Monthly Archives: July 2011

Enjoying the entropy

Normally, leaving a job for a new one involves a considerable amount of joy; leaving a place of work is usually motivated by dissatisfaction, and so leaving is pleasurable; a new job should really be a lot better than the old one, otherwise why bother?

This is the only time in my life that the old job wasn’t irritating me, or rather it wasn’t irritating me enough to leave. This is also the only new job I’ve ever taken where I’m not supremely confident about my ability to do it. In self-defence I was totally honest about my skills when I interviewed, and I genuinely think I’m up to it – but it doesn’t have the same comfort level as if it were a Linux admin/developer post. So the nerves are there and strong.

It has been inhumanly hot in the past week, but thanks to civilisation, we have air conditioning, so it was completely cope-able-with. For us. “Civilisation” evidently implies a lot more to me than it does to your average American cracker: I sincerely believe heating, A/C, medicine and transport are all part of being a civilised nation, but that is a very unpopular idea here, especially amongst the oppressed for some reason. They make such great pawns for the ultra rich.

As for last weeks computer problems, it seems the whole problem was down to a simple GRUB issue, which could have been solved in about 10 minutes if we were physically present – or if we had access to an on-site engineer who knew his shit. The RAID (5, not 1 as I previously stated) was fine, as it fucking well should be. That’s what it’s for. The box will be back home next week, but for now we have resurrected most services from backups. Still feels like a shot in the groin though.

New job tomorrow. Hopefully it will be inspiring.

I miss you all.

Oh bugger

Not long ago all of my online presence was moved to a VM (a “virtual server”) which was hosted on a trusty physical server that my friend/colleague and I had configured and tested. Obviously we made sure that the drives would be safe by using RAID 1, and it ran like a team of athletes until last Sunday. Because it was “new” and “safe” I worried less about backups and so the universe decided to punish me.

We still don’t know what is wrong. The box is located far away and we can’t physically get to it until Saturday. Also the co-lo don’t do KVMoIP and the engineers are less than enthusiastic. Yeah we have IPMI and yeah it didn’t work when we actually needed it.

What this means is, in the words of Jack Regan from The Sweeney, “I am utterly and abjectly pissed-off”. We moved to a new, safe, well organised server to get the most out of the hardware and keep the data safe; it let us down in the most serious way. I don’t want to deal with this side of things anymore; the tech side of maintaining working servers has lost its magic for me now – JUST WORK YOU BASTARDS!

This time the ennui and disappointment almost made me give up with the hosting altogether; it’s taken me three days to get my blog back into some sort of order. All of the normal people people who use blogger/tumblr/posterous don’t have this crap to deal with so why do I? The other sites are still down, and the idea of resurrecting them is bringing me down. I’m paying cash money now (although not very much at all) and so at some point I’m going to have to ditch the few remaining sites I’ve been hosting as favours; not because of resentment, but just because I need the freedom to be able to say “fuck it” at any time and stop worrying without affecting other people.

We released an owl last night with Brendan. It was refreshing and quite moving. I’ve just finished reading another Hemmingway book and it has obviously affected me and it was grand.

