Recent Entries 
2013-02-13 (Wed) 10:31 - Street furniture

Why do BT keep their street cabinet locations such a state secret, anyway?

I work at home, and we're making increasing use of videoconferencing at work. I also live 3km from my exchange just as the crow flies, let alone cable length which I think is more like 4km. If I get 2.5Mbps ADSL I'm lucky, and it's not desperately stable either. I refuse to use Virgin Media for a variety of reasons I won't bore you with. FTTC would be a very useful thing for me, and I've been awaiting it eagerly.

The Cambridge exchange was upgraded some time ago and it's been listed as "accepting orders", but of course this only means that some minimum number of cabinets support it. Several of my friends nearby have been switched on recently, and I've seen some Openreach vans driving around locally, so I've been trying to find out when it might reach me. This is far more work than it ought to be. The various checkers say nothing interesting for my telephone number; but who knows whether a negative result might mean "next week", "next month", "next year", or "never, you sucker"? All I was easily able to determine was that I'm attached to cabinet 83. Peering at the cabinet I frequently pass on the way north from here indicated that it's number 81.

So, with the aid of OSM (which beats Google Maps for this because it has house numbers, at least around here), the Royal Mail's postcode finder, and BT's address checker, I started trying to map out the border of the region covered by my cabinet. I think I've determined that it's roughly bounded by the unnamed path just to our north and east, Northfield Avenue, Roxburgh Road, Woburn Close, the path down to Arbury Road, Albemarle Way, and then the path back up to ours. Not that this has so far helped me find the physical cabinet so that I can see if there's a new FTTC cabinet next to it yet, which is the point of the exercise, but at least now I know roughly where I ought to be looking. I should perhaps figure out how to record my findings on OSM for others. (Oh, and to rub it in, as far as I can tell all the surrounding cabinets are now FTTC-enabled.)

But honestly. What is the point of this being secret in the first place? Broadband forums generally seem to think that BT deliberately keep cabinet locations a closely guarded secret, rather than it just being inaction; I don't know how much to credit that and how much it might be conspiracy theory, but it does seem borne out by reality. It's well-known what the cabinets look like; they're generally right out in broad daylight; you can look up your cabinet number; it's common enough for the number to be stencilled on the cabinet; and cabinet-level information is relevant to a lot of people waiting for FTTC (I found huge numbers of forum threads about the same kind of thing). If the problem were vandalism or what-have-you, even targeted, they really don't raise the bar very much by keeping the information secret; they must already have all the data for maintenance purposes, probably even fairly well-indexed; and BT and Openreach must get vast numbers of trivial queries that they could avoid just by publishing this data.

It all seems like obscurantism for the sake of it.

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2013-02-10 (Sun) 18:25 - Car paraphernalia

As a result of clearing out my old car in preparation for scrapping it, I now have a substantial amount of car-related paraphernalia which is now surplus to requirements and only serving to take up space in our shed. If you have a use for any of these and would like to take them, then you can have them for free as long as you collect either from here or from the pub, since by definition you must have quicker transport than I now do:

  • about half a dozen bottles - mostly part-used although the odd one may be full - of motor oil, antifreeze, and screenwash (ask if you want a more detailed inventory);
  • a set of jump leads;
  • one of those silvery things you put over your steering-wheel to stop it getting too hot in summer.

I also have a Halfords roof box (I think it's one of these but it may not be quite that model; ask if you care about the details and I can try to find out more exactly). If you want this, make me an offer. You collect; since there's really no sensible way to transport one of these things except by fitting it to your car on the spot, I recommend doing so in daylight, and I can probably help you fit it.

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2013-02-04 (Mon) 10:13 - Equal marriage

I sent this to my MP (Julian Huppert, LD, for Cambridge) this morning. I deliberately took a different line from the usual one because I'm well aware that Julian doesn't need persuading on this but it may be useful for him to have more ammunition of the form "Catholics are not quite such a unified block as it may appear".

Yesterday at Mass it was suggested to us that we might like to support a campaign to preserve the current legal definition of marriage (I forget exactly which campaign). This is of course in line with what our bishops tell us. But this Catholic does not support the party line; and I felt it important to write to you in favour of equal marriage, although I know you've already publicly stated your support for it.

