The Myth of Choice

May 7th, 2009

Choice as is presented to working-class consumers these days is an illusion. The capitalists present us with a choice between shit or shite. If we choose shit, they say it’s our fault we ended up with shit — we should have chosen shite instead. And vice versa.

I can buy Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, or any store’s own-brand cola-flavoured beverage-effect substance. They will all rot my teeth and make me fat (OK ….. fatter). Is that really a choice?

If I had a car, I could choose between Shell, Texaco, BP, Esso or a few other bands of petrol; but they’re all made from unsustainable fossil fuels. Is that really a choice?

I can choose where I get my electricity from. In theory. In practice, it’s exactly the same stuff. It comes down the same wires, from the same power stations. All the companies (basically, “middlemen” who buy electricity off the power generating companies — who won’t deal in small amounts, for no better reason than because they just hate counting small change — and then sell it to poor sods like you and me) seem to promise me lower bills than any of the others. But none of them can guarantee me that not one single joule of the electricity they supply to me will be generated by the criminally-insane method of burning natural gas, which is too useful a fuel in its own right to waste on centralised electricity production. Is that really a choice?

(I’m sure that one or more of them may offer an “offsetting programme”, where they charge me more money for electricity generated by gas and pay some sort of guilt-money, which (if it actually gets to its destination) is meant to be spent on planting trees or bribing some third-world peasant to irrigate his fields using a hand pump rather than a diesel pump. Trees may reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, with about a fifth of the efficiency of algae, but they won’t put that gas back under the ground (not for millions of years, at any rate); and I don’t begrudge third-world peasants the use of the machine tools that might actually help the luckiest ones end up as something other than peasants. However you dress it up, it’s Not The Same Thing.)

28 July: Day of Protest against Internet Explorer

April 21st, 2009

(originally posted by me at — some changes have been made since then.)

It’s time for everyone who appreciates good web design and open standards to come together, just for one day, and say, once and for all: Enough already!

Enough already with IE riding roughshod over open, published standards because they don’t happen to suit Microsoft.

Enough already with IE and its downright bats#!t insane default behaviour of executing unknown content.

Enough already with pandering to Microsoft’s buggy, broken virus-trap just because it’s “there by default”.

If one person decided that they were going to block IE, to warn users politely but firmly that they were not welcome to use that malware-magnet that can’t render properly, then that person might lose some traffic.

But if enough people decided, all on the same day, that they were all going to f**k off Internet Explorer users until they downloaded a proper browser — Firefox, for instance, or even Opera or Safari; you know how much recommending a closed-source product sticks in my craw, but anything‘s got to be better than IE — then suddenly the users would have no choice but to download a proper browser, if they wanted to see the Internet. The long-term benefits of that would massively outweigh the short-term inconvenience. Microsoft might even write a proper, standards-compliant browser!

Come on, people. Let’s have a worldwide day of protest against Internet Explorer, stick to it; and by doing so, just maybe improve the Internet for everyone. And that day might just as well be 28 July.

Time to Reform Copyright?

April 6th, 2009

The original intention behind copyright was to encourage people to share their creative works with Society At Large by offering a short-term monopoly over their distribution in return for a promise that those works would eventually pass into the Public Domain and be able to be shared freely by everyone. At the time, this was seen as, if not the best solution, then the least unfair compromise: better for the Public Domain to be enriched eventually than not at all. Copyright enabled authors to be sure that the publishers of their works — who had access to the means of reproducing them — were not ripping them off.

Over time, natural erosion has shifted the goalposts. Ownership of printing presses and record-cutting apparatus — or, at any rate, their modern equivalents in the form of general-purpose computers — has expanded to include members of the general public, and publishers — while by no means utterly redundant — are generally less necessary than has been the case in the past. The duration of copyright, meanwhile, has repeatedly become extended and copyright (by the way, even this is a complete misnomer: it is a privilege, not a right) itself has been subverted into a way of repeatedly making money year upon year after doing something only once. (I’d love to see the look on Sir Cliff Richard’s face if his plumber knocked on his door demanding a royalty fee every time the tortoise-necked old fart flushed his toilet.)

And the Public Domain is not being enriched in the way that was envisaged at the time copyright was originally conceived.

I believe that it is time to reconsider altogether whether, in the 21st Century where almost everyone has access to the wherewithal for reproducing information, the grant of a temporary monopoly to the original creator of a work is still the least unfair way to ensure that the Public Domain continues to be enriched by the creation of new works which can be freely shared by everyone.
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Robot Scientist Makes New Discovery!

April 3rd, 2009

From the BBC news site:

Scientists have created an ideal colleague – a robot that performs hundreds of repetitive experiments.

