The Information Superhighwayman

I am small and I don’t eat much…

(This is mostly complete, it just needs a tidy edit)

In the last few months, I have read an awful lot of articles and watched far too many YouTube videos about gun ownership. I didn’t set out to do this at all; it’s just that I sometimes read articles about guns and they link to other things – And somehow 2 or 3 links down they always seem to turn into a rabid political mess.

One of the things I notice is there appears to be an enormous chasm between the two sides. More often than not the two sides don’t even seem to be talking about the same things. There is no consistency of terms, no attempt to understand what each other is saying and the whole thing is so emotive that it is all essentially gibberish.

I was curious whether I could say anything new or present a middle-of-the-chasm view of all of this. I don’t have an agenda and I certainly don’t expect to change anybody on either side’s minds but I may be able to at least say something to the people who don’t have an opinion already. There is no conclusion to this, no tied up loose ends and no solutions. I have no political agenda and I am not a miracle worker. It also ended up too long – Sorry!

First off – I am a gun owner. I have a lot of guns of all shapes and sizes and I know some of the mentality of other gun owners. That being said, I am also a Brit and although I am an unusual one in that I grew up with guns and don’t find them particularly alien things; at the same time, I don’t have any of this North American mindset about them. I had air guns from a young age, I have shot various weird things over my youth and from university age onwards I shot handguns at a range and owned a number of legal compressed-air handguns that didn’t require a range. I am well trained in the use of handguns and passable with rifles and shotguns.

After the two big modern gun-bans in the UK following the Hungerford and Dunblaine massacres (1988 and 1997 respectively) there was a change in the law and then a huge police recall of guns that were now illegal to own. People who owned guns that had been banned were forced to take them to police stations and there were triumphant press photographs and videos of the guns being crushed or melted down by their thousands … And here we hit the first problem of understanding between gun and none gun people – Guns are expensive. I would estimate that the average price of my handguns is about $1,000 each and when you see a million guns being crushed, that means a billion dollars of people’s hard earned money has just been removed from them with no compensation or right to refuse. The vast majority of these people were completely law abiding people; members of clubs who shot at pieces of paper and whether you approve of the sport or not it’s hard to approve of the way this was handled – And this is obviously one thing that North American gun owners are scared of happening.

In January 2004 there was actually a third gun ban in the UK covering “Air guns chambered for self-contained gas cartridges” – This was the first time I had been directly hit by one of the laws. Since the 1988 and 1997 acts, European law had decreed that the UK government couldn’t actually take my guns off me and crush them because this was illegal – The government wasn’t going to buy them off me so they made a law that said I could licence them under a section-5 firearms certificate with the added restriction that I could not use the guns, sell the guns (not even to somebody else with a section 5 FAC), lend the guns, let anybody see the guns or in fact, do anything at all with them except keep them locked in a safe that had to be inspected every year or so by the police. I could simply keep them until the administrative hassle and cost of keeping them became so annoying that I simply sent them to be crushed. Because I am belligerent and we are talking a few thousand dollars worth of guns here, I kept them and eventually I just took them to another country where they are now perfectly legal.

I don’t know what the answer to this problem is – I don’t pretend to know but I do know there is a huge hypocrisy here and it is useful to paint gun owners as demons so that people won’t want to defend some pretty basic human rights that stops a government just stealing people’s formerly legal possessions. The hypocrisy comes in the fact that the UK is the sixth biggest arms exporter in the world – So logic could just say that maybe they should have sold the guns they confiscated and used the money to compensate people. It’s hard to defend crushing billions of dollars worth of guns by a government that makes a fortune selling the exact same items around the world. And this matter would be even more hypocritical in the USA.

So let’s travel across the Atlantic to the northernmost country of North America, Canada. Canadian gun laws are somewhat odd and have changed recently so I will summarise them. There are essentially three types of guns (we are just talking about guns you can carry here, I am ignoring canons, howitzers and the like until we start talking about the USA): Long-guns (rifles, shotguns etc), Restricted weapons (most modern general-purpose handguns) and Prohibited weapons which is everything else – Prohibited weapon licences generally exist just for people who owned these guns before the laws changed (Canada didn’t generally just crush things) but people are allowed to use them, sell them to other people with prohibited licences and sometimes even will them to direct descendants. A lot of these guns are war souvenirs and historical collectors’ weapons so it makes sense.

Until last year, all of these guns had to be registered but Harper’s Conservative government, realising there was a huge division between country people and city people in Canada, decided that abolishing the registry for long-guns was a big vote grabber and so they got rid of it. As I am writing this, Quebec just lost their final appeal to keep their data of long-gun ownership so as of now, all the former data has been destroyed. This does NOT affect registration and restrictions on other types of guns, just most hunting rifles and shotguns.

Now there really does seem to be quite a gap of understanding and experience between Canadians who live in cities and Canadians who live in the country about long-guns. I fall very much into the country camp myself I think – A long gun is about as much of a dangerous weapon as an axe or a chainsaw and they are just there as tools to be mostly ignored until they are useful. Country folks can’t see why you would want or need to register a shotgun any more than you’d need to register anything else. The most illegal thing they are likely to use it for is taking a pot-shot at the 4-wheeler drivers using their fields as race-tracks (which isn’t going to kill anyone). City folks only ever see guns on TV and the TV has a very odd relationship with reality at the best of times.

Handguns are a different matter. There is still a registry for handguns, you need paperwork whenever you transport one and you can only transport them very locked up, with ammo completely separate and you can only transport them on a direct route to and from the destination (which is nearly always either a government approved range, or a gun-shop). Nobody complains about this, there is no real history of a handgun being a tool in Canada and there seems to be no will or perceived need to use handguns for self-defence. The only people who have handguns other than the police are people who target shoot and those people have very little to do with the general population of long-gun owners really.

There is a problem that I come across sometimes, in that the Canadian laws make no sense at all on some issues. Legend tells than when they decided to classify some guns as Restricted and some guns as Prohibited, somebody from the government went through that year’s “Gun Digest” and picked out all the dangerous looking photos and prohibited them. The laws also haven’t kept in any way up to date to the point where you can look at two functionally identical guns by two different manufacturers and one will be a long gun, and one will be prohibited. My AR-15 in .22 is prohibited whereas identical ones in both .22 and .223 fall comfortably into the long-gun category. I have NO idea why and that can often be a problem. There is also a magazine capacity issue (the number of bullets a gun can hold) which often makes no logical sense at all either. Also any handgun shooter of any skill simply won’t understand magazine capacity laws in general at all anyway.

Again in Canada, gun ownership seems to have been politicised to the point where gun owners are now considered to be Conservatives and non gun owners generally Liberals. For what it’s worth, in North American terms I would probably be considered a Socialist/Communist so this doesn’t always work; and frankly it is painful to speak to a lot of people I meet in the gun community here. The problem is that the Conservatives are seen as the party who understand guns and the views of gun owners, and the Liberals are the people who want to take them off us. As a side note, I wonder why Canada doesn’t have a Socialist party and how a Liberal can be “middle of the road” if there is no party on the left, but that’s another topic altogether.

Speaking as a handgun shooter I find another thing rather odd – I have noticed that when I put up photos of myself using a bow and arrow, people tend to like it and ask actual questions; and yet if I put up a photograph of myself with a gun I get generally negative and pre-assumptive comments. I can’t find any actual figures to back this up but my educated-guess is that historically, handguns have killed very few people; bows and arrows have killed a lot more, swords, axes, stones, lumps of wood will have killed more again. Even looking at long guns, “assault rifles” and automatic weapons we are probably not adding huge numbers to the amounts killed – Artillery and bombs kill a hell of a lot more people in wars than guns.

