Dr Who

The new series of Dr Who started on BBC1 today and, while I was only half watching it, I must say that so far it is not as good as those that went before. I am not sure if it is a combination of dodgy scripting or atrocious supporting actors, but there is certainly room for improvement.

First off, sadly, David Tennant is a very, very good Doctor. Christopher Eccleston is a very good actor and really got the new series off to a good start after the problems which ended the series in the late 80’s. (Colin Baker and Sylverster McCoy truly have a place in the LinuxGod’s hell for their part) Despite this, Eccleston never really was “Doctor Who.” He was a touch too agressive and militaristic (maybe I just remember 28 Days Later too much).

Tennant is as close to the real Doctor (Tom Baker of course) as any one since has ever been. Shame everything about him screams that he should be terrible, he just isn’t.

Unfortunately he is pretty much on his own though. For some reason Dr Who’s scriptwriters – who include some of the most imaginative people in Britain – have a hard time putting together a decent plot. I suspect it is not all their fault, the constraints of the new format are against them.

Compared to the old series, the new ones are rushed. They try to introduce a setting, build tension, create a conflict, get the audience attached to the protagonists, get all dramatic and conclude in about 45 minutes. That is never going to be good. If you look at the Tom Baker years, each “episode” ran about 3 hours long and the extra breathing room certainly pays off. The plots are massively more engaging and you can actually get into the characters and their interactions. Are children really so short of attention span now? I doubt it myself.

The scriptwriters obviously collude with the set designers to make life easy. Oddly it goes horribly wrong. Unlike the first seven doctors, Doctors 9 and 10 never seem to leave Earth. It is rare for them to go anywhere other than London. Nearly every episode starts and ends “today” which seems to miss most of the point of it being Sci-Fi. None of this fighting Daleks on Skaro or the like, now the Doctor largely fights comedy monsters in London. Sometimes it is Victorian London, and I think a total of three episodes out of the last two seasons have been elsewhere. On the massively rare off chance any one involved reads this GET OFF EARTH! Go to colony ships in deep space, go to weird trading worlds, or planets which are stuck in a combination of the middle ages with lasers. Get SCIFI! Please! Don’t turn this into Hollyoaks with a sonic screwdriver.

Obviously the set designers like this because it should be easy to mock up sets that look like London. However, they still get things weirdly wrong. Tonight’s episode had a hospital moved to the moon, and every time they tried to show shots of people looking at the stars, or the ones back home looking at the hole you could see massive visual artefacts round the join points. I know it is not high budget, but this is 2007. Even the BBC can afford a decent Linux box with decent software… surely… ?

Add to all this the nonsensical “baddies” and it seems the BBC is trying to cut costs for what should be the flagship programme for 1900hrs on a Saturday. In the episode tonight, there were two sets of baddies, a blood sucker (who kills Dr Stoker – see, humour is not dead) in the form of a little old lady and some intergalactic police. When the police turn up, they are basically cybermen in black with bigger helmets. They walk the same, they form up the same and initially they act the same. It was almost painful. Please Dr Who scriptwriters. Use decent monsters. Stop going for people with funny masks on. Remember this is 2007. Check your calendar if you don’t believe me!

In a similar vein, despite Tennant’s excellent acting skill, the rest of the cast are painfully bad. I thought “Rose Tyler’s” family in the last season were poor but this new crop reach a new nadir of poor acting. The new sidekick/leading lady “Martha Jones” (Freema Agyeman) is a poor actor. She seems to be constantly giggling and gives the program the air of watching a secondary school play (High School for the Americans). Even at the most traumatic, shocking, surprising or scary moments, she appears to be fighting to suppress a grin. It is painful. I can only assume she will get better.

That said, she outclasses the rest of the supporting cast by an order of magnitude. Watching them pretend to scream, pretend to faint, argue or whatever is painful. I know this is “Kids TV” but if the support can’t act, write scripts that need less of them. Stop trying to recreate Ben Hur in a hospital.

I know this is a bit of a rant and there seems to be quite a few whines, but overall, I quite enjoyed the program. I am sure kids today will like it, but sadly they miss out on the real joys that Dr Who could provide. The lack of a cliff hanger is a shame and it seems to pander to limited attention spans rather than make people want to come back and watch more – this is odd, as each episode shows a taster for the next one…

Maybe someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who works on the team for this will read this blog and pass on some comments. If it changes for the better, brilliant and it could be a fantastic series. If it doesn’t, never mind. It will still be OK (if repetitive). At least the science is broadly sound 🙂

[tags]Dr Who, Doctor Who, BBC, Freema Agyeman, David Tennent, Tom Baker, Television, TV, Daleks, Sci-Fi, Science Fiction, Rants, Christopher Eccleston, Martha Jones, Cybermen, Rose Tyler, Society[/tags]

We have them here too – Dubious English ID blog

The British Centre for Science Education: Revealed blog is crying out for a good metaphorical kicking.

It exists solely to attack the British Centre for Science Education (whatever that is) on the grounds that it’s basically an atheist plot.

