Archive - 2008
Recently, not only did I get to go skiing in Canada, but I also got to go into the BA First Class lounge at Heathrow Terminal 5. I also got to go to the lounge at Calgary airport (which is shared between about four different airlines).
The BA lounge at T5 is huge. And horrible. The service is terrible, the coffee's mediocre, and the general ambiance unappealing. All this from a purpose-built, modern terminal - entirely controlled by BA. It's not as if they can blame it on any kind of legacy, or their airport partner. It's actually not dissimilar to this video of JFK, except it's a bit bigger with a few more 'areas'. The video doesn't show the toilets, suffice to say that T5's First Class passengers still feel the need to make a mess, and BA doesn't feel like cleaning up after them.
We wandered around to the bit where you can get à la carte food options. We sit down, next to a table that hasn't been cleaned. We wait. We then go and fish some menus off another table. We wait some more. We then have to go and ask someone to take our order. When it arrived, the food was reasonable, but this is the sort of experience you might have in a dodgy side-street cafe, and BA are passing it off as 'first class'. Apparently the lounge cost $120 million (£60 million). What was that? £59,999,999 for the building and £1 for staff training? I'm just glad we flew economy ;-)
By comparison, Calgary's international lounge is pretty small. It's got a cute little kids area, with little chairs and a TV. The service is almost too good - if you take something off the serve-yourself counter, it's almost instantly replaced. If you get up from your table, it's instantly cleared and wiped. As I say, it's almost too much service. The selection of stuff you can have is reasonable, but not exceptional. If only BA could hire the people that work in Calgary to work in the T5 lounge, eh?
Never mind that our actual flight departed from (and arrived) near terminal 3 (so we needed to get a bus to it), or that T5 is full of accessibility mistakes, or that half of the flights leaving Heathrow are half empty - I'll be writing what I think of T5 as a whole on another day... Remember, it's like BA keep telling us... T5 is working!
The government is still persisting with it's plans for ID cards. This is of course a scaled back version of the small-pilot scheme, but they still want to fingerprint and face-scan everyone in the UK. This data will be stored in the National Identity Register, and then duplicated in part or in full so that car parks, trains, delivery couriers, Internet hackers and others can get copies of it.
Even if you haven't figured out that this is an instant infringement on your liberty, you should be able to see that it's an instant way to lose all your privacy, lose all your personally identifying information and watch your government demonstrate it's utter ineptitude.
Remember: All your life you've been told by your teachers, your parents, banks and even the government that you should protect your identity - don't tell people unique things about you (like your name, your home address, your bank account number, etc). Don't forget this when the government asks you to give up everything unique about you for this scheme. No2ID.
Today, BT, Virgin Media, Orange, Tiscali, Carphone Warehouse (TalkTalk, AOL) and BSkyB have signed a deal with the music industry to threaten customers suspected of illegal filesharing (via ISPReview).
On the face of it, one might think this is a good thing, or that it does not apply to people who don't illegally share music. However, no one can tell if you're sharing legal or illegal content, and they can't tell if it's you, your kids, your neighbour or a virus you picked up. As a result, anyone could easily be suspected of wrong doing, yet be completely innocent. If you're a customer of one of these ISPs, be ready to defend yourself against something you didn't do, and have a degraded or partially functional Internet connection in the meantime.
This is of course a pre-cursor to the widely-expected plan by the UK music industry to sue it's own customers for copyright violations. It's also a way for the BPI to stop people performing legal filesharing - something that many software vendors promote as a way for people to get their software.
Now is the time to get a new ISP. I have first-hand knowledge that one of the affected ISPs accidentally stopped it's customers reaching their email provider for a period of about 5 days, so the idea that "because they're big, they must be the best" just isn't true. If you're looking for an alternative, Freedom2Surf is pretty good (and part of Pipex who haven't signed this deal).