Campaigners against equal marriage, including many Catholics, seem to feel that it is in some way a threat to their existing marriage or their existing way of life. Allowing consenting adults to marry even if they happen to be of the same sex poses no more a threat to my marriage than allowing the marriage of black people, or people past the age of having children, or people who happen to be taller than me. I do not fear it, and indeed I can see no respectable reason why I shouldn't welcome it wholeheartedly. The support of a verse of scripture (amid many other prescriptions rarely followed nowadays) and some dubious claims about what is "natural" are little more than unconvincing fig leaves for a fear of what is different, and the Catholic hierarchy should be ashamed of its un-Christian attempts to cast as many of the first stones as possible.

I rather suspect that the current reactionary point of view of a number of traditional religions, including my own, will come around eventually. Judging from carefully-phrased comments one of our priests has made when he's been required to read a bishops' letter on the subject, not even all of our clergy are as reactionary as it might seem today. In the meantime, it is the right thing to do for the state to move on without them.

(It occurred to me some time after sending this that "casting the first stone" was a poor choice of scripturally-inspired metaphor, because Christ didn't say that the woman caught in adultery hadn't sinned, only that he didn't condemn her. That wasn't what I intended to imply. Nevertheless, getting the Catholic church to bless equal marriage is clearly a bridge too far at the moment; for now it would be enough if they simply got out of the way.)

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2012-11-14 (Wed) 23:08 - Cambridgeshire PCC elections

ghoti was speculating that people might well just choose to vote along party lines for Thursday's PCC elections, and was considering voting tactically as a result. I wondered what those party lines would amount to across the county. Here's what would happen in Cambridgeshire if everyone cast their first preference in exact accordance with their vote in the seven parliamentary constituencies in the 2010 general election (data from Wikipedia; errors my own). I cheated a bit and aggregated the independents together, since none of the same people are standing and their total vote share was rather small.

Liberal DemocratY109,15929.0
Various independentsN5,0341.3
English DemocratsY2,5640.7
Monster Raving LoonyN5480.1
Christian PeoplesN4890.1
Cambridge SocialistsN3620.1
Animal ProtectionN1810.0

Total turnout in 2010 was 67.8%. (And I've just noticed that there's a less prettily-presented version of these totals on the Wikipedia page above. Oh well, I've done the work now, and maybe this will help to inform people's voting intentions anyway.)

I am not even slightly Nate Silver, and even if I were I'm not aware of any meaningful pre-election polling that I might be able to go on, so this is about the best I can do. First-past-the-post with this naïve approximation would have the Conservative candidate winning handily. Under the Supplementary Vote scheme in use for this election, well, it's hard to say. (If a candidate obtains more than 50% first preference votes, they are elected; otherwise, the top two candidates remain in the contest and any second preferences for either of them from ballot papers whose first preference was for an eliminated candidate are added.)

More people normally vote for smaller parties under non-FPTP systems, but surely not enough to swing this? Pre-coalition I would have made a rough guess that this might be a case of a split left-wing vote and Liberal Democrat and Labour votes would mostly pool one way or another while UKIP votes would mostly transfer to Conservative, but who knows what effect the coalition has had on this. Plus there are two strong independents running as well - I plan to vote for at least one of them - and it is difficult to guess what share they'll pick up. On the other hand, Supplementary Vote is a rather poor system which only counts some second preferences, which may reduce the extent to which any differences matter.

We will find out soon. Please vote if you can!

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2012-01-01 (Sun) 15:19 - Book meme

From [personal profile] kaberett: NPR's top 100 SF/Fantasy books. Bold if you've read, italicise ones you fully intend to read, underline if it's a book/series you've read part but not all of.

Read more...Collapse )

Of those I read last year, my favourite was probably "Anathem", although it did take a while to get into it. "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and "A Fire Upon the Deep" are comfortably on my re-read-again-and-again list, and I really must finish the "Hyperion" series because I adore Dan Simmons' style. I would not read any more of "Thomas Covenant" if you paid me.

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2011-11-15 (Tue) 20:00 - Dual citizenship

I've always considered myself to be both British and Irish. I've been entitled to be an Irish citizen all my life by virtue of having been born on the island of Ireland; but since I was born in Northern Ireland, I'm also a British citizen, and so by a subtle quirk of Irish law I wasn't automatically an Irish citizen. To actually become one I had to do something that only an Irish citizen is allowed to do, the most obvious of which is to get an Irish passport, and I've been meaning to get round to that for years ...

