The press: let’s make a deal…

Well, “ethical”, I don’t quite know what the word means, but perhaps you’ll explain what the word means – “ethical”.

Richard Desmond, Express owner and pornographer.(link)

I hold these truths to be self-evident: 

  • That the major newspapers in the UK are, almost without exception, failing in the duty to inform the public in an unbiased way.  
  • That the press in in a position to exert far too much pressure on the government and politicians of all parties. 


  • the only thing worse than a government worried by the press is a government that isn’t.  

So while I feel revolted by almost everything done by large sections of the press (I invite you to work down this section of Richard Littlejohn’s wikipedia article)  I’m a little worried about clipping their wings too far… 

So how about we cut a deal? 

Let’s ramp up (massively) the protection from witch-hunts, publishing made up stories, libel, stalking and all the other weapons used by the press against anyone they like, or even more chilling the individual picked on at random to make a general point (like the dark nightmare version of the national lottery).  

But at the same time let’s massively strengthen the freedom of information act – allow the press access to the documents that show how every aspect of the country is run.  Let it reach down to things like the FA (a national governing body effectively licensed by the government).  Reduce the response times, open up the information. Have automatic releases of any data that isn’t legitimately damaging to release.  

Let’s consider this extract from Tony Blair’s Autobiography

“Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.
Once I appreciated the full enormity of the blunder, I used to say – more than a little unfairly – to any civil servant who would listen: Where was Sir Humphrey when I needed him? We had legislated in the first throes of power. How could you, knowing what you know have allowed us to do such a thing so utterly undermining of sensible government?”


“The truth is that the FOI Act isn’t used, for the most part, by ‘the people’. It’s used by journalists. For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead’, and handing them a mallet. The information is neither sought because the journalist is curious to know, nor given to bestow knowledge on ‘the people’. It’s used as a weapon.”


“What I failed to realise is that we would also have our skeletons rattling around the cupboard, and while they might be different, they would be just as repulsive. Moreover, I did not at that time see the full implications of the massive increase in transparency we were planning as part of our reforms to ‘clean up politics’. For the first time, details of donors and the amounts given to political parties were going to be published. I completely missed the fact that though in Opposition millionaire donors were to be welcomed as a sign of respectability, in government they would very quickly be seen as buying influence. The Freedom of Information Act was then being debated in Cabinet Committee. It represented a quite extraordinary offer by a government to open itself and Parliament to scrutiny. Its consequences would be revolutionary; the power it handed to the tender mercy of the media was gigantic. We did it with care, but without foresight. Politicians are people and scandals will happen. There never was going to be a happy ending to that story, and sure enough there wasn’t. The irony was that far from improving our reputation, we sullied it.”

Tony Blair, A Journey, Hutchinson, September 2010

Which all, to me, appear to arguments in favour of strengthening the act – fair playing fields, reduced ability for ministers, and officials at all levels to bend the truth, a well-informed electorate. 

Shall we offer this to the press? That we have NO intention to hamstring their role in bringing important issues to the public ear, but we have every intention of stopping the bullying and the witch-hunts? 

Let’s make them the offer – we massively increase the protection of the citizens, and we also increase the transparency of government.  I’m willing to make a deal.   (As part of this deal the Daily Mail might have to also agree to stop talking about Cancer)

giffgaff really should get it’s website in order…

Couple of things giffgaff should get right:

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 16.07.36So I entered my username and I got a little green tick next to it – ‘that’s nice’ I thought ‘the website is checking my input as I go in, which will save time and frustration later. Then I submit the page and find that the input wasn’t checked, and there was an error message (that frankly, could have been part of the instructions originally) – so I’ve got to ask, what was the green tick for?

So now I’m transferring my number. I’m asked to put in a date – without formatting instructions.  Grown-up websites give you a suggestion (clueing you in as to the format they expect) and a dropdown box to make sure that you get the right number of days in September. Google Calendar for example:

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 16.50.37

doing it properly.