And now let’s finally wander into the United States of America – A country in which I have never lived so I can only go on what I have seen. But I have seen a lot and heard a lot on both sides, so I am going to at least pretend I can attempt an overview. I can’t claim to be unbiased about the USA because there is a lot of stuff I don’t understand at all – But I will try to discuss some possible misunderstandings.

First off I am going to set some premises:

I am going to take the stance that the USA has a very odd gun culture which is driven by politics, fear, a complete unwillingness to compromise, history and probably most importantly, capitalism and advertising. It’s like the tobacco industry gone completely wild. Arms companies in the USA make a phenomenal amount of guns of all shapes and sizes and they sell them both abroad and domestically. It is a huge business.

Americans, unlike Canadians and Europeans have a culture of being able carry guns. I would conjecture that this is mostly due to over a century of gun-advertising as opposed to any actual need to do so but I may be straying from my neutrality by doing so.

The Second Amendment (which allows the general populace to bear arms and if necessary to form militias to overthrow a tyrannical government) is terribly written and hasn’t been changed for centuries; and this is in a country where some people would be more than happy to follow Leviticus to the letter if legislation didn’t stop them from doing so. Apparently laws that people like are set in stone, and laws that people don’t like are nonsense to be fought over tooth-and-claw. Of course, it is illegal to form militias to overthrow the government in the USA now and it is illegal for states to secede, but that doesn’t seem to stop people trying to uphold the first part as absolute gospel.

Human life seems (to us folks looking in) to be pretty cheap in the USA – The country as a whole seems somewhat obsessed with bombing foreigners into the dark-ages, States execute criminals that include kids and the mentally ill and people who own guns for self-defence seem to think that it is perfectly fine to kill somebody who is committing a crime. And boy, does Hollywood loves guns! On the flip side, the reasons given for invading counties like Iraq tend to include comments about protecting the freedoms not to be executed without trial and such; and I am all too aware of the obsession with labelling people as “illegals” to both dehumanise them and justify actions against them.  The police carry (and often use) guns, Criminals carry and often use guns. It seems an odd mess over there and gun sales keep on going up. It could be suggested that all of this is in the interest of the companies that sell guns, and all of this is essentially advertising that is creating a self-feeding situation in which the only winners are the people who sell guns to the domestic market – Be they blue-chip gun companies, Mexican drug lords or street gangs.

And now for some balance – Even with all this said – A lot of people own guns because they want to own guns; not because they want to create a militia to round up all the Mexicans in their town and gun them down over open graves – In fact, I have never personally met an American who would want to do that (though sadly, I have read a lot of crap from ones who do).

Guns are fun – This seems to be something that the anti-gun lobby just can’t get into their brains. Guns ARE fun, they are beautiful pieces of engineering and to many, beautiful historic art – and they are wonderful to shoot. You point them at cans on a fence and there is a rush of satisfaction in blowing them up from a distance. I don’t care what images the anti-gun people will try and associate with this but when I am blowing up milk cartons of water with a .44 Magnum I am never thinking “Wow that could be a shoplifter’s head!” – I am just not and I very much doubt are most American gun owners. When you let off or watch a firework display and the carefully timed explosions create an explosive Son et lumière in the night sky are you thinking that you could be pointing these at a village in Afghanistan, or that the same technology and timing is what makes sabot and cluster bombs so effective? I doubt it.

A lot of handgun owners (and long-gun ones too) like to plink at things – This is non-specific target shooting, cans, golf-balls, water filled milk-cartons… It’s just fun shooting. It’s better to have a gun that holds a lot of bullets for this because it’s a pain in the arse to keep reloading. This is why I like bigger magazine capacities and it’s why most recreational shooters do too. Bullets are quite heavy and bulky and if you are carrying a gun hidden in your belt all day it’s probably best not to have 30 bullets in there. A Glock with a 30 round magazine may look cool in the movies but it’s not exactly very practical. Those things are generally for people who don’t have a clue how to shoot a gun and very doubtfully own it legally anyway. It’s very much a case of advertising over practicality.

On this same issue, I was watching a Youtube video that professed that a young girl had “OWNED” an anti-gun protestor by explaining why she needed a high-capacity magazine on her AR15 rifle that she kept for home defence. She cockily explained that because of the danger of all the people breaking into her house, to both rob and rape her, she needed at least 30 rounds in case she missed with the standard 5 or 10. As a gun owner and shooter, I was probably more appalled by this than the non-shooters who may think that she indeed has a point. If she is missing with 29 rounds, then where are these missing bullets with a range of a mile, in her built up area of wooden houses going? Why is this girl (who quite obviously can’t shoot) even allowed to have a gun and why isn’t she learning to shoot it?

When gun-owners talk to one another in forums devoted to self defence they NEVER talk about stuff like this – They want stopping power with just a very few accurately placed rounds from a concealed weapon that won’t hurt bystanders at all – They may be nutters, but they are generally pretty responsible nutters. It is a big mistake to lump these two groups together.

Stockpiling of ammunition can make people look somewhat deranged to the outside world and this is something I have been thinking about quite a lot lately too. A lot of the traditional view of stockpilers are the militias and the preppers who seem to think that they need 100,000 rounds of ammo for the end of the world or the day the government invades their stockade. I don’t think that is why most people stockpile.

There’s a few things about ammo I should explain to non-gun people. Firstly it’s not cheap. It’s made of brass, and powder and lead and manufactured to very exacting engineering specifications and what’s more; modern guns are demanding more and more exacting ammo. A round of 9mm was about 30 cents a couple of years ago, a round of .45 maybe 50 cents, and when you are looking at things like .44 Magnum rounds then you are talking a dollar or two per shot. Over this last year, ammo prices have gone somewhat mad and ammo is a surprisingly good investment – If you’d bought 100,000 rounds of ammo a couple of years ago, you could probably make 50-100% return on your investment if you had shopped and sold well – And that’s maybe a $50,000 profit in a couple of years. There IS a financial sense in stockpiling for investment.

At the moment in the US there seems to also be an issue with availability – Whether this is a deliberate shortage or an effect of the stockpiling I don’t know but it’s creating a situation where if people can get ammo then it’s well worth them buying more than they usually would simply because they may not find it available or cheap again for a while. Of course this all compounds and it’s creating more and more shortage and stockpiling. What will probably happen next year is that people will sell off their surpluses and things will calm down again. But yes.. Ammo isn’t cheap and it’s worth buying it when you find it cheaper than usual – Often at gun shows you can get a good deal on 1,000 to 10,000 rounds which seems a lot, but when you bear in mind that to keep quick and accurate with a handgun you should be shooting well over 1,000 rounds a year at paper targets – It’s not that strange at all.

Oddly I found myself accidentally stockpiling a while back – As the US prices started to go up I decided it was a good time to buy much more ammo at the lower prices than I usually would, and even cheap .22 plinking ammo I would find myself over-buying because the big stores were saying that they may have problems getting much more in the summer season. I would have hated to be out of plinking ammo so I bought much more than I usually would. I guess it can happen to anyone and it doesn’t mean that that somebody is stockpiling it for the end of the world or the next Russian Zombie invasion.

One little aside is that because of the price of ammo I have noticed that people at the places I shoot are shooting a lot less – I sometimes go to the range and don’t even bother getting any guns out at all if there is somebody there to chat to and drink tea with and I think this happens a lot in the shooting world (especially in Canada) – Even when I was at University I used to go the range for peace and quiet and to get away from the world – It’s a calm disciplined environment and a lot of shooting is rather like Yoga with a hefty recoil. But, as ever.. I digress.