The purpose of this blog is to examine the new group calling itself the “British Centre for Science Education”. We aim to shed light on the available facts concerning its membership, published statements and discussions. In doing so, we expect that you will come to the same conclusion as we have – that anybody taking it seriously needs to take another look.

The blogista’s personal statement says:

I am a graduate in both science (Masters) and theology (Bachelors), and a minister of Grace Church Belper, an evangelical Christian church in Derbyshire, United Kingdom

Well, I am surprised. An evangelical church? Who’d have expected this blog to have an evangelical agenda? That is almost as surprising as there being atheists in an organisation called the British Centre for Science Education. This world is truly full of new and surprising wonders every day. You would almost think there must be an all-knowing designer behind it all. 🙂

It’s hard to pick out any specific posts for your entertainment as the whole site oozes rage. This is mainly directed at the arch-atheists seen as in charge of the the BCSE, as the other members are assumed to be too naive to understand what they have signed up to.

I suspect that some of BCSE members are simply philosophically naive – they really do imagine that a hard materialist approach to science is “neutral” or “value free”.

(I really would be surprised if anyone with any epistemological understanding thought science – or any human endeavour – was “value free”. At the same time, it’s quite difficult to think of much in the realm of science where a “hard materialist approach” wouldn’t be the only option.)

I can only assume that the BCSE must be some organsiation that is seeking to support the teaching of evolution, otherwise how could it have stirred up this blog’s ire to the extent of devoting a whole blog to opposing it.

You wouldn’t think that standing up for rationalism in British science education would even be necessary, would you? It would be like having to set up an organisation to support the value of integrating exercise into PE lessons. Sadly, this blog suggests otherwise.

I’ll resist the temptation to quote any posts from the blog as I would be spoilt for choice. Look at it yourself if you have an obscure sense of humour and a very high boredom threshhold.

Theistic Follow Up

Previously I made a post which examined the logic (or lack thereof) in a post made on parabiodox. Today I see there has been a follow up post that addresses some of the “issues” I made, so I think it is only fair that I (in turn) address some of the new comments.

First off, I have to say “thank you” to parabiodox for his reasonable, and generally kind comments. I am flattered. The blog post begins:

This is a very readable, calm and intelligent response to a rather bombastic blog entry from me.
Of course the only reason I wrote it was I was hoping that someone would come along and write the kind of response that Why Dont You Blog? has provided.
Myself I do indulge in a bit of calm and measured article writing once in a while, but what’s wrong with a bit of mud-slinging as well ? Variety is the spice of life I think.

I couldn’t agree with the sentiment here more. There is nothing wrong with a bit of mud-slinging and, to me, the reason people blog is to get issues of their chest. At least this way no one gets hurt (unless they are very thin skinned..). Blogs would be boring places indeed if people did not rant, rave and froth every now and then.

Talking of mud-slinging I did detect a bit of it in the article Theistic Logic, the implication being that this is the way all theists think, of course as I know only too well it definately isn’t.

This, I am not to sure about. Where ever possible I try to avoid stereotyping people into a particular school of thought, and I certainly pounce on it when people try to do it to me, so I hope this is an interpretation issue more than anything else. Looking back on the previous post, the closest example I can find is when I begin “Sadly this is an infuriating example of the theistic line of logic.”

Now, that was never intended to mean it was the way all “theists” think – but it is a common fallacy which is used in many, many, blog posts where theists refer to atheists. Parabiodox continues:

The blog entry was parabiodox thinking, and there’s only one member of that particular philosophy to date.

While that is reassuring, ( 🙂 ) it is not completely accurate. IMHO most blog posts only speak for the line of thought adopted by the person who made the post, however this is a line of thought which is echoed across dozens of blogs (and is often found in the comments section on atheist blogs). While parabiodox does indeed seem to follow a unique philosophy, the fallacies in this particular post are reasonably common.

Theistic Logic

(or lack thereof). The joys of Technorati have brought me to a post on parabiodox today, titled “Moderate Christians, Fundamentalists and Atheists (where’s the connection?)”

Sadly this is an infuriating example of the theistic line of logic. Obviously when I say logic, I mean fallacies…

The post (in full) reads:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 Ignorant and Proud Labels: rants

“One does not have to be a fundamentalist to put a Jesus fish on one’s car. Some of those who do so are certainly fundamentalists, but many more would better be described as moderate Christians. And yet, they share at least something with the fundamentalists – some degree of pride in their faith (i.e., their belief of something without evidence).”

Also shared with the Atheist faith of course, if you accept the author’s premise.

But of course there’s a lot more evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for the non-existence of God.

Now, for so little words there is so much “illogic.” Starting with the first sentence: There is no such thing as the “Atheist faith.” It is meaningless. Any argument surrounding such comments is crying out to be accused of woo.

The second sentence is interesting – mainly in the way it is constructed. I actually know people called Jesus so I agree there is a lot of evidence that Jesus exists. If we are talking about a Jewish carpenter, 2000 years ago then I am also happy to accept that Jesus existed. The important issue is: Was this Jesus the Son of God (while being God at the same time)?