So, as of today, I finally hold a pas Éireannach, and I'm legally a dual citizen. (And it's remarkable how much less ratty it is than my British passport which has spent more time than it ought to have done in a trouser pocket!)

When I talked about intending to do this before, people sometimes asked me why I was bothering. After all, both the UK and Ireland are in the EU, and neither is in Schengen, so there's no functional difference between them; I expect I'll travel on my Irish passport from time to time, but I don't expect it will have any practical effect (although an apparently very confused US immigration official once grilled me about why I wasn't travelling on an Irish passport when I was born in Belfast).

Firstly, I want to: I feel an attachment to both countries. Granted, I've only ever lived in the UK, but in some sense that's an accident of century-old politics, and I feel at home in a different way when I'm in Ireland.

Secondly, I think that if you have privileges extended to you by governments then it's generally a good idea to take them when you can.

Thirdly, my children may want to claim Irish citizenship themselves. They should be able to do so (and, under current law, so can their descendants, indefinitely as long as they keep registering foreign births), but that will be a lot easier for them if I've done the paperwork.

Fourthly, it does not seem outside the bounds of possibility that at some point in my lifetime the UK will have a hissy fit of some kind and leave the EU. I'd rather it didn't, but it's possible and it's not like I'd be able to do a whole lot to stop it. If that happens, there are obvious practical reasons why I'd want to remain a citizen of the EU, and Ireland seems much less likely to leave.

Anyway, rational or not, I'm happy to have finally got this done!

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2010-03-14 (Sun) 08:34 - Things Judith can do
  • walk
  • climb upstairs without help
  • climb downstairs with help to balance
  • carry a bag
  • eat with a fork or spoon
  • brush her teeth
  • brush her hair
  • change TV channel using a remote control
  • kick a ball
  • pretend to write and read it back
  • talk a little ("again", "good girl", ghoti reckons she's even heard "Ju" referring to herself, etc.), though you need special training to understand her
  • refuse to perform most of the above on demand
2010-02-07 (Sun) 10:17 - Portland airport
Got through check-in and security, and to within TSA-approved rock-throwing distance of the departure gate, in what must have been all of twenty minutes.

I'm now on the free wifi listening to a live piano performance of what I've just managed to identify as improvised variations on Beethoven's Choral Symphony.

Even the airport doesn't suck. Portland rocks.
2009-10-17 (Sat) 18:51 - Optometrist visit
Apparently my long-distance vision has got substantially worse over the last year, and so I now need glasses, for the first time since I was 10 or so. This will take some getting used to again. I don't need to wear them for relatively close-up work, such as my job, but more for things like driving, so it shouldn't be too inconvenient; although I might wear them more than necessary to start with so that I can get used to them.

I predict Judith will have fun pulling my glasses off at inopportune moments, much as she currently does with the rest of the family.
2009-06-27 (Sat) 09:00 - Motor control
Judith can now change the active tab in my web browser (if the mouse pointer happens to be somewhere over the tab bar anyway). I suppose I needed quick reactions anyway while sitting with her at my desk, especially since she likes to make the occasional grab for my coffee cup ...
2009-06-20 (Sat) 18:57 - Soap operas

Apparently I had nothing better to do while shopping and so was semi-consciously analysing the key change in the theme tune to "The Gilmore Girls". I remarked to ghoti that it was unusual for a soap theme tune to include a key change, and so we were trying to remember various soap theme tunes. Later:

cjwatson: And then there's "Neighbours", which was apparently written by a six-year-old.
ghoti: How did the theme tune to "Home and Away" go?
cjwatson: All I can remember is the bit right at the end: Home and away
ghoti: Together each day, home and away
cjwatson (after some thought): Wasn't it Closer each day, home and away ?
ghoti: Oh yes, of course.
cjwatson: Why are my neurons bothering to remember this?
ghoti: Isla Fisher.
cjwatson: Point.