The subject of “assault weapons” is one that only seems to come up in the USA – And it is one that I can see would annoy gun owners. I don’t know what an assault weapon is, and the only people who seem to know, in their own heads what an assault weapon is, are the anti-gun lobbyists. This really seems to be a big case where neither side understands the other side and neither side wants to do so. My assumption was that an assault weapon was a fully automatic rifle (a sub machine gun in other words) but this isn’t the case – Those are banned by law in most places in the USA anyway. As far as I can see, an assault rifle is just something that looks like it’s a military weapon. I may be missing something here but I have read a lot to find out.. And that seems to be it. Now Canada has a LOT of surplus military weapons – The most popular long-gun here may be the SKS which is a Russian post WW2 military rifle with a built in fold-away bayonet. It looks similar to the AK47 but without the big banana magazine and it’s not fully automatic. Nobody in their right mind in Canada would consider an SKS to be an “assault weapon” but by US anti-gun standards, it probably fits the bill perfectly.

Whilst the argument’s language and imagery is all about these mystical “assault weapons”, the meat of the argument is simply about magazine capacity and nothing at all to do with the gun that takes the magazines. A Canadian SKS can only hold 5 shots but it would be trivial for anybody with any gun skills and a few everyday tools (as in most gun owners) to modify it to take more. The anti-gun lobby doesn’t seem to understand guns and gun-owners enough to have a clue what they are really arguing about and the gun owners simply think that the other side are stupid.

As mentioned before the big problem with any of this is that criminals tend not to be law-abiding citizens. If you take a gun magazine that holds 30 rounds and you put a rivet into it to limit it to 10 – Then a law abiding shooter will probably not remove the rivet. Even if the legal shooter DOES remove the rivet (which anyone in Canada will tell you does happen, despite protestations that it is completely impossible), they are certainly not doing it for any dodgy reasons – They just want more shots at their tin-cans before they have to reload. The spirit of the law has gone wrong here because everybody knows that if somebody is going to go and commit a crime with a gun then they are not going to think twice about using illegally sized magazines or unregistered weapons. Of course thinking like this then encourages an imbalance between the newly restricted pro-gun-carry brigade and the unrestricted criminals and people who wouldn’t have dreamed of putting more than 10 shots in a gun before suddenly start wanting 30 “just because someone is trying to stop me”. Personally, I don’t think it’s even a real issue at all – A street kid who needs a 30 round magazine isn’t going to hit me with a well aimed shot; in fact testimony shows that they miss with all of them from very close ranges simply because they have never practiced and will be probably be shocked from being deafened with the first round too. Handguns are a lot harder to shoot than most people think. I, on the other hand, can hit them with a single shot.

There are many more issues that I haven’t covered – The ownership and popularity of companies in places like Nevada where you can go and shoot machine guns or bigger for fun – and as I said before, it is fun, and you can see that by the popularity of these places; despite the price. Should those be legal?

Then there is the “antique gun” issue where in places like the UK, a 100 year old gun is considered an antique and not a weapon – This means that the handgun I shoot every day has been technically legal in the UK for 2 years now (the Government Colt .45 Auto was first made in 1911) and even if I am not nitpicking (I think they specifically legislated these types of weapons as illegal regardless of age now in response to this), then one of the other guns I shoot a lot which I find to be a devastatingly accurate and very powerful weapon is perfectly legal in the UK as an antique and is legal to shoot modern-reproductions on ranges too. Whilst the UK government may think that a black powder Colt revolver can’t kill people; I would imagine a whole Hollywood Western industry and one hell of a lot of dead Indians and soldiers would beg to differ on that matter. Whilst a 6 shot Colt may not be the weapon of choice to hold up a bank, it still works pretty well (much better than a converted gas-revolver in fact, which was what I had that they banned). This all being said of course – If you don’t want to go that legal, expensive and quirky route to commit your criminal acts; then you could always just go and buy an illegal gun from half the pubs in Manchester for a few hundred quid and use that instead. It has the advantage that it’s cheaper that way too.

I decided this needed a photo, partly because I haven’t put a picture up in ages and partly because this was so long that you probably need a break!

 

Will there be shooters?

 

(*) I am using the phrase “guns” because generally lay-people on both sides will understand this term. In a lot of circles a gun is more about artillery than something you carry (that is a firearm) – But I don’t want to confuse things using alien terminologies because that’s part of the problem. The same with bullets…


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Windows 8 and all that.

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The first time I was upset about an operating-system upgrade was in 1984. PRIMOS had a minor version upgrade to 19.2 and whilst I had retrospectively complained about the change from 18 to 19, that didn’t actually affect me. This change from 19.0 to 19.2 was a disaster because things I had written and hacks I had come up with no longer worked properly. I was cross and in my head I was right and they were wrong. I was also a 16 year old boy at a technical college in Accrington and I doubt very much that PRIME cared about what I thought.

A few years later, this time at University, I was upset about the major VMS 5 release. I hated it. Everything changed, old things didn’t work – What were they doing! Didn’t they listen to their users at all? Didn’t they care what I thought? Apparently no. Digital cared little for the thoughts of a 20 year lad at a redbrick university in Leeds.

By 2002 I was somewhat more (self?)important. I was one of the most influential people in the VMS World of the European user-group DECUS  and also closely involved with the RSX/PDP-11 group. Digital would finally listen to what I said!  In my dreams… Course they wouldn’t. Not only did nothing we ever say to them influence anything they did they also sent my company that sold legacy PDP11-73s bust by releasing the 11-83 with zero warning to the people who should have known first.

And now Microsoft. I started with Windows 1 and every upgrade seemed much better until the day that Windows 3.11 changed to Windows 95 which in my mind was the biggest disaster Microsoft ever made – I was wrong of course because eventually out of that came NT4 and then Vista, the pinnacle of Windows Operating Systems (listen, I am right on this one, and you are wrong, ok?). The latest OS Windows 8 has been released to an apparent barrage of hatred and revulsion from the unwashed masses. But why?

One thing I have learned in the last 30 years is that stopping progress is pretty pointless, however much my ego may say I am right I have to admit that in the long term I rarely am. PRIMOS turned into a pretty good operating system without my help. VMS, surprisingly, went from strength to strength and retired happy and well respected and I have tried using Windows 3.11 and Netscape 1.2 recently but frankly, I have to admit that they are a bit shit compared to what they turned into. Nostalgia is fun and all that, but progress can be pretty cool too.

With all that in mind I was wondering about the backlash about Windows 8. There is no point reading articles by journalists because they know bugger-all – The Doctor Dobbs types of the 70s and 80s have long gone and the modern IT journalist graduated writing-school and makes a living writing about things they know very little about and have no experience of at all. I have been paid to work with Windows since 1986, I have deployed and built literally millions of Windows based systems and I’d like to think I know a little bit more about it than they do.

Is Windows 8 evil? It’s not very intuitive to us old mouse and keyboard users – The start menu button is missing but then again, when they moved from 3.11 to 95 they removed the start-group. This put me off for a while and I refused to change from 7 to 8 until I was forced to by hardware issues – Now I am actually starting to quite like it. If you actually use Windows 8 as an oldy-timey Keyboard user for a while, you will discover that typing things like “programs a…” into the vile new menu pops up “Programs and Features” much faster than the old start-menu ever did. People who are installing start-menu tools like Start8 are actually crippling their Windows 8 and then complaining about it being crap. They are not even giving it a chance.  There are a whole raft of keyboard shortcuts to make things really quick for keyboard users and if you can be bothered to spend 20 minutes learning them they make life pretty good. The changes in 8.1 allow us luddites (and people without touch screens) to switch back to a desktop interface semi-permanently which is a nice thing.

