What goes in to a blog?

I recently came across a couple of articles about blogging. Well, I’ll be honest – they were in my Twitter feed and I took a look at them to see what other people’s views were on the subject of content in blogs. It was sort of distressing to me – according to those particular authors I’m doing absolutely everything wrong.  For example:

  • I mix subjects – I have technical stuff sitting side by side with personal stuff.
  • I rarely have articles that have ‘xxx ways to do yyy’ as the title.
  • I definitely don’t have a marketing plan for Joe’s Jottings

There were a few other items that cropped up in these pieces – enough to make me sit back in my chair (carefully moving Marvin the cat form behind me – he’s a big fellow and would not tolerate being squished) and think about this article.  What goes in a blog?

I guess the bottom line answer is ‘What’s the blog about?’  If you’ve set out to write the world’s authoritative blog on Mousterian Variability then you will have a fairly shrewd idea of what’s good.  A blog entry on your trip toLe Moustier is good, 500 words on your views on nearby spa towns, not so good in the consistency stakes.  But if you’re writing a personal blog, then I’m afraid that as far as I’m concerned it should be a case of ‘publish and be damned’ – what you want to go in, goes in.  After all, one definition of the word ‘blog’ is very straight forward:

“A frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links”

and applying this definition I hit the spot a little better.  Joe’s Jottings is indeed chronological, consists of personal thoughts and web links, and strives to be frequent.  🙂

Unfortunately for the digerati and the marketing types out there, my personal thoughts do tend to wander around somewhat and very rarely do they include a line that says ‘How can I market / monetise Joe’s Jottings’ and even less frequently do I bother about whether I think about technical stuff after non-technical stuff, and whether I remembered to include a 5 point list in my thinking every 20 minutes.  People’s personal thoughts, to me the basis of a personal blog, don’t run like that.  They’re the stream of everyday consciousness that makes us the interesting souls that we are.  When we start filtering the contents of what is supposed to be our personal thoughts and writings to suit marketing demographics and audience statistics then we need not worry about censorship of the web – we’re already doing it nicely ourselves.

George Orwell wrote a column for the Tribune newspaper in the 1940s called ‘As I Please’ that would find political pieces next to home handyman tips, for example.  And that was the way that Orwell thought – he was a writer, a political thinker, but also a chap who had other interests that he felt were important enough to him to get featured in his ‘weekly bloggings’ for Tribune. 

Ha!  My question answered, indirectly by George Orwell.  What goes in to a blog?  Whatever you like…as you please.

When does a Jedi play a banjo?

yodaSome years ago I worked for a large UK bank-assurer as a contract software developer. One project that I became involved with was to provide a bug tracking / change management system. As with all software systems, we decided to give it a ‘cool’ name and someone in the team suggested ‘Jedi’.

After stifling an inward sigh and wondered how I, a Star Trek fan, had ended up in a world full of Star Wars geeks, I asked the chap who originated the name why he’d thought it was a good name.  The answer was simple; in this context, Jedi was going to stand for something. Jedi actually stood for Just ‘Effing Do It! After that I had no problem with the name at all.

Just ‘Effing Do It – as one of the world’s great procrastinators, anything that helps me kick the habit has to be worth thinking about, and as an acronym JEDI is great.  In the intervening years I’ve called upon JEDI many times, and I think that it has helped me break at least part of my procrastination habit.  By analysing my activity on projects (one reason why I keep a log book) I found that the actual time spent on various tasks is quite often significantly less than the time I think I might spend upon them.  However, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about doing the job, planning it, worrying about it, determining that I haven’t the time to do it, doing something that’s urgent but not important, doing something that’s neither urgent or important, drinking tea and, in extremis, having a bath.  In other words, the way of the procrastinator can be strong in me!