But giffgaff doesn’t bother. So when you enter the date it then complains that it wasn’t in the right format. Couple of quick things, first of all you should tell me in advance what format it is, and secondly, if there is anyone asking for their phone number to be transferred in a different year to 2014, then I’ll be impressed, so I’m remarkably unsure as to why I have to specify the CENTURY as well.  Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 16.45.28 So I make the alterations and I’m told that the date I’ve chosen isn’t correct as it must be a working day – fine, but let’s look at that message. Now giffgaff has taken the date I gave it out of the format it asked me to give it in, and then delivered it back to me in a completely different format. I’m confused, should I change it back again? (The typo on ‘day’ is just a sign that nobody at all has tested this properly. Nobody.)

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 16.45.40

Feeling quite nervous about my first call now.

UPDATE – service wise I’ve had NO problems with giffgaff at all and they are much cheaper than O2, but all the deeply irritating and trust-eroding bits of their website would only take an hour to fix.

Google, part 2

So on Monday I shared a post I wrote before my first Google Interview, that was actually some weeks ago now thought so I thought I’d share the results. 

I didn’t get in. 

I didn’t disgrace myself either,  I was careful, thorough and I showed my skills, I got though the first technical interview, but didn’t quite manage the second.  

Google doesn’t like it’s interview questions to be shared, but there are some things I probably would have liked to know in advance. 

My first interview was intense. Very intense. So you know how interviews start right? There is some chat about the weather, the interviewer might introduce themselves and their role and some other ‘click to accept terms and conditions’ type chat and after a little while we might causally get on to some technical questions in such a way as if we vaguely pretend it’s spontaneous: ‘oh hey, I see here I’ve got to ask some questions…’.

Well my first Google Interview (by phone) started like this:
*Phone Rings* 
Me: “Hello?” 
Them: “Hello, is that Joe?” 
Me: “Yes-”
Them: “Okay, my name is X from Google, you are expecting an interview now yes?” 
Me: “Yes-” 
Them: “Okay, imagine that you are writing a program that…”

The time between the phone ringing and me having to be on the ball and accurate about technical stuff was maybe ten seconds. 

That interview was one question, and it was a beauty. I was asked to write code to solve (transformed version of famous-definitely-well-studied-computer-science-problem). I recognised the problem, which is good because it meant I didn’t try and spend my time deriving it, but I was very aware of the size of the required solution. 

Being honest, if I’d solved it several days before and had a printout of my code next to me, then I might have been able to type it in without error in the 45 minutes available. But building it from scratch, away from my IDE, books, and internet, was never going to happen, and certainly having to keep up chat with the interviewer reduces the amount of code I can write. 

I stuck with it, made every second work for me. I talked the interviewer though the asymptotic complexity, derived some stuff (correctly) on the fly about how this particularly instance would have a better time-complexity than the general case, and made her laugh (with humour, rather than pity) at least once. 

We ran out of time with the code about half done. 

So I was somewhat surprised when I was invited back in again. I can only presume that I had found an error in their hiring process, which I’d be pretty proud of in any case.  

Second interview was the same, and yet very different. This guy did want to chat (he seemed a genuinely nice guy who was having fun in the interview and that was really great energy to feed off.  In walked me through my CV a little, asked the classic ‘so tell me about your favourite programming language’ type questions and then asked me a question. 

…and annoyingly this one was easy. Genuinely quite easy – the sort of thing that you’d give to a second/third year undergrad Computer Science student. I got it right, and for the right reasons, and had an enjoyable to chat.

The problem was, of course, that the level Google was is for people who produce simple code without blinking, flawlessly and instantly . I wasn’t quite up to that standard – I corrected myself and I hesitated in a couple of places and they were all the places where a coder’s coder wouldn’t.  

Got the rejection by phone next day.  🙁  

I would vote for a politician that knew how to use the subject line.

I asked…

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 15.37.15

…and you responded. Any what horrific assaults on the meaning of meaning they were. Cited claims? Not a chance. Specific pledges? Not that might make a difference. Discussion of policy? Don’t make me laugh!