Now here the evidence retreats to the land of woo. What “evidence” is there that this Jesus is the son of God?

In addition to this, the argument uses a fairly blatant form of fallacy (False Dilemma). It tries to present the existence of Jesus and the non-existence of God as the two opposing sides with the implication that proving the existence of Jesus falsifies claims of the non-existence of God. This is nonsense.

There is more evidence for the existence of Reindeer than for the non-existence of Santa, therefore there is a Santa Clause. Evidence for the non-existence of something which doesn’t exist is notoriously hard to come by (what evidence is there that the tooth fairy, unicorns, floating teapots etc dont exist?). In general terms, what is required is evidence that something exists. The more fantastic the claim, the stronger the supporting evidence has to be for it to be accepted. Unless of course you are a devout theist, when no evidence is required for belief…

[tags]Religion, Theist, Theism, Christian, Christianity, Belief, Philosophy, Logic, Logical fallacies, Rants, Society, Culture, Atheism, Atheist, Evidence, Faith, Jesus Christ, God, Fundamentalist, Santa Claus[/tags]

History lessons are good..

Now if it had been a , I could understand it. Some seem very unwilling to learn about anything which happened before their Saviour came to Earth and to them the is a bit harsh and cruel. Oddly this is a Rabbi showing little real understanding of historical events. On MSNBC there is an article by Rabbi Marc Gellman (hat tip – Pharyngula) titled “In God’s Image” with a tagline of “The death of Captain America and the movie ‘300’ raise questions about the duty of the truly religious to protect freedom—even with their lives.

Blimey. Talk about reaching out for straws…

After an intro about the enlightenment and the problems with fascism, communism and jihadism, the Rabbi writes:

This same conflict lies behind the comic-book death of Captain America and the cinematic death of Leonides in the movie “300.” The Spartan Greeks, led by Leonides, could have chosen to live under the rule of Xerxes and the Persian Empire. They could have traded their imperiled freedom for a secure life of slavery. The choice of Leonides and the 300 Spartans to die in a doomed but heroic battle is the clear choice of those who believe that nothing—no faith, no material wealth, nothing—justifies the surrender of freedom to tyranny.

Strangely, I agree with his last sentence. Nothing, especially no faith, justifies the surrender of freedom to tyranny. I suspect the Rabbi and I have a different idea of how that is interpreted in the real world though but that is a whole different matter…

Often ignored is that, in addition to the 300 Spartans (Leonidas’ royal guards) there were 700 Thespians (from Thespiae) at the final battle. I am sure, as they were largely a “subject” city at the time, their freedom didn’t matter much though… Further on, the article continues:

Neither Leonides nor Captain America were religious, but both of them stood for that part of the religious world that believes in a God who fights for freedom.

Wow. While I can not comment on Captain America (he is a comic book character and not a real person!), I think it is reasonable to assume Leonidas was a very religious person. Maybe the fact it wasn’t Judeo-Christianity so it doesn’t count? Spartans always sought guidance from their Gods before pretty much anything (sports, war, trade etc) and part of the problem at Thermopylae was “ill omens” from the High Priests. However the nonsense, continues:

They both stood for the proposition that freedom is the foundation of all meaningful life. Religiously speaking, this is the belief that God gave freedom to all people made in His image, and that those who oppose freedom must be prepared to fight God.

Wow (again). The Spartans (remember Captain America is not real) were certainly NOT supporters of freedom – even by their contemporary standards. They were a military dictatorship in almost every sense. All citizens were geared for war and this was built on a bedrock of slave labour. Even the other Greek states (with their own slaves) thought the Spartans were oppressive. One of the reasons the Persian kept attacking Greece was the poor Greeks spent most of their time trying to stop the Spartans enslaving them.

The piece closes with:

Embracing the need to spiritually justify the fight for world freedom carries its own perils. Chief among these dangers is what we now see in the world of Islamic fascism: the use of religion to extol death and tyranny. The biblical name for this is idolatry, and the seductions of idolatry are hard for some to resist. In the end, though, the spiritual truth of freedom’s cause is eventually clear to all.

Leonides and Captain America were heroes not because they entered the field of battle with a shield of Vibranium or were in possession of abs of steel, but because they entered battle with a spiritually authentic idea: that God is free and we are made in God’s image to be free as well. We were not placed on planet earth to avoid death. We were placed here so that we could avoid surrendering our God-given freedom to tyrants.

Well again we hit an little dichotomy. Generally when people say things like “it is clear to all” or “every one can see” and my favourite “it is obvious”, the point being made is nonsense. Here, I think this is still valid. While I strongly agree the we should never surrender our Freedom to Tyrants (nothing to do with who gave us our freedom – that in itself implies tyranny but this is a whole new post..), I think the rest of it is nonsense. Leonidas was not a hero, and Captain America is not a real person so cant really be heroic.