Procrastination is probably my biggest time-bandit; the putting off of tasks for some indeterminate and usually inadequate (and often non-existant) reason.  I now recognise that some of the tasks I put off are tedious, some just seem overwhelmingly difficult, and others – well, some are just so unpleasant that I want to ignore them altogether.  The latter tasks can just keep nagging away at you, though, and this is where the concept of a banjo playing Jedi comes in useful…

Banjo stands for Bang A Nasty Job Off – in other words, if you have a stinker of a job to do, that you find unpleasant for any reason, the best way to get it out of your life is to get on with it as effectively as possible – in other words, Jedi.

So there you have it – you want to get ahead in this world, then start contemplating banjo playing Jedi knights.

And on that note…where’s that code I have to write today?

Will no one rid me….

200px-Thomas_Becket_MurderOn 29th December, 1170, four knights of King Henry 2nd killed Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and thus created a martyr of a man who’s principles had forced him to behave in a manner that was anathema to his King and his one time friend.  It’s usually accepted that the King hadn’t actually ordered this assassination, but that the knights took it upon themselves to dispatch the Archbishop after they’d heard him utter those now infamous words ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest’.

(Actually – it’s likely the King was more long winded than this – his actual words are thought by contemporary historians to have been “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”, which whilst not as punchy as the short version to me indicates more of his anger with his knights and household.)

Becket eventually became a Saint to both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, and it might be said that King Henry began the still practised political and military doctrine of ‘plausible deniability’.  After all, why run the risk of getting caught telling someone to ‘Go kill the beggar’ when you can just as easily say, whilst winking your eye and coughing theatrically, “I sure hope that the UN Weapons Inspector doesn’t have an accident and fall off that balcony…cough!”

Whilst we might not personally be in the big politics bumping off game, I do wonder how often people second guess each other and get themselves in to a world of trouble?  One of my resolutions for 2010 is to take people much more at the value of what they explicitly say, and in return I intend saying exactly what I mean (whilst staying within the boundaries of polite and civilised discourse, of course!!).  I’m not sure that some of my acquaintances will like this too much, though, and I’m bracing myself for a bit of a backlash.

After all, one of the great advantages of playing the plausible deniability game with your friends and family is that by being suitable circuitous in what you say you can absolve yourself of all responsibility when people try and read your true desires and act accordingly.  If it all goes well, you can congratulate yourself on your subtle hints; if it goes pear-shaped you can simply tell yourself and anyone who’ll listen that ‘Oh dear, I didn’t mean that at all…’

So come on, folks – let’s get back to being straight talking, in a polite and civil manner, with those we love and care for.  It shows respect for them, and exhibits honesty in your own behaviour. 

Let’s all get back to calling a spade a spade, and not a manually propelled vertical earth slicing appliance.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? Not necessarily…

what-happens-in-vegasLong before it was the title of a movie, it was a fairly well known saying. 

In the UK it was more likely to be ‘What happens in Blackpool, stays in Blackpool’, or, as time passed, what happened in Estonia stays in Estonia. I was a mark of secrecy that was usually associated with the ceremonials of secret societies; it didn’t matter that you’d abseiled down Blackpool Tower naked except for a sock on your head, carrying a crate of beer and singing ‘Unchained Melody’ at 3am.  If you found your boss in flagrante delicto with Myrtle from accounts, playing strip-poker, well, that’s something you were not going to be allowed to use in blackmail.  Because of the simple, unwritten law of the hard playing world of the works outing / stag weekend / hen weekend / mate’s trip to Skegness.   

‘What happens here, stays here’.

It used to be up there with the other rules of social nicety.  Basically, if you did get up to alcohol fuelled high jinks on one of these events, you were OK.  It wouldn’t get home or back to the office (unless you contracted some social disease, got pregnant or turned up in the local  Magistrate’s Court or A&E).  You might have shown yourself to your friends and colleagues as a hypocritical, deceitful, lecherous alcoholic but you were given the ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card of the event falling under the rule of  ‘What happens here, stays here.’

Just to be serious for a moment, there are even ‘legitimate’ versions of the rule – self-development weekends, religious retreats, etc.  What happens there, stays there, unless you want to share your OWN experiences – but no one else’s.