I’m going to complain about one thing today and that’s bad email manners. By which I mean subject lines like:

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 15.10.12


Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 15.17.43

Why have a got a problem with this? It’s because it’s so obviously click-bait of the lowest form. If I get an email from an address that seems familiar with the subject line “Thank you” I’m going to assume I did something nice for someone and I click on it half expecting a nice warm glow instead of the deep disappointment that I’ve been tricked into opening a campaign email of NO validity.

“Telling you first”

Really? You are “telling me first”? I suspect not, I suspect that you are telling millions of people on your email list first, many of whom open your email expecting to be told something useful and urgent only to find that it’s standard political boilerplate.

I would have expected someone at Party HQ to have said “Hey, is it *really* a good idea to put a trivially obvious and direct lie as our subject line? I mention it only because teaching the voters to make a connection between trivially obvious and direct lies might be, you know, suboptimal…” but clearly such people were ignored.

“This just happened”

Surely this is a candidate for the least helpful piece of information ever put out? Now I find I’m associating your party with people who failed ‘basic email training’, when really I want politicians that can cut to the heart of issues like open data, Snowden, digital privacy and the right to be forgotten.

“Will you help”

Thank you Conservatives. Again – if a name that seems vaguely familiar sends me a “Will you help” message I naturally assume that someone I know is in trouble and needs me. So I open it.  When I open it I find that the email should have been titled “We’d like you to vote in three weeks”.

It’s click-bait, it’s utter appalling click-bait and I want so much more from politicians. AND IT’S NOT HARD. When you try and trick me into opening an email I would have opened anyway you treat me like a child.

It’s easy. We, the electorate, would love to be given information.  I personally would like to know what laws you are planning to pass post election. I’d like to know what you think the pros and cons are of various actions. Tell me what the Conservative Party itself is doing about Open Access. Tell me what steps the Labour party is taking for inclusion.

But if the first thing I read in a party email is designed to deceive me in such a transparent way, then I’m going to assume your only intention is to deceive. Treat me like a grown up and, I’m considerably more likely to vote for you.

I love the BBC, but let’s grow up together…

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 10.18.17

I love the BBC.

But just because you love something, doesn’t mean that you don’t think it should change.

One of the things I love about the BBC is the radio podcasts. I like the Friday night comedy podcast. Invariably I get around to listening to it on the train the following week and I am exactly that man on the train who randomly bursts into unrestrained laughter as a result.

But I have no idea why that’s one of  few podcasts that Radio 4 offers. It broadcasts (mostly) high quality programs 24 hours a day, free to listen to from anywhere in the world and yet I can choose from just over 100 (great) podcasts going back several years. I can understand, for example, wanting to make a little bit of money out of say, the Mitchell and Webb tapes, but really, why isn’t *everything else* online.  It’s effectively free in terms of infrastructure (If you start with an infrastructure that can support the iPlayer, podcast distribution is not going to strain you). Indeed, there’s not much stopping you making many of your shorter and more topical TV programs into video podcasts – I’d like to be able to watch the news on the train. I understand that I won’t get Have I Got News for You because they want the DVD sales, but surely nobody is suggesting that Saturday Kitchen should be protected in the same way?

More importantly for the world, I’d think journalists should show their sources. I think that when the BBC news website quotes a scientist about their breakthrough they should a) reference the paper, and b) provide links to the audio for the quotes they’ve used. If you tell me someone tweeted something awful, give me a link so that I can see what they said before and after. Build trust in journalists by showing your work. It’s harder for the print services (although I think it should be done) because their online stuff is a carbon copy of their printed stuff, but as BBC news is web based then you should use it. If you quoted four people, then I’d like at least a link to their homepages or twitter feeds because then they get an unfiltered right of reply.

Slightly more controversially. I have no idea why the BBC bids for the rights to show sports. By definition, if there is a bidding process, then the sport is definitely going to be shown on some channel, so why is the BBC driving up the price for other outlets, or worse, spending public money providing a service that the private sector was going to provide anyway? Let ITV have the football, let channel four have the cricket. Sports people are not saying to themselves, ‘I did want to win this competition and validate my life’s training, but now it’s on 5 I don’t think it’s worth it’. Sports fans are not saying ‘Well I was going to watch my childhood team attempt to win the FA cup, but I’m not watching it on the same network that is willing to show an early James Bond film in the mid-afternoon’.