I remember my first "music centre". I can't find a picture of the sort of thing it was (but did discover Dustygizmos). I inherited it from my gran; it was a whole piece of furniture - a sideboard sort of thing. It had three sections, the two side ones were speakers and had space for your 12" records. The centre section had an AM radio and a turntable (that could be cued up to play five records in a row!). This stuff wasn't separates as it would be now - you had the whole thing or nothing.
Nowadays, we can do rather better. I've long had an MP3 music player at home, and it really does make listening to music much easier. I've got access to my music collection without having to fiddle with CDs, and I can listen to zillions of Internet radio stations too.
You can too - all you need is:
- Netgear ReadyNAS Duo [buy]
- SqueezeCentre (which is free software)
- A SqueezeBox [buy] (for your hi-fi stack) or a SqueezeBox Boom [buy] (for your bedroom, or anywhere else you don't have a hi-fi amp).
(Actually, it's even possible to just use the SqueezeBox on it's own if you want)
The ReadyNAS isn't wireless, so plug it into your broadband router and follow the instructions to set it up. Then, install the SqueezeCentre software onto the ReadyNas (actually, it's already installed so you might be able to skip this step if it's already the latest version). Then, rip your CDs into MP3s (which you store on the ReadyNAS). Next, tell SqueezeCentre where to find those MP3s, it scans them and you're under way. That's it.
If you're a bit of an audiophile, then don't rip to MP3 - instead use FLAC format (basically, FLAC is like a lossless version of MP3). If you do this, you'll be listening to CD quality music through your music players, and can even use the FLAC files as a source to generate MP3s for your iPod.
If you're worried that storing your music on a harddisk might be risky because hard disks break quite a bit - don't worry - the ReadyNAS can be setup to use RAID, which means that you can use two hard disks to do the job of one. That way, if a disk breaks, the other one takes over until you fix the broken one (the ReadyNAS will even email you if this happens, so you'll know when to buy that extra disk).
Once you've done all this, you can listen to all of your music collection any time you want. Your alarm clock can play your favourite music. You can listen to online music services (like last.fm) or hundreds of Internet radio stations. Most of all, you can show off to your friends at how très moderne you are :-)
Traffic lights don't work. I'm a pedestrian, cyclist and occasional driver, so am a user of lots of traffic lights, and they don't work. Their general usefulness has been called into question, and their "user interface" (UI) is non-intuitive. Almost any traffic light junction you visit will demonstrate that they just don't work properly, it at all.
Firstly, let's consider traffic lights in general. That basically covers lights at junctions and pedestrian crossings. We've all driven down streets and been stopped at what seems like every set of lights, often when there's no other traffic or pedestrians around. As Del Amitri sang, "the traffic lights change to stop, when there's nothing to go".
A few years ago, a chap called Hans Monderman realised that trying to make all road users 'automatons' wasn't the best approach. Instead, he realised that if everyone was required to make their own decisions, and take responsibility for themselves then actually everyone would benefit. He call this concept "shared space". Essentially, everyone gets to use the road, and has to avoid everyone else.
We can't very well mention traffic lights without mentioning cyclists who jump the lights. It turns out men do this more than women, and because of that, women are more likely to die at at traffic lights by being crushed by an HGV. Aside from some very clueless cyclists who assume any space is a good space, don't understand how vehicles move and how drivers see, this sort of news is unlikely to quell the tides of cyclists that routinely skip the lights.
So much for the concept of traffic lights in general. We're a long way from getting rid of them, so while we've got them, we ought to find ways to get along with them. Here's where my next point, the "user experience" is completely wrong.
As pedestrians, we've all been taught from a young age that when you want to cross at the lights, you press the button and wait for the "green man" (who tends to be white in North America). Obviously, if you see a red man, then you wait.
As a kid, traffic lights were called Pelican Crossings. These particular junctions had a "flashing green man" stage, which indicated to pedestrians that the "red man" was coming, which would mean the traffic would want to start moving again. The road traffic would see "red" whilst the "green man" was on, and a flashing amber light around the time that the "flashing green man" was on. This flashing amber light denoting "you can go, if it's clear".