It’s an incredibly sensible rule for the latter type of event, and to be honest I reckon it can be a reasonably sensible code of behaviour to abide by for participants in the other events mentioned above.  

And it’s a way of life and social behaviour that is slipping away.  Whenever you go out these days there will inevitably be someone taking photographs which within 30 seconds show up on Facebook.  I’m one of those people who hate having a photo taken – apart from looking 20 pounds heavier than I am, I always get photographed with a stupid expression on my face or doing something daft.  That sort of thing showing up online is OK to deal with – it’s the other stuff that gives the running commentary of what happened, who spoke to who, who sat next to whom – even for a few minutes, etc.  The minutiae of a social event that to be honest is of fuck-all relevance to anyone who wasn’t there.  Those who are there, know what happened.  Those who weren’t there, rarely need to know what happened except out of vicarious curiosity (OK…nosiness!)

I don’t necessarily want to be photographed when I’m slightly drunk at a non-work related, social event when I take a quick trip and spill drinks.  What would once have been a momentary source of amusement for all who witnessed it that you probably wouldn’t even have remembered the following day now becomes a cast in stone moment on Facebook.  If you’re REALLY unlucky and surrounded by geeks, it will also be Tweeted – which isn’t as bad as the Tweetstream is pretty ephemeral – but you get the idea.

Please people – just go back to taking and posting a nice big group photo at the beginning, share any candid snapshots between you and people who were there directly rather than through your 200 friend Facebook page, and let what happened in the pub, stay in the pub, in 2010.

Thou shalt not steal…at least not from the corner shop.

Father Tim Jones, a parish priest from a Church in York, raised a bit of a rumpus recently by suggesting that if you were desperately needy it was OK to shoplift – at least form the larger stores, where the impact would be passed on ‘en masse’ to the rest of us by increased prices, rather than theft from smaller stores where the impact is effectively borne by the shop owners.  Unsurprisingly, this has attracted some flack from senior Churchmen….

This reminded me of the line in the classic Ealing Comedy ‘The Ladykillers’, where a bunch of crooks lying low in a boarding house run by a little old lady tell her that reporting the money that they claim to have found to the police would cause the poor policemen a lot of paperwork and, anyway, the loss of the money would only put a farthing on the price of each insurance policy.

I have to say, though, I’ve a sneaking admiration for Father Tim’s rather forthright suggestion to the needy to shoplift, but it’s still theft and as such I can’t condone it.  So I thought when I first read the story, but then I started thinking about the actual impact of shoplifting in the UK.  In 2008, a total of 1.5 billion pounds worth of losses were reported as shoplifting losses.  It’s believed to be an underestimation, as some stores don’t bother reporting, but it includes the ‘high end’ good like electronic equipment, video games, etc. that are stolen that no one could ever accept as being needed for existence.  So, let’s say that 2 billion a year gets shoplifted – I think this is probably an overestimate, but let’s run with it.  This is about 0.7% or so of total turnover for the retail business.

Sounds a lot of money, doesn’t it?  Well, in 2008/9 Tesco turned a 3 billion profit.  Asda managed around half a billion, Morrisons nearly a billion.  According to a recent report in the Independent, the cost of supporting the banks through their recent difficulties is around £850 billions.   Even this year, UK Bankers bonuses come in at £7.6 billions (OK…lower than the previous year when it was £13 billions).

Does that £2 billions still feel like a lot? 

Don’t get me wrong – theft from stores is wrong, but for those people who genuinely steal to survive – and they do exist – the alternatives such as prostitution and more direct street robberies must be worse.  Let’s not forget that the Supermarkets have made quite a bit of profit by screwing their suppliers in to the ground to get prices for things like milk, meat and vegetables as low as possible.  Bankers have acquired their bonuses after the taxpayer has bailed them out. 

I regard the antics of these groups to be legalised theft of a magnitude that puts the amounts stolen by shoplifters into perspective.  But tell me,  who do you think we’re more likely to see in court for theft?  Someone who’s stolen a tenner’s worth of good from the local supermarket or a merchant banker who’s managed to walk off with a couple of hundred grand of tax-payer’s money?