The tyranny of religion is not limited to Islamic fascism – although that is the most overt form. Read the blogosphere about how gay people should be punished for an example of how otherwise moderate people are happy to subject others to religious tyranny. But I suppose that is ok though, cos it is a “good” religion…

(p.s. It is interesting how many sites / blogs (rightwingers) seem to see Thermopylae as a parallel to the west vs Iran/Iraq type thing. Dangerous comparison to be making… Why do the religious RIGHT get so confused when it comes to the media – remember March of the Penguins? Can’t they just accept a film is a film. It is there for entertainment. Study the reality if you want to draw cultural parallels…)

[tags]300, Judaism, Rabbi, Spartans, Sparta, History, Rants, Society, Philosophy, Logic, Religion, Religious Moderates, Religious Tolerance, Belief, Culture, Film, Media, Fiction, Superheroes, the 300[/tags]

Technological Breakdown

Well, it seems I have been thouroughly defeated by both Ubuntu and openSUSE (64bit versions). I pretty much spent all day Friday trying to get an openSUSE install connected via a Belkin WiFi USB dongle – which, incidentally worked instantly with the 10.1 32 bit. This failed to the extent the XServer died and I had to do a complete re-install. It appears openSUSE is not as tolerant for “hot swapping” USB devices as you would hope 🙂

On Saturday I cracked and tried an Ubuntu 6.10 install. I dislike Ubuntu because I feel the hand holding is over the top and personally find it next to impossible to get anything done on it. In the past, however, Unbuntu has been better than SuSE at finding devices and getting them working.

Not this time.

Ubuntu, in the case, was even worse than SuSE because of how difficult it is to get administrative commands working. After four hours, although I hadn’t destroyed the install, I gave up and reinstalled openSUSE.

Today, I have spent another five hours trying to get the WiFi dongle working – all to no avail. SUSE claims it is trying to connect to the router, but there is no activity shown on the dongle (it has an LED which blinks when it is working), so I suspect SUSE is lying. I spent two hours trying various methods of building the drivers – namely:


make all

as suggested at LinuxQuestions.org. I tried the versions that come with the RT73 file. I tried the method shown by GIDForums and even followed the steps at http://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/RT73_Wireless. All were good and seemed to make sense…. but none worked. At all. Each time I ran “make” it failed with millions and millions of errors.

Screen shot of old set up In the past, when I have tried to configure WiFi cards in SUSE I have been presented with a screen like this one (on the left – hopefully), but for some reason this is all changed in the 10.2 (at least the 64 bit version). This change is not helping matters. The old layout, while it could be confusing, at least allowed you edit the bits which needed editing. The new version is some what different.

Now, the screens I get look like this:

New WIFI manager - Screen 1New WIFI manager - Screen 1New WIFI manager - Screen 1New WIFI manager - Screen 2 New WIFI manager - Screen 3

Now they appear “better” but they are pretty much useless when it comes to trying to “problem solve” the WiFi issues.

So far, nothing I have tried in three days has worked. When I look at the modules loaded, I have rt2500usb and rt73usb running in openSUSE. I tried to kill either of them with

modprobe -r name

But this did nothing either – openSUSE claimed modprobe didn’t exist (although it would show me the man page for it).

Eventually (i.e. now), I have given up for a while. Most of the solutions I can find require me to be connected to the internet to enable a fix – seems to defeat the purpose but…. Next weekend I plan to go to PCWorld and buy a Cat5 cable long enough to reach from the router to the linux box, hopefully this will allow an internet connection and enable the fixes. Until then, I am staying Windozed. Sadly.

Now, I love linux. I really do. However, until it is possible for people to use it out of the box with common store bought components it really is going to remain a niche product. This is a shame because for basically free you can get a fully functioned PC which runs a powerfull, easy to use and capable office package, web servers, graphics manipulators and much more. To run a similar system using the MS products everyone is so used to would cost thousands. With the advent of crap vista, and the change to “look and feel” you would think this is an excellent time for people to migrate to Linux. Sadly, at least in the case of SuSE and Ubuntu, Linux is not ready for this task. Can you imagine going to a shop and buying a television which required three days of recompiling before it would show a picture?

[tags]Linux, SUSE, Ubuntu, Wifi, Wireless, LAN, Networking, Technology, Computers, Society, Rants, YAST, openSUSE, Belkin[/tags]

Do Daily Mail readers write Guardian online comments

Bit of change of emphasis after that rather po-faced last rant. Two posts back, TW put a link to Joseph Harker’s column in the Guardian.

This was a good piece, even echoing my point that slavery was the abomination rather than the slave trade, but going on to say that the legacy of slavery still impacted on British people today, through its effect on people of Caribbean background. This is even moving towards providing a decent justification for the public apology.