The journalists are telling us that nobody wants this new interface and why should MS force people to change their work habits to suit a new OS – Well maybe they don’t want it this year, but when people want it next year or the year after then where would MS be unless they got us used to it in the first place? They are meant to be an innovation company not a legacy company. Sales are bad, that’s obvious from the figures but are sales really just bad because the manufacturers are listening to the endless drivel on the Internet from people who just complain about everything anyway and journalists who realise that there is no story in saying “Actually… Windows 8 aint that bad”.

Well – Actually… Windows 8 aint that bad.


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As many of you may know, I have a somewhat large and extensive computer museum, a lot of which can be seen on http://ancientcomputers.com. I didn’t start collecting these because it was trendy; in fact it was the complete opposite of trendy when I started. Back in the late 80s and early 90s I seemed to be on a one-man mission to try and convince people NOT to throw this stuff away. I would try and convince universities and companies that we needed to keep machines, peripherals, data and manuals for their historical importance and that pretty soon; we’d end up regretting chucking it all away.

I would have the heartbreak of going to places to rescue an old piece of equipment they were scrapping and being shown a warehouse full of stuff that was about to be dumped. I didn’t have the transport or the storage space for it so I had to be very selective in what I could take.

The majority of my first collection was actually mostly stolen when a truck of mine was broken into. I assume all the contents were just trashed because financially, none of it was worth anything at all; people were still effectively paying to have this stuff crushed or at best, having it taken away free for the price of the gold on the circuit boards. I lost a lot of stuff that is completely irreplaceable, and just about all of the early MUD and BB history I had on various disks, tapes and paper tape.

These days of course, things have changed – Retro is in fashion and it seems to be pretty trendy to collect ancient computers – This has the advantage that I don’t need to any more, since I didn’t collect most of this junk because I liked it, I collected it because somebody had to and nobody else seemed to be stepping up to offer. Quite a lot of my stuff has gone to proper museums now but I still keep hold of my core collection though, mostly out of petulance and spite…

And so, to the subject of this post!  I read an article once that claimed that mankind lost more data in the 1970s and 1980s than at any other time in history and from my experience, this causes some unusual problems. I thought I would give two somewhat ridiculous examples that I have come across lately.

The first relates to the title of this article: “Primary Sources” – Wikipedia’s aim is to become an encyclopaedia of just about everything and because of its position of being the major encyclopaedia on the Internet it is generally a very good source for documenting the history of computing. A couple of years ago I decided to update an article about something of which I am one of the primary experts, having written it. It was an article on some obscure Multi User Game history. I made a few changes to the Wikipedia article and corrected some things. Apparently I was not meant to do this. Shortly afterwards I got into a discussion with an editor who was complaining that I hadn’t referenced any proper sources. I explained that I was the primary source on this matter, but apparently that didn’t matter. Had I ever given an interview on this, or written a book, it would have been fine, I could have referenced that; but it seems that I can’t just reference myself. Wikipedia’s rules say “Do not base articles and material entirely on primary sources. Do not add unsourced material from your personal experience, because that would make Wikipedia a primary source of that material.”

The problem is that all of this stuff happened in the late 80s and in the late 80s there was a LOT of reference material that would have been a gold-mine for Wikipedia; servers full of documentation, academic (and non-academic) papers, and the ever present and ever busy Bulletin Boards. When the World-Wide-Web came along these things didn’t migrate and as the old systems were decommissioned, the data was simply discarded and lost forever. There was no “way back machine” or Google Cache in those days and at best, some people may have their own backups on floppy disks or paper printouts. I used to have lots of these, but most are gone now. I still have some of the actual machines which probably have the data on them – but there seems little point me pulling it off if the data itself becomes an unusable Primary Source.

And so the problem is that there is a distinct lack of primary source material from the 1970s and 1980s. If Wikipedia really does want to document this era in which a lot of ground-breaking, fun and interesting history was actually made then they really should consider allowing Primary Sources to contribute. A lot of people who did a lot of good stuff back then, developing, using, and researching things that weren’t “invented” until decades later; but they simply aren’t self-publicists. They don’t give interviews (even if anybody had a clue that they should be interviewing them!) and they don’t write books or appear in them unless they accidentally happen to cross paths with the likes of Tracy Kidder or Katie Hafner at just the right moment. They are distinctly absent from history and the way things are, along with the data we have lost, the people will be lost too.

Another completely different problem happened a few years ago when I was trying to resurrect the first Multi User Games, Essex MUD and MIST, to run at Bletchley Park’s Computer Museum. Essex MUD ran on a DEC PDP-10 running the TOPS-10 Operating System. Being a good Systems Manager all those years ago, I backed-up everything I could think of before I finally turned the off-switch on the Essex Games. I certainly had enough so that one day, I could recover it – At least, I thought I had; and now I had to put this theory into practice.

The first challenge was to get hold of a PDP-10 – We thought we had one at Bletchley but it turned out to be an obscure (but very pretty) PDP-11. As far as I know there are no complete and working PDP-10s left anywhere in the world but this was less of a problem than it may have first seemed. One thing that was relatively easy to get hold of was a PDP-10 TOPS-10 simulator. I could run a completely realistic (if not slightly too speedy) simulator on another system, in this case a MicroVAX. I could have used something else, but I wanted to at least keep the whole thing on DEC machines. I got the simulator running, I loaded all the data from my various backups and I went to get the BCPL compiler to compile the source code for MUD; and this is where everything started to go wrong.

It seems that nobody had ever thought to keep a copy of the BCPL compiler. Why would they? It’s Systems Software. It’s not like it’s just going to vanish one day, is it? Well yes. It is, and yes. It had. I contacted Richard Bartle, who along with Roy Trubshaw originally wrote MUD1 back in the late 70s – I thought he may have a copy of the BCPL compiler somewhere and he confirmed that he may have one on an old half inch tape from 1981 ish. Half inch magnetic tape isn’t really meant to last 25 years but it was worth a try, so he sent it to me and I popped it in my tape drive to read it. And it wouldn’t. Of course, PDP-10s used a different physical 7-Track tape format than my more modern 9-Track reader could cope with. If it had been a different logical format I could have fixed that, but physical was completely out of my control.

Never being one to give up, I decided to put out a call to see if anyone, anywhere in the world, had a working old PDP-10 7-Track tape drive. To date, nobody has. If (and that is a big “if”) the BCPL compiler is on that tape, and it may be the only copy left anywhere in the world, then I can’t get it off. Without it, I can’t get anything else to work at all and never ever will be able to.

Even when I was sitting, doing a backup in 1992, knowing that one day I would probably want to recreate this stuff, I never dreamed that I would not be able to get hold of a vital compiler just 15 years later – And bear in mind that I knew more about this stuff back then than just about anybody. I was one of the only people collecting old technology and preaching the need to keep things for the future; a major part of my job was recovering data from ancient and obsolete National Health Service tapes and disks that would otherwise have been lost and I was, and still am, completely obsessive about archiving against accidental loss.

In a few years we may well realise that we have lost so much of the 70s and 80s that it is verging on the unbelievable. In other areas of history and modern archaeology we have finally understood the need to keep first-hand personal stories from sources such as the mill-workers and miners and the soldiers in the First and Second World Wars. One day maybe I should expect somebody to turn up at my house with a tape-recorder in an attempt to force me to try and remember stuff. With luck, they will bring tea and cakes and forgive the fact that as a somewhat senile Primary Source, I will probably be quite useless by then.

It’s easier to learn from history when we bother to preserve it. The arrogance of not doing so seems quite incredible to me. But what would I know? I am just another unreliable source.


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Two seemingly unrelated events decided to correlate themselves in my head today and I thought I would ponder out loud just for the irony value.