Do No Evil – Ursula Le Guin, The Authors Guild and Google

dr_evilDuring Google’s formative years, the company decided to come up withthe equivalent of a short mission / vision statement that summed up what it was to be Google.  After some serious thinking, the slogan emerged.  ‘Do No Evil’.  Nice…although as someone pointed out – it really is just civilised good manners to do no evil.  Why make such a fuss about it?

Well, the years pass and Google just keep dipping a toe in the muddy waters of naughtiness, with occasional activities that, whilst usually not up there with breeding sharks with head mounted laser cannons, a la the handsome fellow top left, might be construed as being pretty darn close to very bad indeed. 

Take a look at parts of John Batelle’s book ‘The Search’.

Anyway….enough of the history lesson.  Recently Google have been scanning books.  Hundreds of thousands of books.  MILLIONS of books!Some old and out of copyright…other…not so old and definitely not out of copyright.  And they’re going to be scanning millions more.  Their aim is to create an online scanned library of books to equal the scope and reach of national libraries.  Now, various settlements have been agreed and Google take efforts to try and restrict copying of copyrighted materials, but there have been a number of legal blocks to Google based on their breach of copyright.

The US Authors Guild – an organisation that supports the rights of authors in the united States – has recently entered in to an agreement with Google to support the project.  In many ways, this gives the project the apparent support of a large number of authors, but some individuals – like Ursual Le Guin – are quitting the AG in protest.


I can see the point of the author’s protest – after all I’m a published author myself – but at the same time agree that Google seem to be taking steps to restrict the amount of the book that you can read online.  However, my fears are for the future.  This set of agreements seem to have given Googlean incredible’head start’ on what is effectively a large tranche of the world’s written knowledge.  What happens in a few years time when a library or a publisher hits hard times, and that nice friendly Googlecomes along and says ‘Hey, we can help.  Just let us have the rights to display all of each of your books online, and an e-book publishing right, and we’ll buy you out / licence your stuff.’  All of a sudden Google starts becoming the arbiter of what’s published across the board.

At themoment,  Google can effectively make or break web sites the world over by the simple expedient of adjusting it’s search engines or, in some cases, excluding sites directly.  Google currently only takes the latter steps when they’re compelled to by law or someone like the Chinese Government tells them to do so, but the technology is there.  Again, see ‘The Search’.  Now, imagine 2015 when Googlehave the online rights to the book collections of a few major publishers.  And you happen to run ‘Bill’s Books’ – a little shop still selling books the old fashioned way – and you have old stock that might just conflict withthe publisher that Google have just bought up.  You might just find yourself falling off the search results… Conflict of interest, maybe?

I’m afraid I don’t trust anyone withthe sort of control that Googleis getting over the world’s knowledge and information.  It’s an extreme idea, but could Google end therevolution of available knowledge started by Gutenberg.  If all knowledgeis increasingly online, and access is directly or indirectly arbitrated by one corporation, that is a Hell of an opportunity for censorship of the sort last practised in the Middle ages by the Catholic Church or by the Totalitarian Governments of the 20th Century.

Like most of us – I use Google quite extensively.  I’m just not quite sure that the spoon I’m using to sup with is long enough anymore.

A sermon from Martin Luther King…still relevant today.

Dr. King first delivered this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor.

Peace on Earth…

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war?and so let us this morning explore the conditions for peace. Let us this morning think anew on the meaning of that Christmas hope: “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.” And as we explore these conditions, I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of nonviolence, its philosophy and its strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States, but now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict, and that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.

Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent. I have spoken to you before of our visit to India some years ago. It was a marvelous experience; but I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with one’s own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with ones own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night? More than a million people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night; more than half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night. They have no houses to go into. They have no beds to sleep in. As I beheld these conditions, something within me cried out: “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh, no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself: “I know where we can store that food free of charge? in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.”

