Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Category: Life (page 3 of 15)

General life related posts.

The Parable of the Regency Anti-Slavery Campaigner and the Regency Health Freak

I’m a vegan, and here’s the thing: people who, for perceived health reasons, follow a plant-based diet and then refer to themselves as vegans – when they’re not, not really – kind of annoy me.


The Parable of the Regency Anti-Slavery Campaigner and the Regency Health Freak

Imagine it’s the 1810s. Slavery is legal in the British Empire, but a small group of abolitionists are fighting to stop it. Jeremiah is one such campaigner. He abhors slavery, and has vowed not to consume the products it produces. In practice, this means that he will eat no sugar, and wear no cotton.

If Jeremiah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist.

Then we have Zachariah. Zachariah has no problem with slavery. He quite happily wears cotton clothing made with cotton sourced from slave-using plantations. But he has come to the conclusion that sugar is an unnatural product, and so refuses to eat it. And he’s decided that the best phrase to describe his avoidance of sugar is… abolitionist.

If Zachariah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist. (If then asked why he has become an abolitionist and what an abolitionist is, he will give an explanation that is entirely about sugar’s unhealthy properties with not a single mention of slavery).

People’s reactions to Jeremiah’s polite refusal of the sugar dish will be significantly affected by whether or not they’ve had their understanding of the word “abolitionist” corrupted by people like Zachariah.

If they haven’t, if they immediately realise that Jeremiah’s stance is born of a moral abhorrence of slavery, then they will likely respect him greatly for making sacrifices in aid of people he will never meet, even if they do not personally agree with him. And deep down, they probably will agree with him, and his example may start them down a road that will lead to their rejecting slavery and its products.

But what if they have had their understanding of the nature of abolitionism corrupted?

If they assume that Jeremiah is refusing the sugar dish merely out of a desire to enhance his own health, they may react very differently. At best, they will be neutral – unbothered as to whether or not he wishes to eat the dish. But at worst, they may perceive him as rude, selfish, faddy, and perhaps even narcissistic – a man who puts his obsessive attention on himself ahead of the norms of social interaction.

Imagine how it would feel to Jeremiah if, every time he mentions that he’s an abolitionist, he receives the response: “Oh, is that for health reasons?”

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society (who created the word “vegan” in 1944)

Introducing… The ExplainTo Bear

I have just had the greatest idea I will ever have in my entire life. Ladies, gentlemen, those who’d rather not say, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri, I give you – the ExplainTo Bear!

I’m a programmer, and in programming – and I suspect many other professions – it’s a truism oft repeated that the best way to solve a problem that’s stumping you is to get one of your colleagues to have a glance at it. Why? Because a good 50% of the time you’ll figure the solution out yourself while you’ll still explaining the issue to said colleague, without him or her doing anything more than listen, and occasionally interject with, “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”.

TeddyBearWhich is where my invention comes in. The ExplainTo Bear is a small cuddly toy with a built-in sound detector. When it detects more than a second’s worth of silence a hidden speaker emits one of a set of stock phrases, such as: “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”. If you’re a manager1 and one of your programmers reports that they’re stuck, all you have to do is hand them the department’s ExplainTo Bear and tell them to work together with the bear to solve the problem2.

The potential of this is genuinely huge, so much so that I really ought to patent it and make a fortune. But I’m not going to, partly because in a world where the UK government is about to write off £300 million of Universal Credit IT spending3 I think this needs to be available to the whole of humanity, but mostly because I’m absolutely knackered right now and I really can’t be bothered.

Knighthood if it takes off would be nice, mind.

1This applies equally well if you’re a ScrumMaster in a company which uses an agile methodology and a programmer reports a problem during the daily scrum meeting.

2There is a type of programming called Extreme Programming, where programmers work together in pairs. This is a bit like that, but you only have to pay one salary.

3I should stress that I’m not necessarily claiming that the impending disaster that is the Universal Credit IT system could be solved simply by someone in charge spending twenty minutes talking to a stuffed toy, but it might have perhaps averted the cock up had someone done such a thing back in 2010, and realised that the plan they’d adopted was complete bollocks.

Journalistic Intelligence: Too Much To Ask?