A number of UK councils have stopped installing Pelican Crossings and now use Puffin Crossings instead. Puffin Crossings use infra-red sensors to detect pedestrians, so keep the "green man" on while pedestrians are crossing. As soon as they're all gone, then it turns to "red man" and lets the traffic go, following a "red, red+amber, green" sequence. Haringey Council has a "guide to Puffin Crossings", which looks horribly complicated, and is sadly only available as a PDF. Newcastle's got a bit more information about the different types of crossing.
I can't find any decent reference about them, but a lot of lights seem to be a mixture of Pelican and Puffin - that is, they seem to have dropped the "flashing green man" stage in favour of no pedestrian light at all. Also, a lot of lights that used to only operate on half of the road seem to have been replaced with a single light for crossing the whole street in one go.
Here's where my "user experience" gripes come in. Firstly, the "no light" stage for pedestrians seems to be universally confusing. It's not really obvious if there's no working light, or if one should wait rather than cross, or perhaps one can hurry over and be okay. I guess here in the UK we're used to the idea of stuff not working, so the "oh, it's a broken light" response seems to be prevalent, especially as you can probably see some people apparently crossing the road, and the traffic dutifully waiting.
Having a "red man" when only half of the road has traffic on it is also confusing if there's a pedestrian island. If there's no island then it's pretty obvious what's going on. However, if you can see a "red man", but no traffic on "your part of the road" then should you cross? It's completely unclear what to do, and seems to confuse a lot of people.
So to recap... The validity of even having lights all over the place is in some question. Then we don't apparently understand the actual sequence of lights we see, because we all suspect that something's not working quite right because either the light is broken, or else it's perfectly okay to cross since other people are doing it. Then we've got cyclists jumping the lights as if they've been shown a green signal, and you've got a whole load of very confused pedestrians.
What ever's going on, one thing is clear: Traffic lights don't work.
This morning on the way to work, a whole load of waiting staff from Las Iguanas were having slalom races between the bollards on Meard Street. Sadly, one of 'em dropped the cutlery on his plates as he turned around at the end of the run (to much jeering from his colleagues). I wonder what the locals made of it all?
I received The Muppets Series 1 on DVD for my birfday. The GF and I watched a few episodes the other night - what utter genius The Muppets were! So episode one, sketch one is manamana! If that's not enough, Rowlf sings "Onions Make Me Cry", and gives us the basis for an excellent pun-related game to while away the hours in the office. And that's just for us adults... We all know what happened to the kids that watched it, don't we ;-)
I'm so tired of this problem. The BBC calculated that last year, the UK government had lost personal data on 4 million people. That's about 7% of the UK. We don't even have everyone on record yet, and they've lost that much.
Of course, the Home Secretary blames the private contractor, but that's just because they have one to blame. If this was all publicly run, she'd be the only person to blame. Somehow because she signed a contract with someone else, this exonerates her of responsibility.
Your government hates you. Please don't forget that.
Update 28th Aug, 08: It's been suggested to me that 'hate' is an overly strong word, and that it's unlikely that our government actually hates us. I still maintain it's not working in our best interest, at the very least though. Also, I get the last word ;-)
A friend of mine just invited me to a Facebook group called "the snowball effect" (it's an experiment to see if they can get all FB users to be a member of the group). I checked the group page, and found a discussion on the board entitled "Atheists, your logic is flawed!".
The thing is, that (amusing read) is just the start of it - the actual discussion board contains other such gems as "All girls on Facebook are fat" and "Do you know why I'm fucked up?". The mind boggles... These people need answers ;-)
I've spent a few evenings getting The Cat upgraded. We're now on Fedora 8, Drupal 6.3, a new Netgear router, gigabit ethernet networking, and a bunch of minor systemsy stuff to make the Cat fly.
By now you've probably noticed The Cat looks a little different. This theme scores much higher on the Yslow scale. I'm going to call this theme "unfinished" - I'm not really happy with it, but as these things go I expect I'll get used to it and leave it as it is for another year ;-)