Archive for September, 2005

The best thing

The state of the world is almost made up for by the existence of a bottle of chilli and garlic sauce that I got in a cash and carry on Shepherds’ Bush Market.

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Well, I did read the Blair speech, but, y’know, come on, look… I admit it. It got me. It was very well targeted, a quick jab of business-friendly kung fu to a nerve centre. It wasn’t substantial or instantly outrageous enough to inspire rage, but while reading the collection of free-market platitudes and affirmations there was always the thought at the back of my mind: this man is Prime Minister, his ideology has power right now. He slid under my guard and kicked me straight through anger into simple depression.

He didn’t even mention “respect” that much – let’s get that out of the way first. The continued use of the word makes me cross because my immediate association is the phrase “respect has to be earned”, and I look at the speaker and think has this person earned my respect? and the answer always comes back no. Of course that’s nothing to do with general respect for others in society, but then that’s not really what all this is about anyway; it’s just meaningless rhetoric targeted at the Daily Mail nanny-state ASBO fans, who like the idea of the government forcing their social inferiors to behave like they should, though they’ll bleat endlessly about personal freedoms if they have to pay tax or stop driving so much. There’ll be a few minor laws passed because of this which will succeed in making some people more miserable and disaffected, but he’s not really going to try to eliminate anti-social behavior by the time of the next election, a promise that he was given an extremely easy time regarding by the press.

Anyway, Tony. What can you say about that speech? More fetishisation of the private sector, in which I have worked long enough to respond to the idea that it intrinsically delivers efficiency with hollow laughter, more “this is the only way”, more context-free repetition of statistics. You don’t expect a lot from a keynote address by the Prime Minister to his own party but this was calculated, vicious blandness.

Most of the conference seems to have been a combination of control freakery and one-mind speechifying. You’ve got a few funny details, like the fact that nobody was allowed to take sweets inside in case they threw them, and incidents like the 82 year old man thrown out by bouncers after daring to say “rubbish!” when the Foreign Secretary was talking rubbish about Iraq, and then detained under the Terrorism Act when he tried to re-enter. You know, the legislation that when it was passed everybody said “no, of course it won’t be used to stifle debate even though it clearly could be, they wouldn’t do anything like that“. The one that’s made no difference to actual terrorism at all.

That was pretty good. There was also Dennis Skinner’s “class war not holy war” speech which got cheers and claps, he’s always good value (and apparently a good constituency MP as well). But really, these applauders have had years to work out that Blair and the New Labour politburo are authoritarian right-wing entryists. I worked it out before the man came to power. It’s obvious. They sit there and applaud Dennis Skinner and bitch but they still stay with the party that’s done things the Tories would never have dared to do. They still fall for the “you may not like us but what if the Tories get in?” line, apparently not realising that the Thatcherites already have.

So I’m depressed. I know it’s all a load of shit, but most of the time I manage to keep that idea down and not let it intrude. Every now and then I get reminded that it really is a load of shit and it makes me feel terrible. Sue me.

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I’m restraining myself from another rant about Charles Fucking Clarke and his demands for “respect” because, as I’m sure you’re aware, That Nice Mr Blair is delivering his keynote speech at the Labour conference, and I want to make sure I have a look at that before writing so that I can build up an even greater head of outrage steam.

He has apparently come onto the stage to Sham 69′s “The Kids Are United”. It’s looking good for bile duct activity.

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I’m thinking of learning Ruby. Initially it was a toss-up between Ruby and Python, which does have a cute icon:

python icon

but after having done a bit of research and starting to think that maybe Ruby would suit me more anyway, I then came across the following:

the language is named after the BBC show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and has nothing to do with nasty reptiles. Making references to Monty Python skits in documentation is not only allowed, it is encouraged! (+)

which sealed it. There is no way I’m reading documentation full of Monty Fucking Python references. I quite like my monitor without my fist through it, thanks.