Firstly there was a seemingly throwaway comment that made me smile on What The Papers Say about the fact that Obama lost thousands of his Twitter followers: “Talk about hitting the President where it will hurt him the least”.

It’s one of the 1st times I have heard somebody in the media actually admit that a whole bunch of virtual Twitter followers are utterly meaningless – it’s almost a brave statement from a journalist who relies on people reading his stuff. But does anyone really care about the drivel people post on Twitter? I’ll leave that conclusion to you.

The other thing I noticed today was that Firefox was using nearly 4GB of memory on my Laptop. That is more crap stored in my working memory than we had long term disk space for the entire University of Leeds in the 1980′s – And I don’t think it’s like we really stored much less useful data.

I wonder how much storage space, air-conditioning, manufacturing, working-electricity etc is being used simply to keep the gazillions of gigabytes of disk farms going just so the worthless opinions about Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse of a billion Internet users can be preserved for ever more.

I shall shut up now, and not add any more to it.


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This is going to seem a rather odd post; given that I am the creator of one of the most successful Freecycle groups in the world – But I am a little annoyed to see that this year even more money is being dragged from me in the form of taxes to fund recycling schemes that frankly, do more harm than good.

I have always made a point in any interviews I give about Freecycle to never talk about landfill. The carefully crafted and commercially sponsored messages we get from Freecycle-Central in the USA are always about the evils of landfill and how the ultimate purpose of Freecycle is to keep things out of landfill sites; but I don’t agree with this. Not at all.

Freecycle for me isn’t about landfill or recycling it is about reuse and it is about helping people in the local community by making sure items are reused. To me, reuse schemes like Freecycle are actually about avoiding the evils of recycling, and in this sense I will do everything damned well possible to keep yet another thing out of one of those green, purple, blue, orange or polka-dot mauve bins. If you ever ask me my opinion (and oddly, people do); I will tell you that unless the item is made of aluminium or copper then just bin it. Send it to landfill, wave it on its way and thank any gods you may have that you saved the environment just a little bit more harm.

Recycling on a domestic level is pointless. Not only is it pointless, it is harmful and for some ridiculous reason, we are being forced to pay taxes to help this nonsense perpetuate. So why does it exist and why are Governments across Europe and North America starting to require more legislation to force us to recycle? The answer is sadly quite simple, there is a hell of a lot of money in Recycling and the people who are making all this money have damned good lobbyists.

Back when the world was somewhat more sensible we had three Rs. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Why have we forgotten all the rest and got so hung up on the last one? Well lessee…

Reduce:

Reduction is the simple answer to most things but asking a modern Western family to reduce the amount of stuff it consumes is somewhat akin to teaching pigs to sing. It won’t get you anywhere and it will only annoy them. In this modern age we tend to be rather into convenience and convenience isn’t very compatible with reduction. There is a tendency to shift the blame from us to the companies who sell us stuff and in order to shift this collective guilt people will start to blame the Supermarkets and the manufacturers for their obsession with packaging. Surely, it is the packaging that is to blame and not us! We’d be just as happy with our stuff wrapped in old newspaper or in a recycled cardboard box.

Nice idea but that’s just not true. Packaging isn’t cheap. Companies don’t go out of their way to spend too much money on the stuff when they could avoid it. Packaging is there for a reason, it stops items breaking and in the case of food, it stops food going off. Studies consistently show that the gains from packaging far outweigh the losses and over the last few years advances in designs have led to a lot less of it being used.

There’s a whole other argument about “Junk food” and processed food over home cooking. Fast food chains benefit from bulk packaging and the fact that they are only running a room full of cookers to generate a whole lot of cooked food does have its plusses. As for processed foods, well contrary to what we are endlessly told there is very little waste at all from the processed food industry. The food we as humans get lasts longer and stores better and the byproducts go towards animal foods. I don’t want to make this an argument about animal welfare, that’s a completely different issue (and I really do hate to defend the modern chicken processing industry in any way at all, really I do) but it is worth noting that in reduction terms, modern commercial processing of 1,000 chickens recycles just under a metric tonne of byproducts and only uses just under 8kg of packaging.

Does a modern family need to use all the stuff it has? Do those low income people on their council estates really need two cars? Well in most places in Britain that aren’t in one of the few cities the answer to the car issue is probably yes. Cars are not cheap, buying the thing, fuelling it, taxing, MOT-ing and insuring it cost a small fortune these days. There seems to be some middle-class Daily Mail reading view that the evil working classes have multiple cars through choice – Maybe if the money we spent on recycling schemes went onto public transport instead… But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Reuse:

Reuse is obvious a biggie for me – Personally, I don’t like waste. If I can find a use for an old plastic bottle then I will use it and carry on re-using it. I have some juice jars here that I have been using for milk now for over 2 years – They are wonderful, far better than anything I could buy at a supermarket and they were free. I love car-boot sales and yard sales, I love thrift stores. I am not at all ashamed of driving down the street screaming “Oooh! Other people’s crap!” as I stop at yet another yard sale.

I picked up on Freecycle very early on for this reason; it was a near perfect scheme in that one person’s junk is another person’s gold and more to the point, the whole thing is local so there are no major logistics in transportation involved. It also made sense. I have found myself with perfectly usable things that I didn’t want any more that I know somebody else would probably love but I didn’t have a means to tell them. Freecycle answered this beautifully. It keeps useful items from being pointlessly destroyed, it saves people money because they don’t have to buy something new and it helps people who can’t afford new things enormously.

Nobody forces anybody to use Freecycle; there is no government legislation in fact there is no government or commercial backing at all in the UK. It is, in fact, very hard to get anyone in government interested at all since they are obsessed with Recycling schemes.

Of course, not everybody is on Freecycle; very few people have ever heard of Freecycle but it doesn’t stop people reusing things. Some families still recycle clothes and pass larger items around but this doesn’t seem to happen as much these days which are where local schemes can be wonderfully useful when they exist. In the past it could well be argued that certainly in Britain, Charity Shops filled this niche. People would donate stuff they no longer wanted to one of the local shops and they would sell them cheaply to the local community and make a small profit at the same time. Unfortunately it seems to be the case with what a few exceptions (thank you Salvation Army, for example for letting me have at least ONE exception), charity shops have changed. These days the used goods they sell are generally more expensive than new items you get a Primark, TK-Maxx or Poundland and their book prices are becoming astronomical. Clothing that is deigned “unfit for sale” is sent off to be pulped and that tends to be anything without a designer-label that won’t sell for their increasingly large prices. Something has gone horribly wrong in the world of the Charity Shop so I guess now, we need to praise the fact that Freecycle and Car Boot Sales exist to feed local reuse needs.

Recycling:

And now… The biggie. Third on the list for a reason and that is because it is the least important by far and yet it is the one that is given extraordinary amounts of attention and obsession and huge amounts of state funding wherever you look.

Why? Simple. Recycling is easy!

When our Daily Mail readers pack the kids to school with the bottles of pop, their packaged snacks and the like, they are safe in the knowledge that this is ok because all the packaging will be recycled. It’s far easier to buy a bottle of pop than it is to mix some squash in a reusable bottle. Who has time for that? By the same notion, it is far easier to throw those items away into a recycling bin than to maybe think that they could be used again, or given to somebody else who may use them. After all, they’ll be recycled and made into a new ones just like the TV ads say! It’s not like it’s really going to waste is it. By recycling things, people are safely protected from having to think about reduction and reuse. They are doing their bit still.

Sadly, it is true that recycling is both easy and guilt free. It is positively encouraged and indeed, legislated for now. Houses have an increasing number of different bins that they sort their rubbish into and off it all goes, saved from landfill and everybody is happy.