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Now let me say, secondly, that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends and means must cohere. One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such. Until men see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fighting wars. One day somebody should remind us that, even though there may be political and ideological differences between us, the Vietnamese are our brothers, the Russians are our brothers, the Chinese are our brothers; and one day we’ve got to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. In Christ there is neither male nor female. In Christ there is neither Communist nor capitalist. In Christ, somehow, there is neither bound nor free. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won’t kill anybody.

There are three words for “love” in the Greek New Testament; one is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.

Then the Greek language talks about “philia,” which is another word for love, and philia is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.

Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word “agape.” Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I’m happy that he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can’t like anybody who would bomb my home. I can’t like anybody who would exploit me. I can’t like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can’t like them. I can’t like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can’t ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

And so the ghost of Jacob Marley begins Ebeneezer Scrooge’s journey of redemption.  It was already too late for Marley; he was cursed to be able to see things in the world that he could once have influenced – the hungry poor, the cold homeless – but as a spirit was unable to intervene in any way to help.  His gift to his old business partner Scrooge was this warning; ‘Act now in the true business of man; you have less time than you think.’  And it was certainly a better present than a tie pin, ink well or whatever else Marley may have bought Scrooge whilst he was alive.

I’ve always been a sucker for stories of redemption; I guess that idea of a second chance, right up to the very last second of the last minute, is something that runs deep in all of us.  But the thing that appeals to me about ‘A Christmas Carol’ is that at the end of it all, Scrooge isn’t just spiritually redeemed – he’s also got the wherewithal to make a difference in the world, to try to right some of the wrongs in the world (which he has contributed to wholeheartedly in his single-minded pursuit of his money).

‘A Christmas Carol’ seems to be one of those stories that gets repeated makeovers in film and TV to suit the age; I’ve seen ‘classic’ versions, versions set in the world of a TV Executive, set in the 1930s depression, in a Noughties East End housing estate.  Then there are the many films influenced by the idea – ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ spring to mind.  Irrespective of the age, the dress or the story, the theme is universal – a selfish man on the road to perdition is redeemed by making the business of mankind his personal business. 

The first gift of Christmas was a child, born to make mankind his business.  Let’s see what we can do to follow that example.  And, in the words of Tiny Tim, ‘God bless us, everyone’.

In the long run….

450px-Clock_of_the_Long_Now…we’re all dead, so goes the old joke.

I’ve found myself thinking of ‘the long run’ increasingly often over the last year, and I’m not sure why.  I think partially it’s due to having children around on a reasonably regular basis for the first time; I’ve found myself thinking more of the world that they will grow up in to, and how the activities of the human race in my lifetime will have influenced that world – for better or worse.  some of you may recognise the image on the left – it’s a picture of a model of the ‘Clock of the Long Now’ – a timepiece designed to keep reasonably accurate time for 10,000 years.  I like the idea of thinking that far ahead – whether it’s realistic or not is the question, I guess.

Years ago I remember reading that when the ‘big’ cathedrals were built – places like Notre Dame in Paris, or theBasilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence – it was taken as a given that some of the people who started building the place would not live long enough to see it completed.  The Basilica, for example, took 170 years from inception to completion.  Imagine – a life expectancy of maybe 40 was pretty good going for those days, so it would be possible for 4 or 5 generations of a  family to work on the building, most of whom knew that they were committing their skills and lifetime to something they would never see completed.  And this in a time when the Black death was all over Europe.  I imagine that part of what drove people was faith; a belief that what happened in your life wasn’t the end of things, but just the beginning, and that building such edifices would help ensure your soul would be well received in Paradise!

Gardens are the same – many formal gardens literally take 100 years to mature to the vision that the garden designer envisaged.  And the owner of the land on which the garden was being built and who was paying for the garden would know that he was planning for the future, and leaving behind (and paying for) a legacy that he would never truly enjoy.  There’s a rather nice comment about the wisdom of a society that plants trees for the future in this blog entry from November.