How to change your PIN with The Royal Bank of Beelzebub

The Royal Bank of Beelzebub has an automated telephone system for changing your PIN – it’s so easy – and it’s free! After you dial-in, give them your credit card number and SSN, you enter an amazing voice recognition system. Here is a sample session.
Robot: Main menu. When you hear the option you want, just say it. Hear your balance. Request more credit. Something useless. Something even more useless. Something so useless you can’t believe we’ve put it on the menu. More options.
Me: More options.
Robot: I’m sorry, I did…
Robot: More options. When you hear the option you want, just say it. Donate money to the Republicans. PIN services.
Me: PIN services.
Robot: I’m sorry I didn…
Robot: Pin services. Report your card stolen. Change PIN.
Me: Change PIN.
Robot: I’m sorry I…
Robot: I’m sorry I…
Robot: I’m sorry I…
Robot: Main menu.
Me: Change PIN!
Robot: I’m Sorry I…
Robot: More options. When…
Robot: Pin…
Me: Change PIN!
Robot: Change PIN. Please hold while you are connected to a representative. [clicks…ring tone…music…]
Doofus1: Hello. Thank you for banking with The Dark Lord, Satan. How can I help you today?
Me: Seriously? You seriously don’t know how you can help me today?
Doofus1: …uh…wha…
Me: You are telling me you have no idea that I want to change my PIN.
Doofus1: Well I do know now that you’re telling me…
Me: So why did I just have to spend five minutes trying to explain to a robot, who didn’t understand a bloody word I said, that I want to change my PIN when they’re not going to bother telling you? Why didn’t they just connect me to you in the first place?
Doofus1: we’re not allowed to see that information, I’m sorry sir. [Giggling] Let me connect you to the right department…
Me: What? Seriously? You’re not even the person who can change PINs?
Doofus1: [Laughing] no, I’m so sorry sir, I’m not even the right person. Let me connect you…thank you for banking with Eternal-Damnation Credit [clicks…hold music…silence…music…]
Doofus2: [Sounds of crying baby in the background]Hello sir, you have a problem with your PIN.
Me: Yes I need to change it. I don’t know what it is.
Doofus2: OK sir, we need to activate your new card.
Me: No. No you don’t. That’s not why I’m calling. I have an existing card that is still valid. I just don’t know the PIN.
Doofus2: OK sir, I can only change your pin, once the card is activated.
Me: I don’t need a card activated. The card I’m holding is active – it expires at the end of 8/11, it’s currently 7/11. I just don’t know the PIN. Doofus2: Well sir, it looks like we have sent you a card…
Me: Maybe! But that has nothing to do with this call. I have a card in my hand that is valid for two months, and I don’t know the PIN. I just need to set a new PIN.
Doofus2: Well sir, you only need the PIN if you are going to use the card at an ATM…
Me: I KNOW! That’s why I’m calling! I want to know the PIN. You have told me three times now that I have to activate a card and three times I’ve told you I just don’t know the PIN!
Doofus2: I’m afraid we can’t see the PIN sir. [long pause]
Me: What?
Doofus2: All I can do is send you the PIN in the mail.
Doofus2: What is your address?
Me: You don’t know my address?
Doofus2: I need you to confirm…
Me: XXXX XXXXXXXXX ROAD. It’s where you send my statements, and presumably where you sent the new card.
Doofus2: I just needed to confirm.
Me: That’s the one! Send it there! Then we’ll all be happy! My other bank is
backwards though. To change your PIN there you have to login to a website, click “change pin” and then give it a new PIN. Pain in the arse.

It’s not talking you weirdo!

It’s always comforting to discover that you’re not alone in holding a particular belief or opinion, especially when it’s unpopular. So, hearing
Lee Mack spewing bile at Charlie Brooker on the subject of Twitter
really made me feel better about not understanding Twitter. It also nearly caused my bladder to let me down when I heard it. But what really struck me about it is that Lee Mack seems genuinely irritated – it even appears to take the other guests on the show by surprise. How can someone get so angry about some stupid web application? Well I completely understand where he’s coming from. When you hear lunatics like Glenn Beck or Michele Bachmann saying ridiculous things with a straight face it’s one thing, but when someone you like and respect says “well she’s got a point there, if we remove the minimum wage that would be the end of unemployment” it’s like a punch in the face. Rather than copy Lee Mack’s passionate rant, here are some other reasons to despise Twitter:


Someone, somewhere thought it would be a good idea if twitter users could mention other users by their twitter username – all that they need to do is prefix the username with an ‘@’ sign, so that Twitter knows it’s a twitter username. Now this is arguably a good idea but with one problem: why in the holy name of Unicode did they choose the ‘@’ symbol? It’s already doing a great job in email addresses, and furthermoreit doesn’t make sense!. It’s read as ‘at’, which is why it was selected for email addresses because the address consists of a user AT a place! That’s logical! But what does it mean here: @mylamearsedtwittername1971 ? Nothing! It’s stupid! Now the poor @ symbol has been besmirched by an involuntary association with a badly thought-out social network. Couldn’t we choose a different symbol? it’s not like there’s a shortage!

Re-Tweets, #HashTags and other bodges

It’s far too easy to take someone’s crappy tweet and “re-tweet” it. Within seconds the whole internet can be trolled by a viral tweet – and to let you know it’s a retweet, Twitter cleverly puts ‘RT’ and the username (complete with the overloaded ‘@’ prefix) at the beginning of the content! Obviously they could have achieved this “out of band” by marking the tweet as a retweet and keeping track of it internally…but no…we all have to see that extra crap at the beginning of the tweet. Not only that, but we have to see the various pointless and irritating hashtags that the user thought would be a clever way to alert other people to their tweet. All of this extra baggage is not only ugly, but it cuts into the precious…

140 characters

Twitter is a “micro blogging” site. This means it’s exactly the same as a blogging site but it restricts what you can say at any one time to a pathetic and dumbed-down limit of 140 characters (including all of the extra crap mentioned above that could have been engineered as metadata if someone at Twitter had a fucking clue). This is a blatant admission that nothing anyone writes on twitter will contain anything of actual substance. Oh but wait, that’s not fair! People can post links (to actual content) whichareof substance. Yes indeed. that brings me on to

Proliferation of URL (URI) shorteners

Owing to the inexplicably meagre limit of 140 characters, most URLs will not be tweetable. Consequently users are forced to use URL shorteners such as These things are certainly handy tools, but they are inherently EVIL! There’s another essay to be written on this subject, but in a nutshell