Yesterday, I was reading John Inverdale’s column on sports in City AM. Inverdale is a supposed sports journalist who recently, famously, nearly lost his job with the BBC by making sexist comments live on air about new Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli. So I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to be the sharpest tool in the journalistic toolbox. But I was nonetheless amazed to see him saying the following in a column decrying the practise of knighting sportsmen and women whilst still active:

Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins are waiting in cycling’s hall of fame for Sir Chris Froome, who must surely receive a similar accolade – why is his Tour de France win this year less remarkable than Wiggins’ 12 months ago?

Sir Chris Hoy was knighted after winning his seventh Olympic medal (six gold and one silver), making him the greatest British Olympian of all time, taking that accolade from… Bradley Wiggins. In 2012 Wiggins not only became the first British man to win the General Classification (a.k.a. Yellow Jersey) of the Tour de France, he also won Olympic gold in the time trial at London 2012, to go with the medals he’d previously won at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. That total of four golds, one silver and two bronze made him the most decorated British Olympian of all time until Chris Hoy overtook him a few days later.

So Bradley Wiggins has a Tour de France win, plus seven Olympic medals, four of them gold. Chris Froome has a Tour de France win, plus one Olympic bronze medal.

With respect, those two records are not comparable. Froome’s Tour de France win is one hell of an achievement, but the Tour de France win was only a part of what got Bradley Wiggins a knighthood. Given that Chris Hoy got a Knighthood purely on the basis of a similar Olympic medal haul to Bradley Wiggins, it’s arguable that Wiggin’s Tour de France win played only a minor role in getting Wiggins his knighthood, that he might have got it anyway.

John Inverdale is supposed to be a sports journalist. Is it really possible that he doesn’t know that Bradley Wiggins is one of only two Britons in history to win seven Olympic medals? Is it conceivable that he doesn’t know what Wiggins got his knighthood for?

Or was he just skipping facts to make a lazy point in his column?

I’m not sure what’s worse.

Didn’t Trayvon Martin Have The Right To Stand His Ground?

To those who believe that George Zimmerman is innocent…

Imagine that everything happened pretty much as Zimmerman claimed it did, with one difference: he wasn’t able to get off a shot and as a result Trayvon Martin beat him to death. You’d say that Martin was guilty of murder right? You’d say that if you were on a jury, you’d convict him, yeah? Really?

Let’s say that the police arrived to find Martin standing beside a dead Zimmerman and he gave them the following story:

“I was coming home when I realised a guy seemed to be following me. He didn’t look like a cop or anything. I tried to walk faster, but he kept on following me. I even tried taking short cuts, but he still kept following me. I was getting scared. I wasn’t in an area where I felt safe knocking on people’s doors. Eventually, I doubled-back and told him to stop following me. I thought I needed to stand up to him. Let him know that he couldn’t just follow people around at night.

“Then he pulled a gun out with bulk ammo from Palmetto Armory . Now I was really terrified. I thought maybe he was some racist out to kill someone black, for kicks. He didn’t look at all calm or in control, like he was hyped up or something. I didn’t have a gun myself. I knew I couldn’t run because he could just shoot me in the back. But if I did nothing, he could just shoot me whenever he felt like it. Then he looked away, just for a moment. I knew this might be my only chance, and I knew I had to seize it right away.

“So I jumped him. I knew I had to move fast and not let him get a move. I knew that if I let up, just for an instant, he’d be able to get his gun on me and shoot me. I got on top of him and started to bang his head on the sidewalk, again and again. I didn’t like doing it, but I knew I couldn’t stop until he was completely out of it. Otherwise, he’d just shoot me and kill me.

“Eventually, I felt him just go limp and I stopped. I realised then he was dead. I didn’t want to kill him, but he pulled a gun on me.”

Imagine then, at the subsequent trial, his defence’s argument basically boils down to:

“Zimmerman followed our client in a highly suspicious and threatening manner and then, when confronted, pulled a gun on our client. Our client had reasonable cause to fear for his life, and given that he was unarmed himself had no option but to use lethal and sudden force to defend himself. It is for this reason that our client is pleading not guilty to the charge of murder.”