However, the comments that it elicited were sometimes bizarre. It’s a serious temptation to point out some of the underlying follies, but why bother? Oh bugger, I’m going to put a few quotes in anway (didn’t you just guess that?) :-

from Haardvark: “I have never read such a pathetic piece of self-pity in my entire life. “ Hmm, even allowing for web hyperbole (the cosmos knows I’m guilty of that often enough) this person has obviously never read a newspaper. (All those confessionals from celebs who find the strain of being impossibly rich and idolised by millions too stressful and have to act like maniacs, then go into rehab, for a start. Now that’s “pathetic self-pity”. Guardian writer talking about society as a whole – it doesn’t quite qualify, does it?)

From CoeurdeLion :I am not sure where Mr Harker gets all this bile – it is difficult to pick out any hard facts from his scattergun approach to writing….. I feel that Britain today is one of the least racist societies in the world today, bettered perhaps only by countries like Brazil. If you break down success in Britain by ethnicity, you actually find blacks (particularly African) doing better even than whites in participation in higher Education, with Asians doing best. Bile? I defy anyone to find evidence of “bile” or a “scattergun approach to writing” in the pretty elegantly written and constructed Harker piece. Did they even read it, or just go off on a rant as soon as they saw a few words that sparked an emotional explosion in them? No answer needed. And Africans doing better in higher education (well, s/he doesn’t even say doing better but participating more)? As I believe I said in my last piece – people of mainly African ancestry, almost by definition, are not the descendants of people enslaved for the Atlantic slave trade. This doesn’t invalidate, or even contradict in any way, what Harker says.

It’s racism that makes people of European/African/Amerindian background seem exactly equivalent to Africans. Insofar as our identities and expectations of life are partly constructed from the cultural values and experiences of our ancestors, there are few points of similarity between the lives of Africans and people from the Caribbean. The histories of their ancestors are very very different. In fact, the main thing they have in common is basically the experience of being on the receiving end of racism.

from sandywinder: When are the whingeing blacks going to start looking to the future rather than constantly harping on about the past? Excuse me, but wasn’t it the government and the Church of England that started this apologising?

from halgeel84: The doozy Perhaps the reasons why blacks have a lower percentage of persons who perform well academically and a higher percentage of persons who commit violent crimes are related, at least partly, to genetics even though it is an unpopular and very politically incorrect explanation.? Bad science alert, even – more precisely – evil pseudoscience alert. I really can’t even start to address this nonsense.

Now, there were plenty of the posts that you would normally expect from Guardian readers, in response to this stuff. So, relax, the Guardian has not yet become the liberal face of the BNP overnight.

All the same, it’s quite instructive to see-

  • a more literate version of the Jade-Goody et al vileness.
  • a reminder that racism, even pseudoscientific racism, is always happy to raise its ugly head from licking its butt, whenever it’s given the least opportunity
  • a reminder to this blog that it’s barely possible to challenge official hypocritical nonsense, without giving aid and comfort to the enemy

On a more general level, the democratisation of discussion, that has started to become possible because of the Internet , can have undesired effects. For a start, there’s always a potential Lord of the Flies-style downside. History shows that there is probably no force more repellently inhuman than a general population that believes its self-identified tribal/cultural/ethnic group is somehow more human than another group. (Slavery, Holocaust, Ruanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and so on.)

If you are looking for a way to stir up a mass of people to support your desire to seize power or take over a piece of land, this is blatantly the way to go. (In your faces, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, you naive rationalists)

I am assuming that these blogistas aren’t frequent Guardian readers – too many long words, for a start, not to mention the existence of a good few other papers that wouldn’t leave them incoherent with rage, every morning. All the same, these views exist and are pretty common. Some people even believe they represent non-politically correct “common sense” are what others are too cowardly to say. I don’t believe that suppressing these views is the solution. It’s better to identify them than to cover them with a layer of pink icing and pretend they don’t exist.

What do we do about this sort of thinking is another question.

Obviously, a brief but necessary culling of people who fail a simple test of worthiness to be “human” – based on their intelligence, rationality and level of goodwill towards other people – is the first thing that springs to mind.

(Note for the hard of thinking, this is sarcasm. I am being sarcastic.. Well, use a dictionary, then. It’s a bit like irony but not as complicated.)

Linux Annoyances

Not much online time today, sorry. I am fighting a (losing) battle with my technology.

I have spent most of today trying to set up my main PC as a dual boot Linux/windows box using openSUSE 10.2 (64 bit) and Windows XPSP2.

Sadly, I have been far from successful.

The problems began with Partition Magic. The PC I have came with WinXP installed on its 180gb HDD. As I had around 100gb free space, I thought putting 20 gig aside for Linux would be next to no problems. I ran diskeeper and checkdisk to make sure everything was fine (it was) then I rank Partition Magic to resize the disk – I planned to make a 1gig swap file and about 14 gig for the linux install.

Sadly, each and every time Partition Magic rebooted (claiming it was going to resize the partitions) it came up with “Error 1513 Bad Attribute Position in File Record” and suggested I looked at the help files. I honestly spent over an hour doing this (reboot, choose partition sizes, restart, get error message, check help files, find nothing, reboot, choose partition sizes…. etc). Nothing I could find in the help files was any use.

