Will no one think about the children…

I’m a big fan of ‘The Simpsons’ and in one episode there is a morally outraged female character who keeps screaming the expression ‘Will no one think about the children’ whenever something crops up.

I was reminded of this sort of ineffective moral indignation when I encountered this article in The Sunday Times about the suggested censorship of sites such as Bebo, MySpace and acebook.


Whilst I can see that there are posts and material that do require removing, I’m less convinced of the suggested ‘Remove within 24 hours of complaint’ approach.  A concerted effort by a few hardliners in some of our less liberal religious and social movements would soon have the websites removing all sorts of material.

Nothing is mentioned of appeal processes, etc. and as many of tehse sites are based in the US there is the US Constitutional Issue of Free Speech, as enshrined in the 1st Amendment.  The solution that I would adopt were I a US web site owner confronted by this sort of daft legislation from Nanny Brown’s Government would simply be to block access to the site form any UK based ISP.

And the comment about allowing children un-supervised use of the Internet not being like TV, but like letting your children play outside un-supervised is yet another issue.  When I was a child, from the age of about 10 onwards I WAS allowed to roam locally, in daylight, unsupervised.  Along with most other children of my generation.  However, I was responsible enough to have earned the trust of my parents.

Perhaps a major thing for HMG to take away from the curent fetish with protecting our children is that responsibility and supervision begins and should, under normal circumstances, end with the parents.  The state has no role unless things have gone very wrong; perhaps the fact that such studies are being commissioned indicates that several years of politically-correct nannying by this and previous Governments has generated a generation of parents who’re scared to actually be parents and state clearly to their children what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

Reluctantly joining Facebook….


That it should come to this.  Unfortunately a group I belong to is going to be using Facebook, and given that I’m supposed to be the IT guy, I am expected to know how it works.

So, I’ve registered and am working out how little I need to put up there whilst still making any use of it whatsoever.  I have to say that you won’t find much in the line of my social and business calendar up there – I cannot understand for the life of me why people publicise where they’re going to be and when they’re going to be there!

Or am I missing something?

People I know have started increasingly living their lives through bloody Facebook and so as these folks are fairly normal, well balanced individuals I assume that there must be something there that I’m not quite getting.  I’m not at all convinced that social networking sites are going to be with us for much longer, and I await to be convinced by my experiences on there.

Having said that, I just encountered this story on the BBC Website, which points to a future in terms of more local social networks.  Sort of like sites like Sheffield Forum or any other site of a similar nature that’s been around for 5 or 6 years.  There genuinely is nothing new under the sun…

So, poke away – I’m to be found here.

A great site – www.thisisawar.com

Earlier on today I was looking for the text of the ‘vision thing’ speech from the start of Jerry Maguire.  As to why I was looking for it – let’s just say I needed some motivation.  For those of you who’ve not encountered it, I include it here for your consideration.

And by some strange fluke I encountered, by accident, a site that is one of the most motivational and uplifting I’ve encountered for a very long time.  It’s great!  There’s some excelent stuff here – I intend having a very good read of it, and I heartily recommend it to you!

The site is called thisisawar.com.


The Bus Book – w/c 17th March – On Civil Disobedience

As the copy I have of ‘On Walden pond’ also includes this essay, it seemed churlish to not feature it here.

Thoreau spent a night in prison during his time at Walden, because he neglected to pay a local tax.  Whether he would have spent longer in prison than a single night had the tax not been paid isn’t clear, but as a local resident paid the tax, he was released.

The essay is an interesting diversion in to the rights and wrongs of civil disobedience, and is as relevant today as it was when it gave inspiration to anyone dealing with an unjust law over the intervening century and a half.  Thanks to people like Gandhi, the idea of civil disobedience as a valid and legitimate form of protest is something we take very much for granted today, but for Thoreau’s compatriots it must have been quite something.  Gandhi himself developed his techniques of passive resistance after reading this essay, and the comment “The Government that governs best, governs least’ is on the lips and in the heart of anyone who, like me, considers themselves to be a libertarian.

See here for an article on the essay, and here for an annotated text.

Thoreau’s issue with taxation was that he felt it was supporting the enslavement of his fellow man, through supporting a State legislature in favour of slavery.  He regarded not paying the relevant tax as a means by which anyone might raise a hand against the state; indeed, we need only look back to the ‘Poll Tax’ riots in the UK and the increasing numbers of people not paying that particular local charge non principle to see the impact.

It also set off a few thoughts for me; when I was younger I was much more willing to go to the wire on issues; now I’m older I’m less willing.  Thoreau was a single man, with little to lose, except his physical liberty.  Indeed, I get the impression from reading his essay that he would have happily handled a longer time in prison.  When you’re older, have a family and dependents, have a house, job, etc. it takes little imagination to see how a few months in jail could easily lead to loss of virtually everything you hold dear.  Perhaps one of the great accomplishments of the Consumerist State is that it gets people to behave more effectively than almost any other means thought of short of execution.

The times in my life when I have been willing to kick hard against the pricks, so to say, have been the time when the most has been taken from me and I was increasingly feeling cornered with little left to lose.  The balancing act between our consciences and what we’re willing to pay to be true to ourselves is what keeps us obedient slaves within our so called free society.

Reading this essay has made me think deeply about what is important and how far I am willing to go in my personal life to do what is right.  And it pains me to say that at the moment my courage, like that of many of us in contemporary society, is somewhat lacking.

Arthur C Clarke – RIP


Like a lot of things, I guess that in my heart of hearts I knew that eventually all the venerable old writers of science fiction, the folks who I grew up with, would all pass away.  When it starts happening it’s a strange experience.  The world has enough obituaries for ACC – here I just wanted to say something about what he means to me.

When ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ – came out I was a boy of 7 years old and although it played the local fleapit I didn’t see it.  I don’t remember whether I was too young to go, but I remember my mum wanting to see it.  I never found out whether she eventually got to see the movie or not; I only myself caught up with it after watching 2010, which is pretty arse-about-face.   In other words, I came to ACC not via his most famous work, but in my own way.

A British ‘boys weekly’ of the 1970s was called, I seem to remember, ‘Speed and Power’, and featured all sorts of machines, vehicles, etc. each week…aong with a short story from ACC.  And that’s where I encountered him first.  I still have a box of these magazines somewhere in the dark recesses of my attic, complete with the short stories which occupied many an evening, and encouraged me to go and find his other books.

The first ACC novel I read was ‘A Fall of Moondust’ – a disaster story about a ‘moon bus’ full of tourists that gets swamped in dust whilst traversing a lunar ‘sea’, and the efforts of rescuers to get them out.  The novel of his that made the biggest impact on me was ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ – I still remember the first time I read it, and even now it holds up.  Lovely, wonderful, story telling that I never get bored with.  I have to say that I’m very excited about the prospects of a film being made of the novel – possibly for release in 2009.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

But the short stories made the biggest impression on me.  As the years passed I just grabbed copeis of his collections of short stories from second hand shops, charity shops, wherever.  And of all of them, the ones that made the biggest and longest lasting impression were his ‘Tales from the White Hart’.   Quite why I have no idea – I guess that I just love ‘tallish tales’ that are just, maybe, plausible.  These stories, and those of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, have probably been the major influences of my short story writing.  So much so that I’ve written a collection of similar stories – an ‘homage’, I guess – called ‘Tales from the Oakham Arms’.

I’m not even going to start on the technical innovations that ACC suggested, starting with his now famous Wireless World item on Geostationary Communication Satellites, that have now appeared in our lives.

Like someone else said recently, I really hope that as ACC passed away he was able to look deep into the cosmos and utter those final words of Dave Bowman’s…”My God, it’s full of stars”.

Thanks Sir Arthur.  My life would have been significantly poorer without your imagination.

Installing PEAR packages on WAMP

Well, after getting caught out recently with PEAR on a client installation, I thought it a good move to write a short tutorial for anyone who needs to install PEAR packages on their WAMP installation.

To start with, for the purposes of this blog, PEAR is a framework for implementing code libraries in PHP.  In other words, it prevents you from having to re-invent the wheel – always a nice thing!

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Firefox slacker than IE? Surely some mistake…

I’m currently working with some other developers creating a PHP / SQL Server 2005 based site.  The division of work is along the lines of I do PHP and SQL, and they take my less than beautiful code and pretty it up.  This has worked very well, and because I tend to run IE6 on my desktop and they run Firefox, we catch a lot of browser bugs between us.

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The Gods of the Copybook Headings

I cam across a reference to one verse of this poem by Rudyard Kipling the other day when I was reading, and given the news at the moment of collapsing banks and general financial turmoil, I thought it appropriate!

The verse I encountered was:

“Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four—
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.”

Highly apt in these days when true value in the markets seems difficult to separate from what some over-paid analysts believe a company to be worth.

As is said in the text, a poem of a man wishing to find solace in a very old fashioned form of common sense, and whilst I don’t 100% agree with his view, I can see where Kipling was coming from here.

I actually remember being taught to write long hand with a fountain pen in the 1960s, but our copybooks were lacking the aphorisms that Kipling alludes to. 

I was also reminded of the words of Richard Feynman after the Challenger Disaster Enquiry – “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”  Nature cannot be fooled.  And neither can the basics of life.

Perhaps we need some copybooks re-printing and issuing to the bankers and stockmarket traders and analysts?

Link Listing in WordPress

WordPress supports the ‘Blogroll’ model for links, which works fine for links but I wanted to be able to put together a series of pages listing links on different subjects for my CommunityNet project.

For example, I wanted to have links grouped into such topics as ‘Think Tanks’, ‘Animal Welfare Groups’, etc.  I couldn’t work out a way of doing this in a manageable fashion through the existing WordPress functionality.  I had a look around for Plugins but found nothing that seemed sensible for what I wanted, so I decided to ‘homebrew’. 

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The Bus Book – w/c 10th March – On Walden Pond (continued)

As you can see I didn’t do an exceptional amount of commuting last week, and Walden remained the Bus Book for this week as well.

As I’ve progressed through it I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst I admire his ideas, I don’t think Thoreau would necessarily be a fun guy to spend an evening in the pub with.  I get the feeling from what he says that he was something of an aesthete.  I wonder if the ‘hair shirt’ attitude of some of today’s ‘extreme greens’ partially originated from here.  Sort of along the lines of if you’re enjoying it it can’t be truly environmentally friendly.

His description of the pond in winter is masterful, with a keen observational eye which brought the whole place to life in my mind’s eye.

I took a look at the Pond as it is today via the website here and also checked out a map from Google, below.  The map is movable – just hold the left mouse button down and move the mouse around.

View Larger Map

Even back then he was within a couple of miles of town – I suppose the invention of the car and the widespread use of bikes, etc. would today mean you had to be maybe 10-15 miles outside of the nearest village to get the same degree of isolation.

One final observation – in the ‘Spring’ section there is a amsterful description of the patterns made by sand in thaw-water flows, as well as the similarities between natural shapes – leaves, snowflakes, etc.  Given my interest in fractal mathematics it was hard to ignore the fact that had he been a mathematician Thoreau may had discovered fractals 100 years early!

Anyway…good book, worth a read…just don’t expect to find an easy read!