Not only that – We can buy more and more recycled stuff too! Notepads made of recycled paper, recycled Christmas Cards, hell there is even recycled toilet paper. This stuff is all made out of pulped clothing and recycled paper so there was no waste, no damage to the rainforests and we can feel great.

It’s a shame it’s not true.

There is very little good in recycling on a domestic level. I don’t want to go into enormous amounts of facts and figures, search the Internet for something like the Eight Great Myths of Recycling (or just look at http://www.perc.org/articles/article179.php ) if you want them. The point is, we are not running out of sand and we are certainly not running out of paper. When sand shortages start to become an issue then yes, maybe we should worry about recycling bottles but until then, why bother? As for paper that’s a whole big hornet’s nest.

Recycling paper has a big negative effect on the environment. Think about that for a moment, it’s important. It is bad on so many levels – Let’s take a simplistic look.

  • The amount of fuel being used to pick up used paper on a local level is enormous. Those trucks give out pollution you know. That’s CO2.
  • Once the paper is at a depots, it needs to be sorted. This involves machines, which again give out pollution and use electricity. Oh yea… More CO2.
  • The paper is dirty, and needs cleaning. Sure you may not mind your recycled papers being a bit brown but the old dyes still need to be washed out and most large users still want white paper so there is going to be an industrial sized bleaching operation going on here. Waste… More waste, and more and more CO2 being pumped into the environment.

You know what helps CO2? Trees. And you know what paper is made out of? Trees. Not slow growing, unreplenishable rainforest trees, the cost of getting those trees would be enormous and those are far more often used in furniture (which can be reused remember, paper generally can’t!). The trees used for making paper come from large areas of concentrated fast growing sustainable forest. Forest that helps enormously with the whole global warming deal that people are so concerned about. The process of turning these trees into paper is large-scale but localised, and whilst it does obvious use some resources to harvest and process, it is a small tiny fraction of the ones used in the recycling process. The more we recycle paper, the more CO2 we are putting into the environment that isn’t being replenished and the more trees are not being planted in sustainable forests. You know what that means? Recycling paper is polluting the earth with its by-products, killing us slowly with its CO2 emissions and it is actually reducing the amount of forest we have on the planet.

So what about glass? Again the resources used in localised transport of glass from houses, sorting it, crushing is and reusing it far far outweigh the resources in making new glass from sand. Sand isn’t something we are running out of in a hurry; really, it’s not.

Plastics are a contentious issue in this. There is no argument that making new plastic uses oil and there is a positive effect to recycling some plastics; the problem again is in the selection and sorting process which tends to still use more resources overall than not recycling. I remember a scheme a few years ago that was looking into basically melting down every sort of plastic and re-processing it to re-produce oil. This would almost certainly be a good thing but we haven’t got there yet and the folks who understand the economics of this claim that burying all the plastics we have in landfill for now, and mining it later would be far more efficient than the picky and mostly wasteful recycling we do now.

In doing a little bit of research for this post I did read quite a few opinions on everything and a lot of the anti-recycling articles I have seen state things like: “Recycling things like paper, aluminium cans, etc. are among the most harmful ways to pollute the environment and use fossil fuels.” – This is a shame because the person who wrote this is talking nonsense. Actually, aluminium cans are one of the few things that are very much viable to recycle, along with copper and other large metal items in general. It is easy to take the negative effect of paper and bottles and stretch this to everything and if you do bother to read “Eight Great Myths”, for example, you should pick up the fact that the big evil is the small scale house to house recycling and not much larger selective schemes which can sometimes, be positive. Scrap metals, tyres and fast-food company cooking oils are all good examples of positive recycling.

Landfill is often cited as the main great evils of our green age. Freecycle almost has this whole thing about keeping things out of landfill as a mantra. Companies make a LOT of money out of recycling and there are a hell of a lot of commercial pressures to keep up these myths. There isn’t a lot of money in landfill so it tends to lose the PR battle. But is landfill really so evil?

Actually no. Not at all – And this is one of the reason I refuse to go on about keeping things out of landfill. Modern landfills have moved on in technology; if you don’t believe me look some up! They tend to be huge centralised places that are landscaped over when they are finished; they don’t cause pollution, they are well managed and the more modern ones are re-using the methane produced by organic waste to generate electricity. Landfill sites are certainly not the great open fly infested visions of hell that recycling evangelists would have us believe – Quite the opposite in fact. A lot of them are also being designed now with the prospects of future recycling being taken into consideration. One day we may come up with a much more efficient use of plastics and when we do, we know exactly where they are in the landfill sites and we can easily get at them in bulk. When you stop and think about it, that’s actually pretty cool.

Ultimately there are people on both sides of this debate and it’s one I try not to get too involved with. I am forced (legally!) to recycle things and it grates at me every time I have to put used paper into a recycling bin. I hate it, but it’s happening anyway. I can’t stop people doing this, I can only hope that at some point governments will stop listening to the companies who make billions from recycling schemes that are both pointless and damaging and will come up with some other schemes. Meanwhile, I will carry on pushing for local reuse schemes like Freecycle and its offshoots and supporting yard sales and car boot sales. I will also carry on supporting the Salvation Army shops who have so far refused to forget their purpose as cheap local-community charity shops and companies like Frenchys in Atlantic Canada who keep millions of tonnes of clothing from otherwise being pulped to make recycled bloody paper!

So should you.


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It has finally happened. The gnomes on the Internet and I agree on something; namely that the last two Doctor Who episodes (The Pandorica Opens and Big Bang) were one of the biggest pile of steaming turdburgers ever created for television. Despite having legions of Pepperpot-Daleks, Cybermen, limp-wristed Romulans, Rhino Creatures, Flying Cubes, Stonehenge, Magical Time Travelling Bracelets, an exploding Tardis and probably hundreds more things that I missed; Steven Moffat, one of British TV’s best writers, managed to write something that was ludicrous, pointless, confusing and utterly boring in more or less equal measures. Come on Steven. You wrote Press Gang and Coupling. Even Chalk had a few good moments. What’s happened?

The Death of Doctor Who

Now the Internet Gnomes are mostly teenagers who have very little concept of what Doctor Who used to be so I can forgive them for expecting low standards. They’ll acknowledge that there was a show before the 2005 pantomime remake but they probably haven’t actually watched any episoses. I mean hell it’s been going nearly 50 years now, that’s a lot to watch and fuck man! Some of them are in Black and White; didn’t people know how to encode AVIs properly in those days? Having said that, even the most die-hard fans of the new drivel will have trouble justifying a reason to look forward to the Christmas episode except maybe in the vague hope that the Doctor will finally die. We have hope yet! Remember Lynda Day? That’s all I have to say!

It’s not even that I don’t like Matt Smith as The Doctor; I do. I would go as far as saying that he’s pretty similar to Tom Baker in many ways and I’d class that as a compliment. With some good writing, he’d be great. For one single moment in Big Bang I had hope. He said something like “Do you really think the life of one girl is more important than the future of everything?” – Hell no! That’s the Doctor we know and love! Welcome back Hartnell and Troughton. Halleluiah! Finally us humans are back to being nothing much better than shaved apes. Unfortunately, it seems he was only joking; a brief moment of teasing taunting fantasy for those of us who remember a proper Doctor. Obviously the life of one human girl is more important than the whole of … Well whatever the fuck was going on.