Eventually I cracked and went to a web search engine (why didn’t I do this the first time!) and found out my Partition Magic 8 needed an upgrade to 8.01 and then a patch applied. Isn’t software great?

This done, everything went fine. The install interface for openSUSE is easy to use and easy to understand. I did spend about an hour choosing which packages I wanted but that was just because I’d become a kid in a sweet shop at that point. In the end I settled for Gnome and about 4gb of software. Linux is fantastic.

The install went smoothly…right up to the point at which it needed to connect to the Internet. It found my Belkin USB WLAN adaptor and identified it perfectly. It even found the SSID of the network. When trying to connect it (as it should) asked for the WEP key, so I entered it. After what felt like a week, it came up asking for the key again, so I entered it again. This happened five times before the computer gave up and I had to restart the network connection.

After two hours of trying different things (converting the key from HEX to ASCII etc), I had pretty much exhausted everything I could think off. I have been back to windows to check the settings (they are fine) and I have tried the USB device on other linux machines (although it was an Ubuntu machine) and it works fine. Nothing I seem to be able to do will make my openSUSE installation connect to the wireless router. I have hit a complete brick wall now and I am fed up of entering 26 hex characters every ten minutes so I have given up and come back to windows (yes, sad, I know).

I will try a brief google search to see if I can find the answer, but to be honest I dont know if I can be bothered any more. There is more to life than spending almost an entire working day trying to make software do what I want it to do. The idea is that computers (etc) make our lives easier and less stressfull. If people are writing such bad code that I have to give up all my spare time to get their software to work, I am not really interested. The same applies to Symantec and their fundamentally broken Partition Magic.

I love linux. I have two linux machines running fine here (one openSUSE 10.1 [32bit] and one Ubuntu). I used to love openSUSE and hate Ubuntu. Times may be changing.

If any one has had similar problems, or knows and answer, please let me know!

[tags]Technology, Linux, Windows, Software, Operating System, Wireless, Networking, Rants, openSUSE, Ubuntu, Belkin, Netgear, Partition Magic, Error Messages, Symantec[/tags]

Be careful what you blog

Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman – an Egyptian student with the nom de blog “Kareem” – has been jailed for four years for insulting Islam and the Egyptian president, as reported by the BBC How depressing is that?

Here’s a brief summary of the BBC report. Abdel Soliman is a secularist, who was expelled from his University law studies for criticising religion. The University was responsible for reporting him to the police.

Mr Nabil had declared himself a secularist who does not fast during Ramadan and he criticised al-Azhar, the most prestigious institution of religious learning in the Sunni Muslim world.
He accused it of spreading radical ideas and suppressing freedom of thought.

Well, that’s certainly proved his point then.

The BBC claims that Egyptian bloggers have gained an influence that greatly outweighs their numbers and have been instrumental in exposing some true horrors carried out by the Egyptian state. This is rather humbling to the rest of us bloggers, who usually just about manage to expose what we think about the latest top-selling indie record.

Dawkins and Eagleton

A few of the atheist and pro-religion blogs have referenced Terry Eagleton’s views on Dawkins. I can’t miss the opportunity to bore you to death with more on this.

Eagleton is not a bad writer. He uses quite an impressive turn of phrase when he’s insulting Dawkins. He is a cultural studies lecturer of a certain kind – was brought up as a Catholic, was a Marxist in the 1970s. He was in one of those rather sweet Trotskyite groups that appeal to idealistic students, The defining characteristics of these are usually that they direct their intellectual attention to ripping apart the views of other such groups, in “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin” debates. I.e. they appeal to people with a religious nature but no belief in God.

Sadly , Cultural Studies in the hands of a lot of university dons becomes stuff that you would rather pull your teeth out wiithout anaesthetic than read. The subject meanders away from the facsinating and illuminating work of people like Stuart Hall, Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco (I’m talking about the last two when they are writing for a popular audience 🙂 of course.) It becomes “an angels on the head of a pin” debate subject, with arcane rules and procedures that are neither art (because lots of the works are ugly) nor science (because they make endless unproven assertions). Unlike Hall or Barthes, they don’t care much whether their work has any relevance to human society. It often becomes a way of showing off to their fellow Cultural Studies intellectuals. The world outside the University is as alien to them as the world of the average worker is to Posh and Becks.

I suspect, maybe unfairly, that Eagleton may be one of those lecturers with little concept of “too dull”, witness his reverential mention of Derrida. OK, fair point, the piece was in the London Review of Books, hardly a mass market publication. Still this gives a flavour of it:

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?

Well, nor have I. But I’m still going to mouth off about it.

Dawkins often seems to be a very traditional Enlightenment rationalist, with an optimistic belief that logic and reason have some sway over human actions. Dawkins is writing on the assumption that it is enough to draw attention to errors in their thinking and people will give them up. I wish that were true. Yes, the “God” concept that he attacks most often is the concept of a child, not of a theologian. Dawkins’ arguments are addressed to the general public. Who have usually been fed a lot of “God” nonsense that bears no relation to Eurigenia. And I would be very surprised if one in a million people had heard of the “epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus” etc.

