UK Censors the Internet - The Internet Says "no"

We techie types know that trying to censor the Internet is like trying to collect rainwater in a sieve. However, politicians don't understand the Internet, and are almost pathologically unable to say "no" if the subject at hand has ever been linked to any sort of problem for children. Thus, our politicians believe they, and they alone are the only people who can save the UK's children from the perils of the Internet.

The Internet seems less convinced. First there was the Tor Project. This is probably the biggest thorn in the side of any government trying to censor the Internet. First of all, if you use it right, it makes your Internet communication untraceable, but Tor is an important 'freedom of speech' tool that even the most despotic governments around the world struggle to ban. As such, it's going to be a while before the UK government tries tackling it. Incidentally, my local MP hadn't ever heard of it, which I suspect is pretty common around the Commons. By now though, I expect just about every 14 year old boy in the UK knows all about it.

One I just heard of today is the aptly named Go Away Cameron. It's a Google Chrome extension that figures out if a site's been blocked and works around it. It's a lot easier to use than Tor, but it's probably not quite so safe - that said, it's probably enough for most people.

I just did some searching for sites that have been blocked. I couldn't find a list, and in fact all the results I could find list sites that have been mistakenly blocked. Here's a nice round-up:

Sex education websites, Top 10 Sites Blocked by Filters (including great ones like and, The Scunthorpe Problem, Childline and others, and The BNP Website.

All these of course get plenty of media attention and get unblocked pretty quickly. What about the smaller sites, or the ones that are controversial and so not so obviously over-filtered? The problem is, the government just made itself liable for all of this (even though they claim it's the ISPs that are responsible).

The Jolla Phone

Some folks that left Nokia to strike out on their own have produced the Jolla (I think pronounced 'ho-ha' or some such) - and it's now shipping to Europe. It runs something called Sailfish, which is a Unix derivative (not Android) but can run Android apps.

I like the look of this because:

  • It looks like a nice phone - the videos of it in use look pretty nice, and it's got a swappable back cover so you can personalise it a bit.
  • It's not (yet) been weighed down with countless unnecessary 'bloatware' apps you don't want
  • It's not based on an OS made by a company who want to know your every move so that they can sell stuff to you

It remains to be seen how good it is at running Android apps, and how good it might be at privacy protection, and how flexible Sailfish turns out to be, but it's good to see a credible alternative to the other two and a half main phone types around at the moment.

Your Train is Late Because...

Today, some actual announcements from Southeastern Trains:

- Poor track condition
- Poor adhesion which means the driver has to take a few extra seconds to pull into stations
- We were on a restricted yellow aspect
- There's a train on our platform at London Bridge

All this because it's been raining a bit. We're also on a so-called 'leaf fall timetable' that has extra slack in it for such things.

Dunster House Hudson 300

I saw this Dunster House Hudson 300 on the Internet. It looks pretty nice, no? It'll make a great home-office for us.

Here's how it looks now it's been delivered:

(That's not including the door and window frames and the four glass unit either!).

Oh, and you have to unload the truck with help from the driver. He's literally twice as strong as me, so was able to shift far more of it than me. My life in IT didn't prepare me for that work at all ;-)

I think I've got a bit of work to do to construct it. The good news is that it's a piece of flat-pack that doesn't need an Ikea Standard Allen Key(tm) to assemble it. From what I can tell it's actually not that hard, although I'll need to get a decent, level concrete base down first. From them on, it's mostly a matter of slotting things together. Can't wait to get started!

Tesco Considering 3D Printing as an In-Store Service

On the Tesco blog (who knew there was such a thing!), they're talking about having 3D printing as an in-store service (in addition to the paper print services some larger stores have). The idea is that you could go in and say "I bought an XYZ brand microwave, but the handle's broken off" and they'd print you a new one while you get your shopping done. They're even talking about digitally repairing 3D-scanned things you take into the store too.

For us in-the-know about 3D printers, we've been expecting this for years. Even Tesco are a way away from actually doing it, but it's great to see that it's something that really might happen sometime soon.

In other news Stratsys have bought Makerbot. This puts Thingiverse in jeopardy.

(via 3Ders, Edie and The Ultimaker Group)

Facebook Scraping the Barrel

Facebook really are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I haven't so much as viewed my Facebook profile in weeks or months. The only time I've done anything on it in the last year or two has been to maybe check one specific thing, taking maybe a couple of minutes at most. It's pretty obvious I'm out of love with FB.

Over the weeks and months, FB have sent me the usual, completely unengaging emails saying things like "you've missed 12 of your friends status messages". I've of course ignored such things remarkably easily.

This week I received the above email from FB. It's the usual unengaging thing, but this time, they've claimed things that are years old are "recent". FB "pokes" are all about 2008, which is about the last time I got one. Apparently they somehow happened since I last logged in. This all tells you something about FB, doesn't it...?