The robot, called Adam, is the first machine to have independently “discovered new scientific knowledge”.

It has already identified the role of several genes in yeast cells, and is able to plan further experiments to test its own hypotheses.

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Bend over, here it comes

March 12th, 2009

I’ve been saying for years that this was going to happen. Now will you believe me?

A Scottish GP has called for chocolate to be taxed in the same way as alcohol and cigarettes to tackle increasing levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

This, dear readers, is the top of a very steep and very slippery slope. Firstly, the food police are one step removed from the thought police: if they can control what you eat, they can control what you think. And secondly, once one class of food is subject to a tax, you know it’s going to creep. It will start out on one “unhealthy” food (chocolate); then, just a budget or two down the line, it will spread to a few other unhealthy foods; then less-unhealthy foods — potatoes for example (because you can make chips out of potatoes), and so on. Eventually, the original stated purpose of the tax (to punish people for buying “unhealthy” foods) will be forgotten, replaced by the real, practical purpose (to raise revenue for the government); and you won’t be able to buy so much as an organic rocket salad with oil-free, egg-free, vinegar-free, salt-free, taste-free dressing without having to pay tax on it.

This is also exactly the sort of measure that, once implemented, no government will ever reverse; strident exhortations from the same press who once brayed their opposition to it will ensure that the tax stays in place, because if it’s repealed then people will get fat and anyone who opposes it wants us all to die from obesity.

Spammers Revisit Old Techniques

March 5th, 2009

I’ve noticed a sudden upsurge in e-mail spammers using the old “font-size:0px” trick.

Get some imagination, will you? It didn’t work last time, and it won’t work this time. Oh, and if you’re trying to sell something (I mean, presumably these idiots are in it for the money), it kind of helps if you include a way to buy it.

Knocked Sideways by the ‘Flu

March 4th, 2009

I have just recovered from a dose of the ‘flu.

Well, when I say “recovered”, I mean (1) I think I am going to live and (2) I find that outcome desirable.

By the way, anyone thinking of taking Night Nurse for recreational purposes: Just because it contains dextromethorphan, which is an opioid, doesn’t mean it’s any good. It belongs squarely in the NOWTTSFK category — No-One Would Take This Shit For Kicks.

I’d have recommended Benylin 4 Flu, except these ones don’t seem to have the good stuff in them anymore. You can still get the liquid form here and this does have it.

Found Sat-Nav

February 24th, 2009

The other day, I found a satellite navigation system in the street, complete with in-car recharger. Sheer merionesian curiosity forced me to switch it on and try it out. Nothing happened, because it was flat out of juice.

I did not have a suitable 12V power supply at work, but fortunately the charger ends in a standard mini-USB connector (like the one on a digital camera) and I was able to charge it from my computer.

Now, this thing belongs to somebody. I shouldn’t just keep it, even though it’s a Tom Tom One and eminently hackable (it’s running Linux underneath). So what am I going to do with it?
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Better Late than Never

February 24th, 2009

Well, my local council have finally got around to including my street in the door-to-door recycling collection scheme. Which they have been promising for about 4 years. Better late than never. I should save a fortune in shoe-l**th*r from not having to make a special trek to the recycling centre every so often.

I have had my blue bin (for cans and bottles) delivered yesterday, along with bags for paper and textiles. The brown bin (for organic matter: kitchen and garden waste and cardboard) should be arriving today.

First recycling collection will be next week, then alternating week-to-week with rubbish collections. It takes me a lot longer than two weeks to fill a rubbish bin, though …..

*** UPDATE *** The brown bin has indeed arrived. Can’t help noticing that it and the blue bin are rather slimmer than my black bin!

Not Worth Their Salt

February 5th, 2009

The lobbying group Consensus Action on Salt and Health have really shot themselves in the foot here with this FAQ entry:

Are there any incidences where I should up my salt intake- e.g. if I have been physically working hard on a hot day, or when abroad in a hot climate?
No, if you eat little or no salt then there is no salt in the sweat.

No s#!t, Sherlock.

The salt concentration in sweat is controlled in the exactly the same way as the urine. The body will adjust and hold onto any salt if a lot is being lost in the sweat.

The converse is also true: if you consume more salt, then you excrete more salt.

Call me paranoid if you like, but I’m finding it difficult imagining that these people do not have an ulterior motive. We’ve been eating salt for years, and some people eat quite a bit more salt than us Brits; so how come it’s only started affecting us now?

Disclaimer: Speaking as someone who once came close to dying of acute hyponatraemia, and as someone who no longer enjoys a certain high street bakery chain’s pasties because they do not contain enough salt to bring out any flavour, I do have a bit of a vested interest in this.