2009-05-01 (Fri) 22:56 - ObDreamwidth
shamrock Mostly for reading convenience for now until I decide whether I want to do anything more interesting with it.
2009-03-23 (Mon) 19:38 - Apple fiend
We started Judith on solids yesterday: a little earlier than recommended, but she was HUNGRY ALL THE TIME. We gave up on the high chair fairly quickly as she was having trouble staying upright in it, and getting rather upset. Two spoonfuls (by which I mean "little bit on the end of a spoon") of apple sauce later, she fell asleep. Eating is clearly hard work.

After finishing the first feed, I'm not entirely sure how much apple sauce was inside her and how much was on the bib, but there was certainly lots of the latter. She gave an enormous burp and then managed to grab a clean bit of her bib and wipe her face with it. We were very impressed.

Today she ate about three or four teaspoonfuls of apple sauce; the guidelines for how much you should expect your baby to want when starting them on solids say about one teaspoonful. Hardly any of it went on her bib, compared with yesterday.

I don't think we're going to have problems getting this one to eat for a while!
2009-01-19 (Mon) 23:02 - Bedtime stories
If you'd told me in German classes at school that, twelve years later, I'd be reading German bedtime stories to my daughter (managing to read far enough ahead to put some expression into it), I don't think I'd have believed you!

("Als der kleine Nachtbär kam" is very sweet.)
"It came upon the midnight clear" to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne".
2008-07-12 (Sat) 11:48 - Inbox Zero
My inbox has been a disaster area for years. Even with 500+ lines of procmail filtering, and archiving quite a lot of stuff, it was approaching 12000 messages and there was no realistic prospect of me ever getting round to replying to most of that. On top of this, both work and personal mail came into the same inbox, so if unarchived work mail for the day caused some personal mail to scroll off the top, I probably wouldn't get around to the personal mail. The whole thing came up in my performance review at work, and after a friend poked me about not having replied to "hey, let's catch up"-type mails for ages, I finally pulled my finger out and decided to try Inbox Zero.

Six days later, I have: three empty inboxes (work, Debian, and personal); one mailbox containing what used to be in my inbox, from which I've archived about 2500 mails elsewhere; one to-do (or "to reply to") mailbox with five items in it; and some happy people with prompt replies from me. Moving my old inbox aside would achieve nothing if I weren't dealing with new things coming in or making progress with its former contents, so this seems like a pretty good result so far.

Thing I haven't got right so far: I'm now checking my e-mail too often because the inbox is so shiny and clean that I can't quite get over it. :-) I'm spending next week in London, so that should forcibly help me out of that habit.

Thing I don't like about Inbox Zero (but fortunately is a non-essential component): the recommendation to use very few archive folders. Aside from not especially liking the idea of relinquishing all my mail to Gmail, I find that I'm much more likely to be able reliably to identify the topic identifying its folder (and then maybe to pare that down by sender or something) than I am to be able to identify a halfway-useful set of search terms. If I went back and labelled everything to match my topic-based folders then I might be able to use a single archive folder, but I don't really see the value in bothering with that. I don't often find myself spending much time searching archive folders, and when I do it's usually when I'm running statistics on things like bug folders. I'll ignore this bit unless and until it becomes a problem.

Edit: Which all means "if you've sent me personal mail expecting a reply and I haven't replied to it yet, I probably won't, so please resend it".
2008-07-12 (Sat) 10:58 - Funeral
Thanks for all your kind words following Mum's death.

A tremendous number of people came for the funeral (and some to view the body the day before as well); lots of family but also a contingent from our church back in Belfast, Dad's male voice choir, and others. Mum would have been pretty chuffed, I think. We spent quite a bit of time organising everything, so once the day came it ran very smoothly - just as well because of course we were in no state to do anything complicated. Joan read the first reading (Wisdom 3:1-6,9) and did very well (I decided not to try to read or sing). Canon John and Eileen from St. Colmcille's in Belfast both gave moving tributes.

Due to space constraints we couldn't carry the coffin out of the church, but Mum had wanted to be carried where possible ("And devout men carried Stephen to his burial", Acts 8:1), so we held a brief procession down the street in front of the church, and then again from the hearse to the grave; Dad, Ashley, and I helped with the second lift.

We laid long-stemmed roses in the grave.

Afterwards, we had tea in the church hall and then went back to Dad's. These days I mostly see my cousins at weddings and funerals, so it was good to catch up with some of them even on such an occasion, and I have a few more contact details than I previously had. Danny (my oldest friend, from Belfast) very kindly came over on short notice too, and I gave him a lift back to the airport in order to catch up a bit more. It's been too long.

