIM card to fit an iPad, but its not clear if the iPad 2 looks for the SIM card’s memory for any purposes and cutting the card down will mean it can’t be used in my old Vodafone dongle. Some mobile phone companies will issue a replacement SIM card, but there is now way Vodafone will do this for one of the old style data cards that they make little money from.

No GPS on the Wi-Fi only version
Given the Micro SIM issue ,the Wi-Fi only iPad would seem to suit me because my HTC phone is on a large bandwidth contract and a built in wifi hotspot. However, Apple decided to not fit a GPS receiver to the wi-fi only version which means there is no accurate location positioning (although approximate is available using wi-fi SSID’s and other information). They envisaged it as something you would use at home with truly mobile users choosing the 3g version. The other reason was that the 3g chipset used is the same as in the iPhone and it contains the GPS receiver, so adding GPS to the wi-fi version would have required extra development time.

Now the pluses:

Uniformity of hardware
Android tablets come in a variety of qualities, from the very cheap ones with resistive screens, to ones like the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 which have lovely high definition capacitive screens. This means that developers do not know exactly what hardware they are building for so end user experience will be variable. This is the same disadvantage that Microsoft have over Apple with desktop and laptop systems. Apple control the hardware specification so they can predict how their software will behave. Microsoft have to make software that will work on an huge variety of hardware and peripherals. A visit to the Android Marketplace will show the same problem with variable performance of apps on the different available handsets. With the iPad, Apple have a stable, high performance platform through which they can guarantee to deliver a good end user experience.

Availability of accessories
The Samsung tablets may be very well made, high performance devices, but try buying a case or a keyboard docking station. Its not going to be as easy or as well executed as the accessories available from Apple.

Quality of construction
The iPad is a very well made piece of equipment with a lot of thought having gone into things like the speakers (better than I would have expected) an the onscreen keyboard (which has a very positive action and is actually type-able on).

However there is one reason why the iPad is better than ANY Android tablet and it is nothing to do with the comparative quality of the devices.

Availability of services
The iPad has iTunes. This means you can download music, rent movies and buy apps very simply through an integrated system. It also has iCloud which allows music to be accessible from other devices and keeps it securely backed up. There is no integrated equivalent for Android tablets and there is unlikely to be because of the lack of uniformity of hardware.

This was the reason that the iPod beat all other MP3 players. There were lots of very good MP3 players around before the iPod, but the  iTunes software made it easy to synchronise the device and buy music. Similarly the iPad is a good video playing device, but it is also easy to get video onto. The same with music ebooks and apps.

The iPad works. It might have its limitations, but they are well managed and it will not disappoint.