Southeastern Trains Seats are Too Small

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have a 34 inch inside leg. The man in the Levi store once told me that 34" jeans were the most common size they sold. Whilst he's not an especially authoritative, nor scientifically rigorous source, I take it to mean that I'm pretty average when it comes to the length of my legs.

I am of course telling you all this because I don't fit in the seats on many of your trains. For me to be able to sit down on your trains, I have to sit in a table seat, or take one of the disabled seats. Sometimes there's a carriage with a 3/2 seat configuration with lots of facing seats. Whilst more slender than the others, I do fit into these seats, at least in a leg-room sense. However, recently I'm finding that for whatever reason these options are often not available to me anymore.

The Internet tells me that the average amount of time a person can stand the Waterboarding method of torture is about 14 seconds. I'm pleased to say that I'm able to withstand the immense discomfort of your seats for more like 14 minutes. Whilst an admirable effort, it's no where near long enough to travel home from work. However, should our American cousins wish to abandon Waterboarding in favour of a more "humane" method of torture, I shall suggest they put their terrorist suspects onto a round trip of the Kent countryside by train. Whilst this method may take longer, it could be secretly incorporated into normal life such that the general public are unaware of the interrogations going on all around them.

On a less whimsical subject, the cost of rail travel has been well covered in the media over the last few years. I'm sure you can understand that I spend a large amount of money on rail travel, and so I think it's reasonable for me to be able to sit down when there are seats available. This particularly because I believe myself to be fairly ordinary, and physically representative of European men generally. Another unscientific straw poll of people on the trains I don't fit into suggests that men do indeed prefer to sit at tables, and if left with ordinary seats seem to sit diagonally with their legs in the aisle (which blocks the all-important trolley deliveries).

To conclude, I wish to request that you find a way to accommodate ordinary, average leg-length men such as myself on your trains. I realise what I ask is not easy, but if you are to provide seats, I really think that they ought to work for the majority of the people who are intended to use them.

Kind regards,

(sent today via the Internet)

The Book of Mormon

We went to see The Book of Mormon the other day. Apart from some colourful language, some sexual imagery, a good dose of blasphemy, it's not nearly as offensive as I was lead to believe. And actually, the Mormons came off quite well, all said and done (draw your own conclusions about religion in general, mind you). There are some really good songs and gags, good music and production. We had a good time - I'd recommend it.

Britain's Most Expensive Railway

Mystery StainsMystery StainsThe Heathrow Express - is it Britain's most expensive railway?

A bit of Google Maps hacking shows the distance between Paddington Station and Heathrow T1,2,3 to be 12.2 miles (as the crow files). The currently published fare for the HEX is £20, making it £1.64 per mile (or £1.39 if you take a return at £34). That's a lot more than the BBC found it to be a year ago.

All that money, and you still have to sit on manky seats that have 'mystery stains'. Heathrow's current ad campaign says "let's build on strength" - yeah right.

Useless Utilities: Thames Water

Thames Water - good grief they're useless. For reasons too tedious to go into, I have to get our water tested for lead content - "This can be performed by your local water company".

First of all, 'googling' for such a service doesn't really come up with anything definite. Trying to navigate the Thames Water website doesn't turn up much either, so I phoned them. After getting through three or four levels of robo-phone-agent, I spoke to someone who was actually very helpful. He told me he'd put me down for a callback, which could happen any time in the next five days.

I got my callback - it was a voicemail left on my phone. The caller didn't leave his name, or any way to contact him back. However, he told me to visit a particular web page and download the "lead pack". He went on to say that the application would proceed two weeks after they'd received the completed application (two weeks!?).

The pack contains some information and a one-page application form. You have to post it back to them (no email or fax - just snail mail). The application form contains very little information - just your name, address, account number and a couple of "tick boxes" for things about your water supply. I can't imagine why they can't just take this information over the phone (unnecessary job creation, perhaps?).

I tried calling them today (about 5 days after posting the form to them) to ask if they'd received it and that the application was proceeding. They couldn't tell me if they'd received the form, or indeed anything about my application. I was assured though that "they'll call you back before the two weeks". I told them I was worried because I didn't want to wait two weeks to be told that the application hadn't been received, but even this doesn't cut any mustard. All I got back was some "I'm sure everything will be fine" - but still nothing tangible.

Hey Thames Water - the 80s called looking for a self-serving, wasteful monopoly.

Update 28th March: As expected, sending forms in didn't work out as TW "were sure" it would. I sent in two applications, they managed to lose mine and then got confused by the one I sent in for my neighbour. They managed to scan in the cover letter which explained all of this, but still managed to do precisely nothing about anything. I did get a direct number for TW's Lead Team: 0845 366 2963

After explaining why this upset me so much, they have now managed to book an actual test next Wednesday. It then takes 7-10 working days to get a result back from the lab. That means a lead test takes a minimum of 5 weeks from first talking to them to getting a result from them - a least half that time is entirely wasted by them though. Great service, eh?

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