I can’t begin to see what possible relevance these arguments could have to the point of whether God is a delusion. (The people banning evolution teaching in schools can probably barely read, for a start. I suspect Rahner’s words are as unknown to them as they are to me.) The abstract arguments of theologically sophisticated thinkers are not what get taught to kids in Sunday schools and Maddrassas. Imagine an infinitely complex and elegant argument about how Father Christmas could get round everyone’s house in the same night (by bending the space-time continuum, creating his own warp space, or merely amending our consciousness so we thought it was one night but it really takes years.) The debates would throw lots of light on our thoughts about the nature of space and time. But guess what? Father Christmas doesn’t really bring your presents. (Sorry to be the one to break that news.)

I am not a big Dawkins fan, I’m still miffed about the sociobiology…. I think he is utterly naive in terms of sociology and doesn’t understand how the power of religion is indeed rooted in power. He often writes as if ideas have an existence of their own outside of the material world. tA best, can influence the world, but don’t really grow out of social relations. I think this is called “Idealism”, as a Philosophical concept, or it should be. He is not a social scientist. Unlike Eagleton, I don’t this disqualifies him from having views about society though. It just shows that he isn’t the infallible authority on atheism, (thank Void.) There is a lot more to be understood about the role of belief in social relations, and to do it effectively does need a grounding in social science rather than biology.

However, Dawkins isn’t talking about sociology. Nor is he discussing theology, Eagleton. He is talking about whether there is a personal God who made the universe and performs miracles. He is absolutely right about the illogicality of Faith. Dawkins expresses views that you would imagine would be all-but universal in the 21st century and is attacked from all sides.

Hence, he makes us realise we live in a time when human intellectual progress is in reverse and he’s prepared to challenge this state of affairs. In the popular media. Repeatedly. Lucidly. And his influence has encouraged lots of people to actively assert their rationality in a world which is abandoning the whole awkard rationality thing at a rate of knots.

What’s Eagleton doing? He’s turning to the Church he was brought up in, like many lapsed Catholics in their later years. He’s looking only at a Church that appeals to socially-unengaged and pampered intellectuals. He doesn’t seem aware that the world is becoming a battleground and religion is being used to stir up the fighters on every side. For at least a thousand years, religion has been the excuse for committing atrocities, obscuring the battles over land and property that were really taking place. It does matter that people speak the truth about it and question what they are told.

Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly

Of course, all ordinary believers don’t seek to brainwash their chilldren. (Although the faith schools and vicars and pastors and priests and Imams all have a good stab at it.) In fact, many people feel compelled to make their children observe religious tradtions that they don’t really believe themselves. That’s why children are brought into territory of the Church or Mosque or synagogue before they can speak, let alone reason. And the old Jesuit saying of “Give me a child before the age of seven and he’s mine for life” (or words to that effect) seem to be proved by Eagleton’s own leanings.

In any case, I think by definition, faith in the unknowable is blind faith.

Hardly the best actors

This may seem deeply unpatriotic but I am have to protest at some arrant nonsense.
In today’s Guardian Charles McNulty claims that the best actors are British. Are you mad?

This unlikely claim is based on Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Peter O’Toole and Kate Winslet being in line for Oscars today. OK, these are all great actors but only one of them is likely to be under 50. So, it’s really more like saying Britain used to have the best actors.

An RSC-style delivery really impresses the helll out of Americans. The masters and mistresses of the style, from the bloke who played Jean-Luc Picard to the bloke who plays Gandalf are briliant.

However, most good acting has to work on the tv and dvd. The “acting” needs to be unobtrusive and understated and convince us we’re looking at real-life characters rather than Shakespearen declaration. And Americans just win hands down on this.

I’m sure that we don’t get the lamest US soaps here, so it’s not really fair to compare the relatively big-budget US productions that make it to the UK with the dross that home-grown television has become. But, I’m still going to. I am ashamed to say that the mass of Americans, from childhood on to old age, can act most British actors off the stage and into the “don’t call us” bin.

Their bit-part actors are immeasurably superior to ours. If they didn’t have a niche for an evil Brit in every known style of film or tv programme, we would produce about five actors a year and they would all be crap.

The off-switch is broken

Sometimes you might be caught watching such rubbish on television that, to save face, you find yourself claiming that “the off-switch is broken.” The off-switch on my last tv did actually break (as a prelude to its turning into a psychedelic random colour diplay and dying altogether) but I would have to admit it was a good while before I noticed.

We’re often told we waste loads of the planet’s resources and contribute greatly to carbon emissions by not switching off our tvs and videos at night. Granted that figures for the actual sums wasted seem to be based on some back-of-an-envelope calculations with little relationship to reality (see an old Times article by Matthew Parrish), I still get a niggling sensation of irresponsibity if I leave red lights on the tv and its accompanying attendants. (I still do it though).