It’s a terrible ending to a terrible show. Russell T. “If you can’t write it Camp, it’s not worth writing” Davies started it by dragging in his old mate David Tennant. Now Tennant isn’t a bad actor as such but he’s no Doctor Who. The whole thing is akin to getting Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe to play James Bond. Talking of Harry Potter, what’s with all the new gadgets? Time travelling wristbands, notepads that show magical identity badges, every flavour jelly-beans, telephones that cross time and space and a Sonic Screwdriver that doubles as a magic wand when it is waved and the spell “deus ex machina” is muttered. One of the major plot-devices about Doctor Who was that a lot was unexplained but the pantomime version seems obsessive about explaining everything. There was an amusing part in the Matt Smith series when one of the ever-present C-List British TV celebrities they roll in said “Oh you are that Doctor”. Yep, he is indeed just that Doctor.

Back in the olden days of Doctor Who the format was pretty solid. Each story was 4 or 5 parts, with a cliff-hanger between the middle episodes and with the exception of John Pertwee’s exile years, they were very rarely set on Earth. It’s tempting to use this entry to have a dig at Americans and say that the new one hour neatly wrapped shows are made for export to the US where attention spans are shorter but this doesn’t really fly. American television is getting a lot more sophisticated than this these days and it seems to be the British who are falling well behind by adopting this somewhat tedious format. As for the writing – Well yea, all I can say is that even the old Tannith Lee episodes were better than any since Tennant became The Doctor. There were a few good Eccleston episodes but then we had false hopes once, for a short time.

Another thing I am curious about is why, when there is the whole of time and space to zip around in; does The Doctor insist on coming back to Earth. More specifically, Britain – In fact more specifically again, London or Wales in the early 21st Century. It’s not like the BBC is short of money for this series; each episode must cost more to make than than one of the older whole seasons. The whole thing seems kind of akin to Star Trek or Blakes 7 spending their entire time travelling back in time to 20th Century Earth.  And what’s with his obsession with Human assistants? I don’t want weedy and somewhat useless British girls, I want half naked primitive girls, in skimpy leather loincloths who carry big knives and gut the baddies when nobody is watching. I’d say I want metal dogs with guns in their nose too; but I don’t. I can live without that. The show has two spinoffs; Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures – Let them deal with Earth in the 20th Century since that’s where they are set. It’s boring… Ok! I want Robots of Death, I want Yetis in space, I want Daleks on Sarko, I want The Doctor shagging green aliens. On second thoughts no; I have seen Casanova, I am not sure I want to see any more Russell T Davis sex-scenes.

I WANT SPACEMEN – IN SPACE AND IN THE FUTURE – DAMMIT!

(Oh, and I want Lynda Day back please.)


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If you have ever read my resume on this site you will notice that I passingly refer to being sacked from British Telecom three times. Occasionally people ask for the story of this, but since I was always covered by some weird ethical code / Non Disclosure Agreement and the like I have always kept quiet. It is now more than ten years since the final event so I feel it is a good time to tell the story – Mostly because it sadly amusing to see how one of the largest telecoms companies in the world could be quite so stupid. Part of the problem with writing this is that I don’t actually believe it myself. This may come across as a little bitter – It should do, because I am. I don’t think I come out too badly in this story so I am not too worried about telling it.

Firstly I must say that if I am being completely truthful I was only actually fired once, and this is about that event. The other two times I left it was a mutually agreed situation – In the first one, I told my managers that I flat out refused to lie for them any more and apparently in a company whose whole culture is based on lying to customers that is a bad thing – In the second case, I left because accounting every half  hour I worked to a customer cost-centre (when it often made no sense at all) was just ludicrous and often downright dishonest. In both cases, as soon as I left my contract was immediately picked up by another part of BT  with promises of various changes and a decent pay rise.  I actually ended up with what was effectively a long unbroken lump of employment for BT, even though I worked for a few different divisions.

So let us go back to a time just before the last Millennium. I had just returned from a few months secondment building a new Internet Service Provider for BT’s new mobile company (Genie, now O2) and I had in my hand a glowing letter from the Chairman of Cellnet saying how wonderful me and my team were for delivering the impossible in such a short timescale. We did good on that job, even though I didn’t want to do it. Back at the office I was finally at the point of being part of the sign-off process for any solutions that BT sold to customers. In theory, before any solution was sold I got to security evaluate it first and could refuse to sign it off and send it back for design corrections if it failed. I was also working with internal security and in all I should have been happy; but I wasn’t. In the past I had been able to do what I wanted and what was best for BT and its customers as a whole – To be proactive and to look for problems that needed solving. Now I wasn’t allowed to breath without it being charged to a customer. Any autonomy I once had was gone and I was fixing things on my own time and not being paid for them which was getting somewhat ridiculous. I told my managers I was really not renewing my contract when it came up and I thought that was that.

A week before I was due to leave I got a call from BT Operations begging me to come and work for them. They piled on the sweeteners; a nice big pay rise, all my billing to a single cost centre, just two months and no more and I could move back to my favourite office. I agreed to this, I decided not to go ahead with another job I’d planned to move to and I made sure the paperwork was all sorted out.

The following Monday, I turned up at my new job and had a tea. The office was basically a football-pitch sized machine room that took up a whole floor of a building with just me and 2 operators in it. There were a few offices in there from the days that this was the major PSS centre for the UK but they had basically been abandoned Marie-Celeste like in the 80′s. I had worked here before when I worked on Genie and had made a little cubby-hole in a long since abandoned conference room, the two Operators had also moved in there.

At mid-day both the Ops got a call and vanished. I never saw them again. Nobody had told me what they wanted me to do so I just sat around drinking tea and watched machines humming. At 3pm I got a call from my new boss saying he was coming around at 4pm for a meeting. At about this point I attempted to login to the Operations Systems and it wouldn’t let me so I got a little suspicious and phoned some people. Nobody was saying much but somebody said they had heard that word from the board said they were about to fire me, but nobody knew why. I couldn’t find out any more so I sat and waited. My boss arrived at 4pm, and curtly told me I had been fired and he had to escort me out of the building. I asked why, he said he didn’t know, he’d just been told to do it. He asked for my security card which I didn’t have on me that day and that was that – I was standing outside the heavily armoured and razor-wired front gate and very confused.

The next day I expected to hear more. I didn’t – At least, I didn’t hear anything from my bosses but I did hear a lot from other parts of BT. I received mails asking me to review secure networks, I had calls from customers asking me how to repair things and I had calls from various people within BT wanting advice. I made excuses when I had to and just waited to hear something official.

A week went by. I heard nothing. No letter, not even an email. Nothing to tell me formally I had been sacked and nothing to tell me why. I contacted S-Com, my agency who were cagey (rightly so since they owed me a month’s salary in notice period). I am assuming they knew nothing and were keeping quiet hoping I wouldn’t notice that I was out of a job. I decided to contact a few people in BT and had a few shady meetings in pubs and BT canteens but the upshot was that nobody knew a thing. Nobody had been told I had been sacked, most people were astonished and assumed I was still working ther,  I still had my fixed network connection into BT from my house and I could still access all of their systems except for one I had been deleted from and my mail addresses all still worked.

I decided to arrange a meeting with BT Internal Security, I was curious to know if they knew anything so I popped to Milton Keynes for dinner and we had a chat. They’d not heard a thing and even when they dug around they could find nothing. As far as they were concerned I was still working for BT. I asked them if I could see how much access I still had without them arresting me and they said sure as long as I wasn’t silly or naughty.

Over the next month I tested various networks. I could access all of the customers I ever worked on which included governments, law enforcement, most of the major banks, various ISPs and a whole load of internal things. I tested my card and my ability to just walk into a building – Nobody ever challenged me, I had a nice cup of tea in the room that housed the central Bank Clearing System and the national salary payment systems (CHAPS) and yes, I could still login to them. I could also wander into Telehouse and the like at any time I wanted. I was still getting many calls from customers and internal BT people and in the end I just pointed them at somebody else and didn’t explain why.