  • They remove the semantics from URI’s – one of the main intentions behind the creation of URI’s in the first place.
  • They are temporary. The lifetime of each shortened URI is in the hands of whoever owns the shortener app. is a classic example of how dangerous this is. You know what the ‘.ly’ in stands for don’t you? Libya! Yes, that stable, friendly, reasonable, ally of the US. What happens if they decide to reclaim that particular domain and re-purpose it? All your domain are belong to Gaddafi.
  • They break referrers and all kinds of other good Internet technologies that existfor reasons more valid than those behind the decision to create URL shorteners. Big Bruce Schneier
    is, once again, seemingly the only person on the planet who uses them properly: in his newsletter he publishes the real URI, with all its semantic goodness and longevity, next to the conveniently shortened version.

The result: a spreading disease

All of this nastiness has become so widespread, twatters think it’s normal! People use hashtags, and precede other peoples’ names with ‘@’ when they’re not using Twitter! It doesn’t work! Stop filling my life with unnecessary, ugly, ineffectual crap. We don’t need an at in front of our names! It’s obviated by a thing called “syntax”. If you’re using Facebook, as a random example, you don’t need the ‘@’ to let someone know you are talking to them. In fact, if you do add an ‘@’ it will break Facebook’s far superior parser that will recognise the person’s name automatically
without the need to pollute the text with bogons like superfluous ‘@’ signs!
Alright…it’s out of my system now.


Thunder and lightning are currently putting on an impressive show outside our front door. Because we’re in America, we have a big porch with a roof, and so we have the perfect venue for sitting and observing the world without getting too wet. Michele and I just spent some quality time sitting on our porch, watching the weather, street, and view across the valley; and it was blissful, cool and mellow. Obviously the knowledge that our leccy, water, gas and Internet were all still working made it happier – there’s nothing worse than sleeping in a cold wet bush with no heating or broadband.

Hot, sad and happy

A small green bird is currently sheltering in the crook of my arm from the oppressive airflow coming from the fan sitting next to us. The feathers on his extremities are fluttering in quite a beautiful way. Now and again he turns round to look at me, as if to make sure that everything is ok – “that wind is fine isn’t it?” We’ve had periods of extreme heat recently, and as much as I hate that humid heat, it hasn’t been too bad for either of us. This is as a result of leveraging all Air Conditioning options available to us. If there’s one thing Americans do well, it’s killing brown people; after that it’s breakfasts; after that it’s Air Conditioning. Sad list:

Happy list:

  • We got our new cooker delivered today. It’s really less shit than the old one.
  • Citi not only got hacked but it was done publicly and caused massive humiliation.
  • Excalibur
    now $4.99 to “own” on Amazon. It’s astonishingly good btw.
  • The News Quiz, Mock the Week and the joy of torrents.
  • My Tomato/Pepper plants are thriving!
  • World IPv6 day
    came and went. It created a brief period of optimism in some geeks.
  • Lightning Bugs
    have started to come out already

To my faithful friends

For a long while now the 21st of May 2011 has been a date I was excited about – and now it’s nearly over. But the excitement of watching truly passionate people getting proved wrong never appealed as much as watching them try to defend their points-of-view. But as ludicrous as
Harold Camping’s
theory of Judgement day was, to the Atheists it doesn’t seem any more ridiculous as any of the other crap that Christians still supposedly believe. If you go to church, baptise your children or think that the Bible has any more relevance than “Grimms Fairy Tales”, then you need to understand that atheists regard you in the same way they regard Camping: credulous and tragic. Anyone who will be visiting a church tomorrow, whilst laughing at Camping’s pathetic beliefs, is worthy of ridicule. If you fit into that category and wish to be ridiculed, then please give me a call. Yeah, naturally I realise this may offend people I’m close to. Well welcome to my world! Every time you passively accept, and then promote, dogma from some bullshit church you claim to support, you piss in my tea. Any laughter you have for Harold “waste of a perfectly good life” Camping, I have for you. But on you’ll go – breaking the concrete laws of your church (like going every Sunday, or actually believing the shit they spout) and yet you are upholding it. In fact, you’re actually making things worse: it’s the acceptance of ancient dogma, by making it out to be harmless and potentially useful, that propagates the evil within. You know that the probability your child will be sexually abused by a priest is way higher than if you left him/her with a total stranger, but you do it anyway. Why is that again? Next time we meet, how about we don’t discuss it eh?