Anyway… bit of a Monday Morning rant that one…

To play us out, here’s Mitch Benn…




Do not let other people’s ideas of correct English get in the way of great English

Image from:

Image from:

I know the difference between less and fewer and I don’t want to.

Many people do. Triumphant comments are made about it.

The problem is that at no point is it useful. If I say I want less burglars in my house, nobody is confused about my intent. If I’d like to eat fewer cake, you aren’t going to be mistaken about my plan.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a stickler for precision. Woe betide people who innocently ask me “do you have the time?” and I react so badly to ‘you have two choices’ that I am regularly given no options at all. But both are examples where the language is precisely specifying a (wrong) meaning. Whereas, I see no reason to keep language features that, as the language is currently used, only serve to keep smug people smug and make other people feel bad.

I also accept that the rules of communication are defined by the listener not the speaker. So when I write for scientific journals I am ruthless with my countable nouns and distinguishing subclauses. When I run TooManyCooks much is made of adjective-stacking and verb-looping. But when I am listening to someone talk, or reading a news article I care about the meaning and I care about the joy of the writing.

Knowing the difference between less and fewer achieves nothing in terms of semantics. It achieves a lot in terms of rhyme and rhythm: switching between them is useful bit of mechanics for poets and songwriters, but correctness isn’t in question there.

There is a similar case with British and American spellings. Nobody is confused if you write about the ‘color of the jewellery’ (‘color’ is American, ‘jewellery’ is British), and indeed, the house style for this blog is that I freely use either.

English hasn’t got  a “correct”  because it’s defined by usage. It’s a massively imperfect language, but its great strength adaptability. So maybe when we correct each other on language we shouldn’t be thinking about correct we should be thinking about ‘better’.  A language feature is worth keeping if it makes the language easier to learn (for toddlers and people learning as a second language), if it makes the language more exact, if it reflects social change, if it makes the language more elegant, more beautiful.

Making ‘less’ wrong some of the time and ‘fewer’ wrong some of the time makes my language harder to learn and changes nothing else.

My language would probably have a beautiful name for the smell you get after rain if people hadn’t been spending time policing things that make people feel bad for no benefit.

My language is that of Shakespeare, Churchill, Cook, Austen, and Kipling. None of whom ever let other people’s ideas of correct English get in the way of great English.

Why don’t my Pdfs have animated GIFs?

I’ve had need to brush up on my algorithmic knowledge recently.  So there’s been a certain amount of getting books out of the library, googling for bits of information and spending some time working though ebooks on things like Kindles/iPads.

What’s mildly upsetting is that, for educational value, Wikipedia and YouTube are well out in front of the pack for most of the material.

It’s not upsetting because I cling to the old ways: you would have to look pretty far and wide to find someone as enthusiastic about open data and the power of collaboration as I. It’s upsetting because even as people begin to write and publish for the web only, they refuse to make use of the technology available to them.

Let me give you a concrete example. Quicksort is a lovely little algorithm (don’t panic – I won’t go into the details – but I will point out that I met the man that invented it this year). It’s something that every Computer Science undergraduate in the world has to learn and it’s generally incomprehensible until you’ve seen it working a couple of times.  Computer Science textbooks do their very best to explain it and generally don’t get very far, because you really do have to see it working.

Wikipedia on the other hand, has this at the top of the page.

Quicksort animation

It’s beautiful, it’s obvious, and even the most confused Computer Science student clicks fairly immediately. They can see why it works, they can see why it’s fast, and with a couple of pages of notes, they are all over it.

Why aren’t eBooks on your iPad, full of this sort of illustration? (for irony points Big Java includes instructions and exercises for students so that they can write such a demo, but doesn’t get it’s hands dirty).

There are sensible reasons of course: the first one being that the ebook formats don’t support it. To which the reply is “they should”. This is an animated GIF, it’s not rocket science. The question that appears next is, of course: “Wait, why do we have ebook formats at all? Why aren’t ebook readers just using HTML?” (again, for irony points, not only can my Kindle read webpages, I also upload books to Kindle’s publishing system by converting them to HTML first!).