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So Ruby it is. “Why?” I hear you ask. “Aren’t you already the ultimate master of Perl, capable of knocking Larry Wall into a cocked camel?” Well, no. Unfortunately I started by vaguely hacking around with Perl and have developed some appalling habits which Perl quite happily lets me get away with. To be quite honest I do not understand its OO stuff and when it comes to using objects, I just insert and remove => and -> between all the bits until the program works. I certainly never write my own classes or anything like that. I think a fresh start is called for, without the temptation to do things badly. And looking through the tutorials (particularly why’s (poignant) guide to Ruby) I think I’d have a hard time doing things badly.

I find the “everything’s an object” principle rather cute. I like it that x == 5 is actually calling the method == on x and could be written x.==(5). I like the idea that you can write things like 5.times { print "foo" } to print “foo” five times. And there’s also something called Ruby On Rails which is some sort of web thing that only started last year which I’m sure is terribly cutting edge and next-big-thingish although I have no idea what it does.

I just know you’re all terribly thrilled by this news and lining up to congratulate me.

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Get rid of that virtual hamster

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Representatives of Hakkar were unavailable for comment

The BBC reports that a deadly blood plague is spreading across… um…

In the last week, (Blizzard) added the Zul’Gurub dungeon which gave players a chance to confront and kill the fearsome Hakkar – the god of Blood.

In his death throes Hakkar hits foes with a “corrupted blood” infection that can instantly kill weaker characters.

The infection was only supposed to affect those in the immediate vicinity of Hakkar’s corpse but some players found a way to transfer it to other areas of the game by infecting an in-game virtual pet with it.

This pet was then unleashed in the orc capital city of Ogrimmar and proved hugely effective as the Corrupted Blood plague spread from player to player.

Is this the first time that the BBC has reported an epidemic occurring in a virtual world? (In this case, World of Warcraft.) I suppose it’s news, though, and a lot of people will care more about this than, you know, real people dying of real horrific plagues in some country somewhere that nobody’s heard of. But that’s depressing, so I’ll move on.

The “Corrupted Blood” plague is not the first virtual disease to break out in online worlds. In May 2000 many players of The Sims were outraged when their game characters died because of an infection contracted from a dirty virtual guinea pig.

Dirty guinea pig.

The serious point here is that it is becoming increasingly clear that virtual pets are potential deathtraps. What is the government doing about this? Where is Patricia Hewitt? Busy selling off our hospitals to orcs, I’ll warrant, and bringing in foreign elves to work as nurses. We need an immediate ban on the creation of new virtual animals, cute or otherwise, and existing ones will have to either be quarantined on an unconnected server or burnt in a big insanitary heap of pixels

Two classes of virtual pet will be exempt from this:

  1. penguins (obviously)

  2. any Tamagotchi that has managed to survive since 1996, since it could only infect itself anyway

Furbies, though not technically “virtual” but rather “artificial”, will still be burnt, and also staked through the heart. Please co-operate fully with the inspection team when it arrives on your particular game server. This is a serious public health matter.

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Stewards plz

There’s another big Stop the War Coalition march on Saturday, which I will not be attending I’m afraid (prior engagement). I’ve been informed that they’re having trouble finding stewards for the London one.

Being a steward is fairly easy; you turn up early, make sure people don’t go the wrong way, wear a yellow vest, that sort of thing. It’s an important job though. If you fancy having a go it’s not too late by any means. There are contact details on the site and if you get in touch with them and say “I would like to steward for the London march” they will undoubtedly be very happy.

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Liberal missing coke

I wouldn’t have known that the Lib Dem conference was on at the moment if I’d not been watching News24 over the weekend. I was in the kitchen; my flatmate came in, looked at the TV and said “are they having a conference?” I paid attention to the screen for the first time since entering the room (I’d been making coffee, much more important). There was some man on there, talking about the NHS I think. At first I thought it was some sort of repeat, but it did say “live” at the bottom of the screen, so, yes, I supposed they were.