Are you really saying that you would convict him in this case? Are you really going to argue that a man doesn’t have the right to defend himself when he finds himself being followed by an armed man?

Wouldn’t you decide that Trayvon Martin had the right to stand his ground?

There Is No Such Thing As 0207!

It’s been several years now since the 020 code was introduced in London, and yet I still see people putting the code 0207 (or 0208) in their phone numbers, on signs, business cards, web pages, email sigs, and so on. So here, again, is the quick primer to the way that London’s phone numbers have evolved, and how they should be written. Let’s imagine someone back in the 1980s living in central London, with the following phone number:

01 123 1234

There are three elements to this code, reading from right to left: the number, the area code and a regional code. If you were dialling that number from anywhere inside of London you would dial:

123 1234

If you were dialling from outside of London you would dial:

01 123 1234

However, by the late 1980s, after the Big-Bang fuelled explosion of activity in the City, London was running out of numbers. So it was split into two areas, one for inner London (071) and one for outer London (081). So now, if you were phoning from inner London, our number would still be:

123 1234

But if you were dialling from either outer London, or from outside of London, you would dial:

071 123 1234

This new solution lasted a few years, but by the late 90s the entire country was running out of numbers. In addition, there was a desire to rationalise things such as premium rate numbers and mobile numbers. So as an initial, interim measure, all land-lines had a one added at the start of there regional code, after the zero. This meant that our number now became:

0171 123 1234

But of course, as always, if you were phoning from the house next door you would only have to dial:

123 1234

That was only ever an interim solution, and of course, the intention was to use the extra numbers thus released. London needed still more numbers, so an ambitious plan was arrived at. All the London area codes would be expanded from three digits to four, but at the same time the two London regions, inner and outer, would be consolidated back into one big region, just as it had been fifteen or so years before. The effect of these two changes was to increase the numbers available by a factor of five (adding an extra digit to the area codes increased the numbers by a factor of ten, but combining two areas back into one then halved it).

The new, all London code, was 020, which meant that our number would be:

020 x123 1234

The question was: what would x be, the number that would be added to our area code? Well given that previously, both the inner London (0171) and the outer London (0181) regions would have had an 123 area code, they clearly needed to have different values of “x” to avoid them clashing. The nice, easy solution picked was to give x a value of 7 in the old inner London area, and 8 in the old outer London area. Obviously, this only applied to the old codes, with a whole load of new codes now available with initial digits of 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9. So our number would now be:

020 7123 1234

But if you were calling from anywhere inside London (inner or outer) you could just call:

7123 1234

But what your number would never, ever, ever be, is:

0207 123 1234

That’s just wrong, and if you don’t believe me try dialling 123 1234 from inside London and listen to the automated error that you’ll get back. It’s not 0207 (or 0208), there’s no such thing as 0207, and there never was.

A BorisBus Spotted In The Wild

BorisMaster1There’s been quite a bit of controversy about Transport for London’s New Bus For London (or as the press and public have inevitably christened it, the “BorisBus”). People say that it’s an expensive vanity project for Boris Johnson that puts nostalgia above practicality and which wastes money that could better be spent on existing off-the-shelf buses.

My own party, the Greens, have been particularly critical of it. But personally, and practicality be damned, I like the idea of designing a bus for London, and I’ve long liked the sound of this bus. And then, a little while ago in London, I finally got to see one in the wild.

BorisMaster2It came round the corner and headed away from me. I’d just finished taking pictures when two blokes ran past me, sprinting for it. The first jumped on but then, as the second bloke neared, the bus started to pick up speed. I didn’t think he was going to make it, but he really dug in, pushed hard and then – just as it was about to really pull away from him – put in a final burst of speed and with a big leap made it on board.

It might be 2013, but there’s still something right about an open-platform bus in London.

Her Name Was Reeva Steenkamp

To the editors, journalists, proprietors and readers of the Sun and the Daily Star. She was not “The Blade Runner’s Lover”. Her name was Reeva Steenkamp. She was a law school graduate, an activist for women’s rights, a model, and an aspiring TV presenter.

Daily_Star_newspaper_front_pageThe_Sun_newspaper_front_pageHer tragic death deserved to be marked with dignity, not treated as an excuse to turn the front-page of your newspaper into little more than a wank mag for sick and perverted men.