At this point, I was thoroughly pissed off. BT owed me nearly £10,000 and my agency S-Com (who had sent me a crate of champagne just 2 months earlier) claimed they knew nothing about it. I sent them a copy of the purchase order and the reference numbers but they just refused to reply after that. Nobody seemed to have a clue why I was fired they just know I was. There were various rumours but none of them really seemed right. It had just been ordered from on-high.

So we have one exceptionally disgruntled ex-security manager, who was owed money, who was being constantly ignored and treated like shit by BT and who still had access to every customer, internal system and building of importance. I had to change my phone number after six months, people were still calling me about things. It took them two years to disconnect my lines from my house into BT and to this day there may still be personal  machines of mine housed on the internal networks that I can access. As far as I know, my card was never disabled and as far as I know, nobody in BT and certainly no customers were ever told I had stopped working there. My email address eventually stopped working in about 2004 when they changed systems.

To my credit, I never did anything to them – But that’s not really the point, I could have caused untold amounts of hugely embarrassing damage. I am not sure if relying on the continuing ethics of somebody you treat dismally is really a good policy but apparently in this instance it worked for them.

It’s at times like this I remember the old mantra:

“WE ARE THE TELEPHONE COMPANY. WE DON’T GIVE A FUCK”.



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As many of you may know, I am something of a Marmite addict. If you don’t know what Marmite is there are plenty of references on the Internet and if you are an Antipodean who is already looking for the comment box so you can tell me that Vegemite is better than Marmite then don’t, I am not talking about Australian Marmite which is completely different than British Marmite so the chances are high that you have never actually tasted proper Marmite otherwise you wouldn’t be talking such nonsense.

Anyway, all that aside, I had been convinced that the Marmite you can buy in Canada, although it is made by the same company and in the same packaging is watered down. It’s the wrong colour for a start. Canadian Marmite looks like diarrhoea and doesn’t have the translucent inner glow of British Marmite. I thought I was going mad, why would there be a difference? Tonight, I came across some old packages of British Marmite I had nicked from a hotel in Norwich in 2003 so I finally had a comparison.

Firstly… Hotel packets of British Marmite:

marmite0

(Yes, I know the sell-by date is 2005, we will ignore that. It’s not like Marmite changes over time).

Now Canadian Marmite:

marmite1

(You can tell it’s Canadian, it has English and French labels, so no cheating here).

Now some anaemic toast:

marmite2

(Yeach, do people really eat toast this colour?)

And now, the Marmite on a knife:

marmite3

I may as well have stopped here really – It’s obvious that they are completely different. In the interests of Science, however…

The Marmite on toast:

marmite4

I have no idea WHY Canadian Marmite is so completely different. It costs pretty much the same in Canada as it does in Britain. It doesn’t taste bad, it’s just a little weaker and you have to spread a lot more; plus there is that whole bodily fluid thing going on with it. People who may claim that the 2003 Marmite is blacker because it is old, well you will just have to trust me. I could have used the British Champagne Marmite which is just as black but that wouldn’t have been like-for-like.

There is no conclusion to this. I just figured that rather than waste a posting ranting about Google I may as well expose this curious Marmite Conspiracy.


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Let’s Face it…

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I was going to be nice to Google today. Really, I was – I started out thinking “Wow, for the first time ever, I will have to write a weblog entry and be 100% nice about Google” – As the 5 people who read my weblog will know, this isn’t normal. I don’t like Google, I make no secret of it generally but sometimes, there is the rare good thing.

So let’s pretend for a moment that Google isn’t a great encompassing blob of an alien life form and it is in fact different organisations some of which I can be nice about and let’s ponder Picasa.

I have been using Picasa from the start – I don’t know why, it’s not very popular to use Picasa, especially for somebody who doesn’t like Google. I should probably be using Flickr or Deviantart like all the cool kids do but I like Picasa desktop and I like the way it talks to Picasa Web Albums and I like the way Picasa Web Albums are nice and easy to use. But there is more.

Firstly, my Picasa crashed a few weeks ago. I was not happy, I use my Picasa a lot on my laptop for trying to keep tabs on what photos I have on here that I haven’t moved to the Desktop and the huge photo archive I have. Every time I loaded it, it crashed and told me to send a crash report – As long as I didn’t hit “OK” it would carry on working so that was good but I submitted a crash report anyway.  I wasn’t expecting anything, I submit Microsoft crash reports on a weekly basis and have never had any feedback at all but apparently the Picasa team actually read theirs. and a nice chap called Fernando Corrado asked me to test a new version which promptly crashed too. Eventually after 2 days of trying new versions and tweaking things the Picasa people discovered I had a screwed up installation of Quicktime that was causing some previews to die and created a fix. My Picasa now works properly again and it is nice to see such a quick response for what is really, free software.

Anyway, armed with a working Picasa and being generally impressed so far with the new face recognition, I decided to let Picasa run riot over my desktop.  I started it about 48 hours ago now and it claims to be 14% of the way through recognising faces (which is odd because 4 hours ago I restarted it and it claimed to be 21% of the way through).

It is sloooowly indexing 3 terabytes of disk on a 3.5ghz Pentium and has found just under 5,100 folders full of photos. It has found over 1,500 photos of me now ranging over 25 years, some of which have me wearing glasses, funny hats and in one, a Pippi Longstocking wig and a diamond fairy tiara (Hey I get bored in Wal*Mart sometimes). Every time I look at it, it has dug up more and more obscure photos of people with terrifying accuracy and it is still going strong. It also seems quite good at sharing the facial information (via my Gmail account I assume) between my laptop and the Desktop. I am deliberately avoiding asking what Google will do with the huge amount of data I am giving it but I am pretty sure now Google could track me pretty well with its hidden spy cameras since it even recognised me in my tinfoil helmet. Damn.

We are no longer safe!
(Why wouldn’t Picasa let me link that from my Picasa album? Weird)

I can’t find much wrong with it – There are some pretty useless filters in it (why would I want to find all purple photos, or all orange photos?) and some seemingly useful filters missing. One really useful thing would be for it to be able to detect naked photos  (ok, let’s call it a porn filter). There are very few good tools for detecting porn by flesh percentage and *ah hem* “body features” on Windows – Hyperdyne’s Snitch and Media Detective are the only two I can think of and they cost more than I paid for my copy of Vista. It is a feature many people need and want so go on Google, add it please?I suspect all the tools are in there, although please… It will freak me out if you start being able to identify people without faces, that is going a little too far ok?

And now for the downside. Don’t worry Picasa, this isn’t about you, I have nothing but praise for you today and this weblog entry would have stopped here if I hadn’t needed to register a Gizmo5 account for Jess today.

I merrily browsed to http://gizmo5.com only to be redirected to http://www.google.com/gizmo5/ and told:

Gizmo5 Has Been Acquired by Google
New user signup has been suspended and will return when we re-launch.
To receive information about the re-launch please enter your email address.

This is not useful… I needed a Gizmo5 account today and now Google own it I assume that the useful “Forward to Skype” feature will end up broken since Skype are in the business of selling Skypein numbers and won’t want Google Voice numbers supplying this for free. I assume it will also create a mess because Google Voice is only available in the US and Gizmo was available everywhere. Plus of course, it’s a pain since I wanted an account today dammit! Grrrrr.

On the plus side, this means I didn’t have to write a Weblog entry that was full of praise for The Evil Empire.  Got to take some good out of everything I guess.

(I also wonder why WordPress wouldn’t allow me to have that last line in a paragraph by itself… This thing has a mind of its own I swear)


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