The second argument against this is that “it’s a lot of effort for *only* the online version”, which is rather like saying “People don’t seem to want to pay us for this thing we’re doing badly, so why should we do it better?”.

Computer Science may be the first example for this sort of thing, but it’s not the only one: it’s hard to think of a science (or even a history) field that does not have issues that are better illustrated dynamically. Here’s one of my favorites for illustrating how to draw a particular character:

Strokes required to draw a character

How much more effort would it have required to do this entirely statically?

I should say that in no way to I think that this should be done without proper care: accessibility issues are of particular interest to me, and every illustration should be properly backed up with the relevant descriptive text, but I do think that if we are going to use illustrations we should do so properly. More to the point, I think that until the writers and publishers of textbooks stop thinking of electronic versions as ‘just a PDF’, they are going to find themselves seriously intellectually outgunned by the army of Wikipedia volunteers, who are producing higher quality material than professional publishers.

Animations make things easier to understand, not everything, but many things, and without having them in PDF’s and ebooks, we are basically reading fake paper on a platform that could be so much more.

I’ll leave you with a couple more of my favorites:

For medical people, here’s a nice shot of a particular part of the brain:

Brain part

For engineering people, here’s a webcam undergoing a CT scan:

webcam in a CT scanner

and for people who, like me, didn’t realise the Trapezius was quite so big:

Trapezius animation

Who best to tackle underage drinking and smoking? High street banks…

When I join an organisation like a library or gym I’m often asked by the receptionist to “stand still for a moment” or “just look over here”.  There’s a quick printing and I’m handed a membership card with a startled looking photo of myself on it.

This always sets me wondering: why don’t banks do this? Why doesn’t my debit card have a photo of me on it? From the point of the view of the banks it’s a remarkably cheap service and it can only reduce fraud.

But in fact, why stop there?

For people who are over 18, put a blue border around the card.  Suddenly we’ve solved underage buying of alcohol and cigarettes. You don’t even have to use the card: I show the shop keeper my bank card with my picture on it. It’s got a border that says I’m over 18.  Natwest is vouching for me.

You don’t have to buy with that card, just take the card with you. The shop/nightclub/pub can check you’ve got the card you should have by checking your PIN with a device that works like one of these:

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 17.21.53There’s no privacy risk – because those things don’t have to (and shouldn’t) record any information, the computation happens all on the card.

Yes, people could swap around the cards… but really… while people might, say, lend their little brother their passport for the evening (you can be reasonably sure that they will go to the pub, not Tunisia), they might balk at giving someone else their bank card and PIN.

PASS says a third of the 1.6 million 18 and 19-year-olds in the UK don’t have any official form of proof of age. But 91% of the UK adult population have a debit card(and I suspect that’s higher for young people) and letting banks (which have all the information anyway) validate people’s age might solve a host of problems regarding underage purchase. I’m a fan of data, so let’s look at a graph (lifted from this page) – which gives a summary of a study, carried out by Professor Paul Willner and his colleagues at the University of Wales, Swansea, about how easy it is to purchase alcohol if you are 16 or under.

graph showing how easy to buy drink while underage - no accessible version found

This data is now 14 years old.  Which means that a girl born when the survey was done, now has a 40% chance of being able to buy alcohol in any given shop she walks into.

I’m all in favor of changing the law if that’s better – but I don’t think anyone can argue that the current system is working.

To finish up, there are uglier sides to the ID issue. Accepted ID’s (in addition to the PASS scheme which even they admit is regularly ignored) are driving licenses and passports. Which is great if you are 18 and middle class because you are probably learning to drive and you’ve been going on interesting holidays for years. But if you are unlikely to be able to afford a car, and your family holidays were to Butlins (I have fond memories of Butlins), and you’ve got no chance of affording driving lessons – then it’s pretty likely that you don’t get to moan about it in the pub either.

A mild consumer rant on DVDs and editing

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 08.38.03

We don’t have to do this any more…

Something that I’ve never quite understood since the advert of DVDs is why I can watch the deleted scenes as separate sections, but I can’t switch on the setting that says ‘include these scenes in the main film when I watch it’.