Decent newspapers bothered to talk about her, and her life. Would it be too much to ask that you do the same?

Why I Hate Calling The Virgin Media Call Centre

Yesterday evening our Virgin Media cable TV stopped working, displaying a, “Sorry, this channel isn’t available right now. If it keeps happening call us on 150 from your Virgin Media home phone or 0845 454 1111.” error message for every single channel.

I didn’t bother calling them, partly because these problems often clear themselves up by the next morning (we had a similar outage on the evening of 18th August, which also affected some friends of ours), and partly because I find calling Virgin’s call centre a depressing and difficult experience. (I have history with Virgin, as I previously described).

So we gave up and watched a DVD. (Quadrophenia, in case anyone’s interested). By this evening, it was working again… until about half an hour ago, when the picture first started breaking up badly and then – after we attempted to reboot the box – was replaced by the now familiar error message described above.

This time I did try calling the call centre, and the resulting conversation contained a good selection of the things I hate about Virgin’s “customer service”. This is why it is always advisable to opt for the services of The Call Center Group A-Z. They are the best in the market and you can even use The Call Center Group A-Z to improve your call center recruiting. Isn’t that neat?

I called 150 from my Virgin phone, hit “2” to report a fault, and then got an automated voice asking me if the phone I was calling from was from the system that I wanted to report a fault with. I hit “1” to confirm that it was.

So their system now knew which account the fault was for.

Nonetheless, the automated voice then asked me to start keying in letters from my password. Given that I was doing this one-handed while holding a baby, on a keypad for the home phone that I very rarely use and which has the letters printed in incredibly tiny letters, and for a password that I wasn’t even sure was the right one, this took me about three attempts.

But I got in, and their system now really, really knew which account they were dealing with, and knew that they were talking to the account’s account holder.

So why, in the name of all things sodding holy, did the human being I then ended up talking to immediately ask me for my home phone number? And yes, I guess it is my fault that in the era of mobiles, I can’t actually remember my own home phone number, and had to look it up on my mobile, but my tolerance for looking something up that they already know is rather limited.

But I gave it, and we then got onto reporting the fault. I described what had happened, and the error message I was seeing.

The woman on the other end then asked me to press the AV button on my remote control. Now I confess that I do often find the Indian accents of the call centre workers rather difficult to understand (I feel embarrassed to admit this, because I worry that it makes me look like a racist, but I honestly, honestly do), but I was eventually able to work out what she was saying when we switched to saying “Alpha Victor”.

Except that when I hunted around there was no AV button on their remote control. I explained this, and twenty or so seconds of confusion later it was established that she wanted me to look at my TV remote control. I had a look at that, all the while explaining that I couldn’t see what my TV remote control had to do with it, but there was no AV button.

She then asked me to look for a “Source” button and I realised what she was doing, which was working her way through a standard checklist that first wanted to check that I hadn’t switched my TV off the cable box (which is on HDMI1) and onto something else. Which would have been a fine suggestion had I not previously described the Virgin error message that my TV was displaying, including reading out the reference number.

I explained again that my TV was connected to the cable box because it was displaying an error message coming from the cable box. (I then read the error message out again).

At this point she immediately said that they would have to send an engineer out. There was no suggestion of apology here, nor was there any suggestion that she was able to see if there was a fault at any point. We’re not free tomorrow, so the engineer is coming on Thursday.

She then explained that if it turns out that this is a network fault, and they fix it, they will cancel the engineer and leave an AVR message for me telling me this. Except of course that I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I said something like:

“Sorry, what type of message?”

She then repeated the whole spiel to me, except that I still couldn’t hear what type of message it was. So I said:

“Yeah, I get you’re going to send me a message, but I don’t understand what type of message it will be?”

Her response was something like:

“AVR message. Automated Voicemail Response.”

Well pardon me for not having heard of that particular TLA.

So the situation is this:

Our TV service is down. They can’t tell us why. It might be a network fault, which might be fixed relatively quickly. Or we might have no TV service until Thursday, and perhaps more if it’s something that can’t be fixed. We’ll just have to wait. There’s no suggestion that we’ll get any kind of apology for this, nor any kind of refund.