Great Things

Bruce Schneier is, to a certain class of geek (which includes me), regarded as a kind of Jedi Master (or “spiritual leader” if you are someone who thinks that means anything). His newsletter, blogs and articles are always full of insightful comments on every topic imaginable, despite being generally regarded as dealing with “Security”. As a perfect example, his
latest post
is not only fascinating, but highlights the inter-disciplinary nature of all disciplines. He’s writing a book on security, but from this introduction it could be classed under any non-fiction topic in the bookshops. This is what
Dirk Gently
described as “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things”. Aside from that, there is a strong smell of lavender coming through the window, which is very pleasant, and today I discovered
. Wow.

Being Victor Meldrew

After ‘er indoors and I get home we share cave-time by sitting on the sofa and tapping away at our laptops. Some people may think this sounds sad, but they are wrong. We need our Internet space, and we can share it; that’s pretty cool. On this particular evening I was writing a complaint to Septa and asked M to check it before it was dispatched. She too was in the process of writing a complaint letter to Target. It actually felt quite comforting to know that we were both, independently, exercising malevolent demons of anger. So, for posterity, here our our complaint messages. From M to Target:

I am writing to inquire about and possibly comment on your dressing room policy. I was at your store on City Ave in Philadelphia on Wednesday, 5/11/11, around 12:30 PM. I went to the dressing room to try on 8 items. I was told that I was only allowed to bring 5 items in. *However*, I was also told that I was not allowed to try on more than 5 items unless I had a cart or basket to hold my waiting items, and I had to walk *all the way to the front of the store* to get a cart if I wanted to try on everything I had chosen (the dressing rooms are in the back in this store). Luckily I found an abandoned cart nearby. However, while I was in the dressing room, another customer was told the same policy. She did not want to walk all the way to find a cart. The staff argued with her until she complied. She was asking, “why do I have to go get my own cart if I want to try things on?” And they browbeat her until she agreed. When she left, I was still in the dressing room, and I overheard a male staff member advise a female staff member at the dressing room desk, “Don’t be afraid to make them go get a cart. Tell them they have to do it. We don’t have to be watching the other stuff they want to try on.” I have several questions. Is this *actual store policy*? Is it required that customers have a cart or basket in order to try on more than 5 articles of clothing? I suspect not. I suspect it is an ad-hoc arrangement made up by employees. Don’t you WANT people to try on many items, because it increases the likelihood of customers *buying* those items? Moreover, I resented the attitude of these staff members. They treated me and the other woman as an annoyance and that they were doing us a favor by *letting* us try clothing on. A truly customer-service oriented store would have employees *bringing* carts to shoppers, not ordering them to go fetch one lest they be forbidden to try items on. I thank you for your time

From me to

Every night I use my Cross County Pass to take me from King Of Prussia to Norristown (bus route 99), and then take a train to Ivy Ridge. I was delighted when a very helpful member of staff on the train told me about this pass as it saved me a lot of money. Tonight, as the result of an eye-doctor appointment, I had to leave from the Mall, and would have missed my train, so instead opted to go home on the 124. The driver told me that I had to pay extra because I was going into Philadelphia. I told him that I could get as far as Allegheny (well within the city limits) but he said that “on the bus, it’s an extra 50c”. Eventually he ordered me to take a seat, waiving the 50c charge in return for giving me a barrage of low-quality sarcasm. Now – who was right, and where is it written – are there regulations that can clear this up? If he was right, then it means I can legitimately travel home providing I use a train, but can’t do so on a bus without being charged. Logic seems to suggest this is unlikely; but if this *is* the case, then may I suggest that it’s one of the stupidest rules ever created, and urge you to consider changing it? Why can a train take me deeper into Philly than a bus? And WHERE exactly is this rule written down? Furthermore, may I suggest that waiving extra charges in favor of sarcastic abuse is a policy you should encourage. It seems a lot fairer than the bizarre pricing structure you currently use, and will improve the quality of life for the drivers.

The blinkin’ RAF always steals the fun

Another list, sorry. Unless it’s blogged at the time, things just build up.

  • The Lion Has Wings
    which is a 1939 propaganda film from Alexander Korder. It’s worth watching just for the opening montage of Britishness, and how wonderful Britain was at the time. There were pictures of churches, cricket matches, sheep grazing, and vicars riding bicycles; a lot like one of John Major’s utterly bizarre speeches from his unlikely period in high office. However, when the voice-over described all of the wonderful things about Britain in 1939, it was essentially a list of Socialist ideals:

    • Safe and clean public housing and schools
    • Healthcare reform
    • Allowing the average person to become fitter and healthier
    • Creating safer workplaces
    • Paid holidays

    Every one of these things was a direct result of the Labour Movement.

  • Happy 60th Birthday to Ralph!
  • We borrowed some children to help legitimise our sojourn to see
    in 3D. It was brilliant in case you were wondering.
  • You know you’re in the 21st century when it’s more difficult to string up a mirror than it is to set-up
    live web stream
    of your parrots, so you can watch them from the other room.