Archive for the ‘Life in general’ Category
What a great day for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. I think every man woman and child of this nation will wake this morning with new hope. Hope that the mistakes and missed opportunities of recent years will finally be undone. Hope that, from now on, we will all be armed with a new freedom, a new ease of living our lives without constraint by the petty failings of tired and out-of-date thinking.
I am of course talking about my new website, of which version 1 is now released
It’s seems like an obvious idea, and I for one can’t believe no-one else has done it yet (particularly as I’ve been ruminating over it for the past two years): All the UK’s campsites plotted on a google map. So much easier than trawling through directories of campsites available elsewhere on the internet, that have only rudimentary or difficult to use tools for finding a campsite in the location you want one.
There’s plenty more work to do on it, but for the first time, after a few weeks of intense work*, I have something fairly stable which is, while still very basic, still a lot easier to use than other campsite directories.
Oh, and God help us now the Tories are in!
*well, maybe an hour a day
I read recently that mozilla have been making efforts to fix a bug whereby a website can find out which sites you’ve visited previously, which has implications for user privacy. On the same day I began to notice that there was something very sinister about… the google ads!
To test the theory I decided to visit a site all about puppies, and on my return, lo and behold, what did I see:
A bit of investigation led me to confirmation that Google do give publishers an option for their ads to
… display ads based on interest categories that might appeal to your users. For example, if a user browses many sports-related websites displaying AdSense ads or watches sports-related videos on YouTube, Google may associate a sports interest category with their cookie and show the user more sports-related ads.
I didn’t write about this immediately largely because I wasn’t sure how bothered by it I was. It’s very easy to rail against advertising on the internet as being too intrusive, but then again advertising does pay for the, largely free, internet. It’s always a trade-off.
Arguing by analogy would seem to shed light on the issue. Imagine, if you will, a magazine that showed you adverts about dog leads just after you walked your dog, showed you adverts for sky sports subscriptions just after you went to watch the football etc. Or billboards that magically change as you walk by to display ads you’re uniquely susceptible to. A bit of a dystopian image… but then again, technology often throws up moral dilemmas caused by the new possibilities it opens up and arguing that “in the old world it wouldn’t be OK” often makes down-sides seem bigger than they are. It would be sinister to be surrounded by morphing billboards… but that’s not what google ads are.
… but after a couple of weeks of being aware of what google are doing, and seeing the same adverts over and over again, no matter waht the content of the site I’m on, I can’t help but feel a few sinister overtones. In addition I can’t help feeling that Google are giving sites in their advertising network an unfair advantage. If a site about puppies is able to show people ads based on their past behaviour rather than the site’s content then they profit from google sharing (albeit indirectly) information about me that the puppy website, cute though it may be, has no right to use.
Yes, I know the boundaries are blurred. It’s not wholly dissimilar to when a magazine enlists market researchers to find out about its readers, and then uses this information to attract advertisers. And I know Google don’t pass on any data to the puppy website, and that no-one’s forcing anyone to click on ads. And that there’s an argument that more relevant advertising could even be a good thing for the consumer as well as the trader. But it still has a distinct whiff of unfair play about it. Insider trading. “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but something tells me your next visitor might click on an advert for shoes. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Click, click. Kerching”.
Google have taken a lot of flak lately about their lack of respect for users’ privacy when rolling out Google Buzz. They’ve also been in the news over their fisticuffs with china and their publication of data of which governments have asked them for data/removal of data (I can’t decide if the fact they don’t publish the Chinese data due to the government there considering it to be a state secret undermines or reinforces its effectiveness). But it’s amazing what they can get away with that goes unnoticed.
To end on a positive note, visit this site to exempt yourself from Google’s ad-info-sharing cookies.
Now, go and watch The Birds.
*edit – it turns out this “behavioural advertising”, as it is known, is common practice across many ad suppliers and, somewhat cheekily, it’s an opt-out rather than an opt-in. To opt out of them all visit this site.
The legislation in Belgium does not specifically mention veils, the BBC’s Dominic Hughes in Brussels says.
Instead, it says the ban applies to clothing that hides someone’s identity in public places such as parks, buildings and on the street.
If I were a veil-wearing Belgian muslim I think I would spend today buying a head-to-toe bunny, gorilla or bear costume in readiness for the ban as I very much doubt the law will be enforced for these.
I’ve recently started, against my better judgement, watching Deadwood, which everyone says is a must-watch tour-de-force. It’s better than Lost, I’ll give them that, and is in fact pretty enjoyable. Set in the untamed gold prospecting frontierlands of America, it’s a grittier, darker, more unpredictable picture of the wild west. I’ve just watched episode 4, in which a guy who shoots *censored* dead in front of a bar full of witnesses is found not guilty. It’s unexpected plot turns like this, drawing the world as a corrupt, depressing place where certain people are beyond the reach of justice, that make the series so compelling.
I’d like to say that events like today’s acquittal of policeman Delroy ‘What’s that stink?’ Smellie, who famously hit a rather small woman protester several times on camera make life a more compelling experience, but alas they just give it a sinister air. If you watch the video I’m sure you’ll agree that his defence of ‘self-defence’ is fiction enough for a whole series of Deadwood. Though not as cleverly written; apparently only judges can suspend their disbelief long enough to find the main conceit credible.