It's seemed very quiet since then, and the hardest thing is remembering to use the past tense from time to time, or saying "Dad's house". I'm one of the executors of Mum's will, so on Thursday I had to go to a solicitor's and take an oath, which was a new experience. The will was very simple, though, so there is very little else I need to do there.
2008-06-06 (Fri) 09:27 - Mum
Mum passed away on Wednesday 4 June, after a 15-month battle with leukaemia. She was 67. The funeral will be on Tuesday 10 June.

ghoti, Benedict, and I had gone out for dinner with her and Dad on Monday evening, when she was by all appearances doing quite well; but she took a fever in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and we believe suffered a brain haemorrhage not long afterwards. We were all summoned urgently to the hospital on Tuesday morning, and my sister, her husband, ghoti, and I all spent the day with her. She remained unconscious all that day, and my brother-in-law had to go home to look after their children. On Wednesday morning she was agitated before we arrived and was asking for us. After we got there, she spoke to us a little, and was clearly at least aware that we were there. While she had some discomfort, she said she wasn't in any pain, and after the nurses gave her a sedative to calm the agitation her breathing became quite regular. We stayed with her by her bedside that morning, talking to her, singing a little, and praying. Around 11:45, she simply stopped breathing.

Mum was a constant figure throughout my childhood. While I'm told she was often out on her work for the church (she did a lot of work setting up Parish Pastoral Councils, and indeed lectured widely on the topic in later years; she represented our diocese on the Irish Commission for the Laity), I have hardly any childhood memories that didn't feature her. She was a loving and caring mother who was a fount of quiet wisdom and common sense, and her outstanding abilities as a teacher shaped my young mind too. My happiest memories are of running around the house as a small child with Mummy in the kitchen, a safe presence full of love and warmth. I remember her taking me back and forward to school and to music lessons, always interested in the events of my day. Even once I went to university and was, to tell the truth, often too distracted by studies or my social life to remember to call home, she always made a point of keeping in touch. After university she and Dad supported me far beyond any call of duty, helped me to build a life for myself, and nurtured and shared my happiness in marrying ghoti. I was privileged to be able to spend time with her as an adult as well as in childhood. She accepted Benedict as her own grandson without the slightest question, and was just as loving a grandmother as a mother. We were joyful beyond measure to be able to share the news of ghoti's pregnancy with her, and for her to be able to see the ultrasound scans shortly before her death, although we are deeply saddened that she will not be present for the little one's birth.

Mum, there will always be a hole in my life now that you're gone. You made me into the man I am today, and I owe you everything. I love you, and I will miss you terribly. You led an unselfish and saintly life, and I have no doubt whatsoever that you have found your reward in Heaven. Some day I hope to see you once again.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.
2008-05-29 (Thu) 19:52 - Strange shapes
Dear Lazyweb:

ghoti and I were trying to explain a strange shape to xanna and Jacob in the hope that they knew the proper geometric name for it. This is the shape of the containers that the ice lollies we like come in (old but still accurate picture, search for "Jubbly"). It's the original tetrahedron shape used by Tetra Pak, now called the Tetra Classic (indeed the pack is so labelled). It's not a regular tetrahedron, though: it's constructed from four isosceles triangles. It's most easily constructed using this net (apologies for the dodgy quality of my Inkscape use):

Fold it such that edges A meet; in doing so edges B will also meet, along with edges C.

MathWorld reckons that it's a special case of an isosceles tetrahedron, but that only requires opposite pairs of the tetrahedral edges with the same length as A to have the same length, whereas in fact four edges have the same length in this shape.

Does anyone know if there's a proper name for this polyhedron? Doubly-isosceles tetrahedron or something?
2007-10-26 (Fri) 10:31 - Grammar nitpick of the day
Dear Sky News,

"Breaking news: NATO say two of its soldiers killed in eastern Afghanistan"

While I realise that there is some contention about whether organisations are grammatically singular or plural, I don't think you get to dodge the problem by treating them as both in the space of four words ...

(Apologies to any who find nitpicking such a statement to be tasteless. My mind just works that way, particularly in airports after no sleep.)
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