Reading the paper since then has confirmed that this is indeed the case. The Lib Dems are having a conference. Well. Hmm. They’ve changed in status a little recently, haven’t they? After the attack on Iraq they got ever so slightly mouthy, and of course during the election they made a bit of noise, but now, well, I can’t remember a comment made by a Lib Dem on anything. For that matter I’m not sure I could name any any more, apart from Charles Kennedy, who I think is still the leader. I’ve heard more from RESPECT.

The Lib Dems have done well with that segment of the UK left wing that still bothers voting, on the basis of “we’re not voting for the bloody Tories but Blair is obviously a bastard too, who’s left?” But come on, you can’t expect people to actively support you or even pay attention on that basis. It’s not hard. You’ve got MPs, the press will pay some attention to you, and there’ve been so many classic Lib Dem issues to shout about recently; civil liberties are something that the party has traditionally been good on, without the unconvincing reactionary stance of the Tories, who you know are only opposing things because Blair wants them and a few prominent old people are sceptical. Let’s not forget Thatcher and the “reporting restrictions”, eh?

Side issue here: “reporting restrictions” were the first thing that I remember spurring political thoughts. For non-Brits, the situation was that the government of the time banned broadcasting the voices of certain politically incorrect politicians. Thus, as a young fridgemagnet, I was exposed to the news with statements by Gerry Adams being overdubbed with the voice of an actor repeating his words. The only rational response to that sort of thing is “hold on, this is bollocks isn’t it? What’s going on?” And then I started looking at the history of Northern Ireland, and the actions of the government, and boom I was a communist.

But I digress. The Lib Dems, yes. Any sort of initiative, they’ve lost it. The Tories get more attention while they’re squabbling about who can be the most Victorian failure at the next election, for heaven’s sake. While I’ve pretty much given up on the idea that party politics will actually provide a meaningful solution to political problems, there’s still a slight pain to look at a party of whom you once thought “these people might at least do a bit of good” and conclude that George Fucking Galloway is more active and productive than any of their members.

I’m writing this in a pub, and I just went to the loo and saw two guys coming out of the same cubicle who were clearly far too composed to have just been having sex. I was a little confused until I remembered that there’s a post-production company just down the road. Perhaps the establishment should consider those angled anti-Chaz cisterns. Come to think of it, they’d be fools to really.

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Hands-on penguin

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yes please

To reassure people that I’ve not suddenly moved away from my usual interests, which would be a worrying sign indeed, here’s my solution to the “omg iPod or PSP it’s so confusing” dilemma. Yes, it’s a handheld that runs Linux. No, it’s not just because it runs Linux; it’s arguably more powerful than the PSP for a start, it’s certainly cheaper, and while only a few dodgy penguin types may be writing games for it it can already run all of the open-source emulators out there, allowing one to run original arcade games, (S)NES titles and so on. If you own the original games, of course. It would clearly be illegal and reprehensible to emulate a Double Dragon machine unless you owned a Double Dragon† arcade machine. Which I do. Look, it’s right there. Can’t you see it?

As well as that it will play music videos and not in a pain-in-the-arse Sony “buy our cartridges” way. You just copy the files to an SD card, stick it in the machine and it plays them. Bizarre concept, I know, that you own a device that just lets you play whatever you want on it.

A little bit of irritation here: I bought an ex-rental copy of Bulletproof Monk the other day but I’ve not watched it yet. Why is this, I hear you ask? Because it’s an ex-rental copy and thus has about half an hour of enforced trailers for films that I’ve either already seen or I have no intention of seeing at the start. When you try to skip them on a standard “media corporation arse-licking” DVD player, it says it can’t do it, which is a complete lie. It could do it if it wanted to. It just won’t. I’ll have to use a software DVD decoder, and that’s not an ideal solution; I’d rather just have hardware that does what I want it to do.