In a similar way, when watch a boxed set if DVDs, I don’t understand why I have to watch 60 seconds of ‘previously on’ when I’ve just watched all of the previous footage.

More to the point, I like the film Iron Man and my god-nephew likes, reasonably enough, the cartoon Iron Man. I can’t watch the film with him because it’s not age appropriate, which is odd, because it would be pretty simple for the distributors (the classification board really) to mark out the ‘over 13’ bits and have a setting on the DVD where I could enjoy a (15 minute shorter) film which my god-nephew. It’s not like the technology is an any way complicated, it’s a small file that says ‘play 0:00-43:12 of this file and then cut to 43:43’.

The reason is because the people defining the original DVD format didn’t anticipate the need – the technology was framed as replacing the video cassette, rather than competing with the PC – so the tiny amount of functionality they do have (select chapter, change audio, add subtitles) where considered a massive boon (I’m not saying they weren’t, particular for people with disabilities, but the standard didn’t go far enought.

What continues to mystify me is that it’s still extremely difficult to get this functionality, even if you are willing to put in the timings yourself. It astonishes me that pirate and torrent sites aren’t all over this. I’m amazed that VLC doesn’t let you load a set of snippets and play then back.

It’s not like there isn’t a wonderful range of demand – I’d pay for a version of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skullthat removed the fridge sequence, the exploding crate, and the monkeys (vastly improving the film while in no way affecting the plot).

I’d also love, love to watch the Back to the Future Trilogy in true chronological order- starting with the Wild West scenes, moving smoothly to 1955, combining all of the dance night scenes from the first two movies, arrive us at a range of normally bookending 1985 scenes and finishes us in the (alternate) future. I think that would be a splendid new way to appreciate the trilogy. I’d like to watch attack of the clones with less of the romance, choose only the stories I like from Love Actually. Drop boring characters from Game of Thrones. I’d like to be able to switch off sound in space (I’m not sure I would do it, but I’d like the option)…. and *mainly* what I want is a guarantee that I can watch a TV series on the train without blushing.

Of course, this is the open source project that I should be taking a punt at. It’s actually a pretty nice project because it’s quite so technically simple. The main thing that’s astonishing is not that the Manufacturers haven’t made it happen, but that the pirate community aren’t all of it. But there are open source things I’d like to do first so this might have to remain a rant for now.

Why you can’t be open about yourself and also support social change.

I believe in every person’s right to privacy (one of the goals of the work I do in AAC is to provide technical frameworks that allow AAC users this right). The problem is that I don’t find it particularly useful for myself.

I’m fairly happy to drop implicit social barriers where I can. Examples might include being quite into the quantified self movement and by being very open about approaches to things like twitter and goals. The most obvious example is of course, having a blog at all: you can practically define a blog as a method of making private thoughts public. As I wrote when I put out my 2014 twitter resolutions, I get a lot of positive benefits out of being open with the world that I wouldn’t if I were closed in. (I’m relatively open compared to, say, the average person, but if you’d like to see openness really pushed quite far it’s worth reading Steve Pavlina, who was (and remains) a very high-profile productivity blogger – he went on to start blogging about this divorce and then his later experimentation with bondage and dominance in relationships. I salute the man’s commitment to openness, but can’t imagine being *that* open…)

On the other hand, I do very much believe in a person’s right to privacy. I think that the world could be considerably more perfect, and that privacy is pretty necessary as an ingredient letting social change gather pace. Consider how things like homosexuality, being of the ‘wrong’ race and various other crimes were treated 50 years ago compared to now. I’m really looking forward to being 80 and seeing 50 years of social change – and I’m pretty sure that without privacy we won’t get very far at all.

The problem is that the more of myself that I am open about, the more I diminish the position of people carefully maintaining their privacy. There are big things that people keep quiet (for example if you’ve reassigned your gender) and little things (like if you’d started smoking again and didn’t want your sister to find out), but if it becomes normal to be open (which I do think would be a good thing) then those people who are the vanguard of social change are going to get a kicking…

…and I don’t have a way to resolve these two positions. I’d appreciate any ideas.