The district judge, Daphne Wickham, said there was no evidence that his use of the baton was not approved, correct or measured, adding that Smellie had a “mere seven seconds” to act, and other witnesses had feared for his safety.
Personally I think that “7 seconds to act” when faced with being shouted at is a poor excuse for violence. Especially when you’re a policeman. And if you watch the video I have no idea where this “7 seconds to act” comes from. Just because he lost his cool in 7 seconds and lashed out does not mean he had only 7 seconds to act, it just means he needs to find better ways of dealing with confrontation than violence. I’m reminded of Begbie in trainspotting.
Now that an election’s up for grabs I wish one of the two main parties was less in thrall to the police. I really do. Maybe I’ll write to my MP.
Or maybe I’ll just snigger at the fact that Delroy ‘wake up and smell the faeces’ Smellie is so stupid he beats up girls in front of about 20 photographers. And then cower in fear.
I’ve got a bad back at the moment. It’s been far worse in the past, so I’m not really grumbling, but I have however recently started my first office job in a long time, and yet again I’m faced with the perennial problem of having a chair and desk that force me to stoop. It’s not actually too bad at this place (the screen will allow me to raise it up to close to eye level, and the non-swivel chair I have is a lot more comfortable than most of the swivellers I’ve sat in), but it has reminded me of a point I’ve been meaning to make for a while.
Years ago, when attending health and safety training, we were told that you should be careful to make sure your seat is at such a height that your legs touch the floor comfortably. Why exactly this is good for your back I don’t know, but I presume somebody knew what they were talking about. For employees with legs too short to reach the floor (does Tom Cruise work in anyone’s office?) the advice is to put a box or, if you’re gullible, and expensive footrest on the floor.
However, at the opposite end of the spectrum you have those people who, like me, have legs so long that raising the chair up to a suitable position for the legs means the torso gets lifted up way above the table, almost as if a hot air balloon were involved. This means that I have to lean forward a lot to type, even more so if the screen height can’t be adjusted much.
The worrying thing though is that, because I am only a slightly taller than average man, these people consist of a sizeable portion of the population – a bit less than half of all men and some women too - all of whom have no option other than to stoop and wreck any chance they had of making it to retirement without suffering a slipped disk.
And finally to my point; this situation is caused by the fact that desks are made at a height to suit the average person, which is fair enough for the general office. But what frustrates me is that in IT (and probably other male dominated professions too) you don’t get higher desks, even though the average height of men is greater than that of the population in general. All these bluechip IT companies spend hundreds, if not thousands, per employee on getting them the latest, trendiest, most ergonomic chairs, keyboards, mice etc…, but it’s all for nothing if the desk is still too low.
When I run my own multi-million dollar software company (based on the success of a random muffin recipe generating website) I will proudly place at the top of my ‘work for us’ page
OUR TABLES ARE A FULL 3 INCHES TALLER
Beat that, Google!
Or are we?
I read this article today, arguing that the constant headlines of “largest ever deficit” in the UK are alarmist and that it’s pretty abysmal that both main political parties aim to cut public spending in order to cut the national debt, when there are strong arguments to not do so. There’s a recession on, you know!
Which got me thinking about whether the national debt really is all that big. Of course it’s a big round figure (I’d type it out but am scared my ’0′ key will break through overuse) but equally our earnings, and therefore the government’s tax revenues, are much greater than most periods in history too. What really matters is the ratio of debt to how much money is in the country, surely. So I found this graph:
Another graph on the same page demonstrates that current national debt is at around 60% of GDP, which I don’t think is too bad given that the ongoing global economic crisis is considered to be at around the same order of magnitude as the 1930s great depression, and back then national debt hovered between 150 – 200%. I know we live in a very different, more competitive world, but I doubt it’s anywhere near as catastrophic as the papers and the politicians would have us believe.
And another thing, I grew up in a northern town with mines, steelworks and baths that don’t take half an hour to pronounce, so naturally I hated Thatcher. But then the rhetoric of the past 10 years – that she may have been harsh, but by God she prepared us for the harsh, competitive world to come – has, if not softened, at least confused that view a little. But I recently came to the realisation that she was one of the chief instigators of this new harsh world. Claiming she’s alright because she prepared us for it is like saying the guy who pushed you in front of the train is alright really because he gave you a mattress to hide behind.
Well, this has to be the quickest I’ve ever gone from idea to publishable (albeit limited functionality) website.
Deletious is my new site for simultaneously viewing a page bookmarked in Delicious and deciding whether to keep or delete the bookmark. I’ve had quite a lot of fun using it the last few days, rediscovering all sorts of articles, games, tools and other long forgotten sites. As well as wasting a lot of time reacquainting myself with all these I’ve also managed to de-clutter my Delicious account; all the CSS articles from 2-3 years ago giving an introduction to topics I now know inside out are gone from my bookmarks, as are all those gimmicky websites I can’t believe i found funny at one time.
Disappointingly, I’m having problems uploading the logo to the website’s folder, but it’ll be sorted sometime soon I hope.
So please do give it a go and let me know what you think.
EDIT – There’s a bug that pops up every now and then (something to do with caching) which leads Deletious to show zero bookmarks for your account. I’ll fix the bug when I get time, but waiting a few hours seems to clear the cache (at least, it works for my account) and then you can access your bookmarks again.