This is what annoys me. You’re sold a device that’s not actually under your control. If I buy something I expect it to be sold to me, for my purposes, with the interests of entirely seperate companies coming second. I don’t expect it to be crippled according to what is best for Rupert Murdoch’s business model, or spy on me, or not do things that it is perfectly capable of doing. Luckily the Pacific Rim is quite happy to supply such devices, and you can bet the Chinese won’t want to rely on things that are subservient to the requirements of American corporations, even if their government would doubtless want them to be subservient to their interests, and we have these nutcase penguin people who carry on developing stuff, but sometimes it would be nice to just be able to go to a shop and buy the latest shiny gadget and it does what I want.

† Double Dragon has the honour of being the only arcade machine that I’ve ever completed fully in an actual arcade, on two-player mode, and then won completely, because you fight the other player at the end and I had the baseball bat. I did get quite close to finishing Virtua Cop 2 as well.

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Censored for your pleasure

I do actually have something to say that I observed on Thursday and Friday last week when I was away, but annoyingly I’m finding it rather hard to come up with anything that’s not just platitudes without dumping myself in it. Admittedly there are actually more regular readers of this blog than people in my company now (yes, three) so the chances of detection are slim but I’m concerned; I quite like this job, it’s not like the one in the States which I hated and where if they fired me it would actually have focussed my mind into getting out earlier. And this lot are a bit more technically aware than the last lot, in that they actually that you can do more things on the internet than go to Amazon and MSN. I’ve even seen people using Gmail. Ooooh.

I think to be honest that the most I’ll end up saying publicly is this: as much as they criticise people in the public sector for being scared of and not understanding the profit motive, there are elements of the private sector who have no comprehension at all of why anyone might be suspicious of the profit motive, particularly when it comes to the private sector’s work in public sector business, and also have no comprehension of any other motives. Crude monetarism still rules; if it makes money it works, if it doesn’t it’s wrong, full stop, and you don’t have to listen to any other viewpoint because, well, they don’t have any money do they? Stuck in the past.

This isn’t new stuff of course, though it’s disconcerting to have it rubbed in your face in naked form. I suppose it’s better than the microscopically-thin yet still nauseating saccharine coating that EMC tried to cover theirs with. It’s also not new that the current government here tends towards this viewpoint, privategood publicbad, but again it’s not until you hear the details that you start to appreciate that they really do believe this, and it’s worse from supposed “public servants” because it’s really the expression of a blind ideology. It’s understandable and self-selecting in people who actually run companies that they will believe in the superiority of the profit motive, either that or they’re psychopaths, but for people in the government and civil service to believe in it more than to the degree of “well, in some areas the existing private sector seems to be better than the existing public sector” (e.g. almost anything to do with computers – though this may not be the best example given that Capita aren’t public) tells me that they’re hiring religious fanatics again. Back to Thatcherism then.

Here’s where it starts to get tricky for me: I quite like the idea of the work that I do with REDACTED, since they’re clearly far better at providing important information to the public and public sector in the field of REDACTED than the public sector would be alone without a lot of restructuring, and I think information is good; there’s no bottomless pit of money and knowing where you are screwing up is important. But the political implications seem to be being largely ignored in terms of business direction, and when you have people like REDACTED coming and saying REDACTED – and then it’s announced that REDACTED and that REDACTED is all for it – well, I just think that it’s going to end in tears. I’m staying along for the ride, though. At least if I play things right I can slip out at the end into a nice public sector job with a pension. For younger readers, a pension is where you get a guaranteed sum of money for the rest of your life after you retire. Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe.

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In case anyone who was interested has forgotten, the Galloway vs. Hitchens title fight is on in a couple of hours, and even if one can’t stand either of them it should be a terrific bit of political ding-dongery.

There are links to streaming video and audio here and it appears that KPTF will archive the event for download if you want a chuckle on your way to work tomorrow.

I think it’s fairly clear that unless Galloway actually has a stroke during the event, he’ll win. Hitchens isn’t completely hopeless, don’t get me wrong, but Galloway is sharper, in the “razor blade in a toothbrush” sense, and has the advantage that the facts support his position. This does still count for something.

I won’t be blogging it as I have an early start tomorrow morning. No, it’s not anything fun, believe me.

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