It’s the combination of altruism and faith in the future that fascinates me; it is a combination of values that I think is lacking today.  We seem to have ended up in a culture of short-termism.  Which is incredibly ironic when we live so much longer than did our ancestors; maybe we’re just not so sure about our future prospects, or maybe it’s our Governments thinking in 4 year chunks.  But we don’t seem to have the faith to build for the future anymore.  I don’t really see anything being built that will first of all survive more than a century or so, and certainly nothing of the scale and majesty of your Duomos, Notre Dames or Towers of London. 

It’s a great irony that we might leave so little that survives more than a few centuries that our descendants of a thousand years hence (should we leave any behind) might regard the times we’re now living in in the same way that we regard the so-called ‘Dark Ages’.

7 Broadband Quickies….

belkinI should actually call this post ‘things I should have known but thought I knew better!’

In recent weeks we’ve had a few ups and downs with the Broadband connection, culminating in a call to BT’s technical support line.  Of course, when I did call them the line started behaving itself again during the call, so maybe the threat of technical intervention did the trick.  However, here are some observations and tips on Broadband that you may find valuable.  Most of these apply to any Broadband supplier, but one is BT Business Broadband specific.

Is that internal phone extension really necessary?

Due to a lack of power sockets (or even sensible places to put a power socket) and places to put routers near the main BT phone socket, for years we have had the router in an upstairs room, connected to the BT socket via an extension cable.  During testing I bought the router down to the phone socket and jury-rigged power to it, and was rewarded by an increase in speed of over 1Mb/s on the downstream connection, and lower noise levels on the line.  So, if you can manage it, try and plumb the router in as close as is practicable to the point where the land-line enters the house.

Snow and ice are not nice!

If you have a phone line of, shall we say, a certain age, then the chances are that the insulation has started to perish and water ingress is a possibility.  If this happens in the winter, and the water freezes, any cracks are often widened thus making it easier for more water to enter.  Snow and ice on phone lines can cause signal degradation by bridging the gap between cable and nearby earthed objects – trees, etc. – and if there are insulation problems then you can expect a degraded signal to noise ratio, which will lead to a reduction in performance.

Listen in!

Assuming correctly fitted Line filters, you will not hear any significant noise in a phone handset when ADSL is operating.  If you hear a noticeable hissing noise then it can indicate a leaky ADSL Line Filter.  If you hear regular crackles or other noises on the line, then these will cause degradation of your signal.  Plug your phone in to the phone socket where it enters the house, with no other extensions plugged in.  If the crackles continue and are regular, then it’s almost certainly worth a call to your phone company.  Note that occasional noise is inevitable – electrical devices turning on and off, nearby thunder storms, etc. all cause this sort of interference and there is nothing that can be realistically done by the phone company about them.  Your phone company may charge for the survey if they find nothing wrong.

Cycle that router!

If you have had a poor broadband connection, and battled on with it for a few hours, then the router may well have adapted itself to the lower rate.  Turn the router off, leave it off for a few minutes, then turn it back on again.  I did this recently and was rewarded by a doubling of speed.

Find a test account

Most ISPs have test accounts that will allow you to determine whether the problem is it your end or the exchange end.   For BT, this is bt_test@startup_domain, with any password.  Enter this in to your login credentials on your router and try to connect to Broadband.  If your installation is OK, you will connect but the only web site available to you will be a BT holding page, that tells you that you’ve logged in under a test account.  Get this far and any other problems you’re having are either on your PC or out beyond the immediate BT exchange connection.

Get a second ADSL Modem

I have an old ‘Frog’ ADSL modem which still works.  I have installed teh software for it on to my Netbook, and so I have a second system to connect to the Internet with over my phone line.  (I also have an old ‘dial up’ modem but that’s really getting desperate!) This proved to be very useful recently when I accidentally nuked the main router settings.  These devices are pretty cheap to get hold of and can be useful in these circumstances.

Get your ISP’s tech support numbers….NOW!

Don’t wait until things are broken to realise that you don’t have the tech support numbers and that you need to go to their website to get them.  In a similar vein, ensure you have login credentials, etc. available locally and not in some online depository.