(As is often the case, the page image is from Wikicommons – I was looking for something in terms of ‘mask’ or ‘disguise’ and this jumped out of me.  I decided I didn’t care how relevant it was to the post on privacy, I was having the picture of the dog in dark glasses) 

Utterly unrelated to anything – the problem with beans on toast.

I like beans on toast. It’s a comfort food. Unfortunately I feel that many places, particularly in the south of England, haven’t quite got the hang of it.

Here’s an example from yesterday, in Swindon:



…and here’s a much more expensive one- found in central london a few weeks before…. I am utterly confused…



Another one in London 8th Feb,


What is going on people?




Of course I tweeted this:

…and the responses clearly hit a nerve… some abusive… (althought not as angry as reddit)

…some patriotic…

…some sensibly asking if I should be a bit more adventurous…


…and quite a few, being (like me) pretty hot on the semantics…

…anyway. Back to work.




Silly FoI requests.

I’m a big believer that a more transparent and accountable state is a better state, and I’ve written a few times about some problems with the FOI system as implemented. This sort of comedy FOI request does not help. But I would like to write it off as the cost of doing business. More to the point I would like to stress that each of these requests where likely deal with as swiftly by the FOI staff as the switchboard would have dealt with a prank call.

For many Christmas is a time to have fun, share a few jokes and act a bit silly.

However some people have taken this silliness further than most, even as far as governmental departments, by writing funny festive Freedom of Information requests.

Hopefully they raised a smile on the faces of their recipients, although the lack of cheer and goodwill in some of the responses suggests otherwise (this might have something to do with all the paperwork).

What do you think? Are they just a holly bunch of time wasters whose jokes (like mine) only belong inside a Christmas cracker, or are they spreading seasonal joy to councils, civil servants and press officers?

Well, maybe not.

via MM’s top five… festive Freedom of Information requests.


More to the point – if we are going to do a comedy request (and I’m guilty of often being somewhat scathing on my own corraspondence), then one should at least do it properly: I give you this Durham University request (Warning, ever so slightly NSFW). 

Film studios and record labels – using police letterheads?

UK Police: Domain & Advert Suspensions For Dozens of Pirate Sites | TorrentFreak.


Operation Creative, an initiative underway with the support of Hollywood and the major recording labels, set out during the summer to target a list of 61 sites with a clear message. The sites were informed that they could significantly modify their mode of operations or be dealt with by Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) instead.

While it’s believed that a small number of sites decided to call it a day, the vast majority refused to comply. In a statement sent to TorrentFreak this morning the police say that in response they sent the sites’ details to “60 brands, agencies and advertising technology businesses” with a request that they stop placing advertising on the sites.

As result, police say that during a three month pilot period the appearance of well-known brands’ advertising on the sites reduced by 12%. Nigel Gwilliam, Consultant Head of Digital at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, says that his members were pleased to assist in the initiative.

Here’s what I find very strange – this is entirely an economic activity – companies are asking other companies not to advertise on sites that spread pirate content. My question is this: why are the police involved? Is this the biggest sanction that the police have – one presumes that opponents of piracy consider this as effective as policing burglary by asking people not to buy stolen goods. And people in favour of piracy must be thinking this is a sign that the police appear completely unable to actually take an action at all… I’m deeply confused…

A sad thing in a hospital

Cleaned up version of Image:Locomotives-Roundhouse.jpg. Steam locomotives of the Chicago & North Western Railway in the roundhouse at the Chicago, Illinois rail yards.

I didn’t have a good picture for this post, so here is a (public domain) beautiful picture from Wikipedia…( 

I was at hospital today (I was meeting someone who worked there) and while in the hospital I wandered into the little shop by the (bigger) little coffee house. I’ll say this for the hospital, the coffee shop wasn’t a Starbucks or similar chain and the little shop wasn’t a WHSmiths, it was quite nice to see an area of London devoid of branding.

Anyway, on my way in to the shop I wandered past the only two other people in the shop. The person in charge of the shop (possibly the buisness owner…) and a small boy, perhaps of eight.

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