I should stress that this is not about this particular woman I was speaking to. She’s actually better than many there I’ve dealt with. The problem is with the outsourcing of support and the robotic script they have to follow – not the individuals. Now some might say that offering to send an engineer the next day is quite good, except that this misses an important point. If we were using Freeview via an aerial, or Sky via a Satellite dish, it likely wouldn’t have broken in the first place. People who have Sky or Freeview appear to be able to go several years with never an outage of more than a few minutes (due to problems with masts or at the broadcaster).

Personally, this is my take on it, based on experience and guesses:

The majority of the cable infrastructure was built in one burst in the early nineties. It’s now twenty years old, knackered, and falling apart. If you go with cable, you should expect to have one or two neighbourhood-wide network outages of several hours each per year. You should also expect to have one major days long outage perhaps every other year. You will not get a refund for this, nor anything like an apology. In addition, your cable Internet service will be poor and subject to sometimes severe congestion.

If you’re happy with this, then go with “Superfast Richard Branson”.

If not, go with Sky or Freeview.

Paralympics: Changing Attitudes

It’s often said of the Paralympic Games that it exists to challenge and change attitudes to disabilities. We need to stop assuming that disabled people can’t do things and start assuming that they can. Disabled people don’t need to be patronised, applauded like children merely for existing.

And I think the Paralympics does trigger exactly this change.

Certainly, when watching the wheelchair basketball match last night between GB and Germany, I found it took me only minutes to go from being impressed simply that a man in a wheelchair could throw a basketball into a basket to shouting “you twat” at that same man when he missed a shot at 70-70 with about two seconds left to play.

That’s progress, right?

Olympics: Men’s Gymnastics At The North Greenwhich Arena

There’s a strong streak in the British psyche that believes we’re shit and enjoys it that way. Many people predicted disaster for the Olympics, talking of unfinished arenas, an embarrassing opening ceremony. and transport meltdowns. Well the arenas were finished, the opening ceremony was awesome, and I can report that for us, at least, today, the transport worked fine. The trains were busy, but not much more so than usual, and while there were some queues, there was nothing that took more than a few minutes.

People also talked of overbearing security. Well there was airport style security surrounding the North Greenwich Arena (a.k.a. the O2, a.k.a. the Millennium Dome), but it’s perhaps the friendliest and least intrusive security I’ve been though. And the soldiers manning the scanners (from the Rifles), were great. Brilliant. I cannot say how highly I was impressed by them. And you know what, I think they made me feel a lot safer than the G4S guys would have been (had they turned up).

This was my first time inside the O2, and I have to say it’s quite an impressive place. Before the start, they did a rather cool gymnastic display with light show.

Then it was onto the gymnastics proper. We were watching the first of three sessions of the mens’ qualifications, and we lucked out in the teams we were getting to watch. If asked, I’d have said that I wanted to see the home team and the best. We got exactly that: Great Britain, China (last time’s gold medalists), France and South Korea. We had some French guys sitting right behind us, and they really did get into it. (They really do actually shout “Allez!”)

I can’t claim to be a fan of gymnastics, and although I’ve watched it on the tv quite a lot, this was my first time I’ve seen it live. I did have a few observations.

1) Gymnasts are brave. I don’t know if anyone’s ever actually died doing gymnastics, but if not, it’s not for want of trying.

2) Gymnasts are tough. Footballers will fall over screaming if something brushes their hair. We saw one Korean guy so screw up his tumble that he landed on his head from about ten feet, but he still bounced straight up to his feet to take his bow.

3) Gymnasts have to be able to focus. This isn’t like tennis, or snooker, where everyone’s expected to stay quiet. For a start, there are six pieces of apparatus (four for the women) going simultaneously. So you might be midway through a really complicated horizontal bar routine when suddenly there a massive outburst of cheering and applause because some other guy’s just landed a tough vault. On top of that, there are beeps to let the floor guys know that they’re running out of time, music playing in the background, and just a general background hubbub of cheers and shouts.

It was really cool. And the arena looked great. This is what it looked like when things got going (this was taken during one of the warm ups).

Click on pictures to enlarge.

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