It would be pretty difficult not to leave the tv on, if you have one that doesn’t even have an off-switch. According to Guy Clapperton in today’s Guardian lots of new televisions have an off-switch located in an odd place or none at all. Toshiba doesn’t put an off switch on its plasmas, apparently so it can upgrade them overnight. LG has decided to reintroduce an off switch, under pressure from environmentally-concerned customers.

I”m as gullible as the next person when it comes to wanting the latest high-tech objects of desire – as long as the next person is only moderately enticed by spending money they don’t have – but I can think of two solutionsthat would cut energy use even more than buying a beautiful new tv with a low-power standby improvement.

One, better than buying new gadgets, why not keep using the old ones till they break?

Two (and I couldn’t resist this, so, apologies in advance to everyone with taste) I finally get to add the punchline to the blog name, based on the old kid’s programme..
Switch off the television and do something less boring instead…


It looks like the Einstein@Home servers are down again. This seems to happen once or twice a month and can last for anything up to a few days.

Looking over the BOINC message log, it appears that the servers may have been kaput since around 0430Z today. Over the last few days there have been occasional problems when my client has tried to connect and download new work units, but this looks like a big one.

At the time of writing, the Server Status page is non-existant and the main project page isn’t coming up (It may have made sense for the Einstein@Home team to have put these on different servers…). The forums, which I thought were on different servers, also seem to be off line at this time.

Oh well. Might as well turn it off then.


This was going to get ignored but, the BBC having beaten us to it by featuring two Downing Street mass spams in a couple of days, it will have to be said. The government response to e-petitions is to fire off a patronising spam telling you that your concern was noted but Tony is now going to explain patronisingly and irritatingly why you are wrong and the government will pay no attention.

The UK government is experimenting with online petitions. Two had massive numbers of people taking part, to express opposition to road-pricing and/or the national ID card. There were over a million against road pricing and around 800,00 against ID. (You can see where people’s priorities lie…)

Now, clearly the only people who sign one of these are those who care strongly enough an issue to sit at at a PC, find the site, find the right petition and send their name, get an email and reply to it. Which requires knowledge of the whole process, plus the will to go through it. You’d imagine that you could multiply these numbers by at least 50 to get a true idea of the strength of feeling.

It’s like cheap MORI poll for the government. It requires an address and postcode. The government can get plenty of very detailed information about which issues people find important and where they live, which could be very useful in an election campaign.

How sane is then, to reply to everyone with emails that set the teeth on edge? I was shown a copy of the ID mail and it basically said

“Thanks for the e-petition. However, the government is not interested. You obviously don’t understand the issues or you wouldn’t have ventured your opinion. ID will fight crime, let you go to America and will hardly cost you anything. in any case it’s inevitable”

Ok, I admit to some exaggeration in the precis here. But it was way too long and boring to read (Yeah, yeah, people who live in glass houses…)

In fact, yesterdays’ blairspam alerted the Opposition to the fact that the ID was to be used as the basis for a national registry of fingerpints. Funny, you didn’t really mention this before, HM Government.

Today’s news item is the road pricing one. This was worded slightly more cagily – over a million opponents, remember – but the impression I got from the BBC was that the government was saying a slight more appeasing version of exactly the same thing “Tough, it’s inevitable but it will be out of our hands and private companies will run it. Nothing we can do mate”

Here’s my response:
Hi Tony

I welcome your move into the technological world of email spam, Tony. It’s an exciting new contribution to the democratic process.

However, I’m sorry to have to explain to you that there may be some misunderstanding here about the nature of consultation. This is for your own good and it was inevitable that someone would have to do it.

Consultation is not really achieved by hearing contrary views then telling the electorate that they don’t understand the issues and that process x is inevitable and is for our own good really.

It is actually not inevitable that the government carries detailed ID information on those citizens who aren’t engaged in organised crime deeply enough to escape the system.

It’s not inevitable that intrusive technology takes over from competent policework or that the data that we provide the government is dictated by the requirements of the US immigration service or that we even have to stump up our own cash so Big Brother can keep an even closer track of us(probably private sector) These seem a lot like political decisions, Tony.

I will just take this opportunity to explain what a “political decision” is . I have to admit I’m surprised that this is necessary for someone who’s worked his way to the job of Prime Minister, but that’s one of the drawbacks of our tragically underfunded private education sector….

And what a lucky coincidence that the announcement about partial troop withdrawal from Iraq (for once, slightly better than normal war news) was leaked on ID Emailspam day and released on the Road-price Emailspam day.

Wild birds don’t pay taxes

We seem to have escaped one potential side-effect of the Bernard Matthews bird flu. The first news of the out break focussed on wild birds as the carriers of the disease. After a few days, in which it bcame obvious that importing turkeys from an area hit by bird flu was probably not wholly unconnected, wild birds were temporarily off the hook. For how long?

On 17th February, the BBC had the grace to recover some of its credibility on the issue by running an interview/article by Dr Leon Bennun, of BirdLife International. He argues that wild birds are likely to get blamed and that threatened species are likely to be culled or be subject to deliberate destruction of their habitats. However, he argues that bird flu infections in wild birds are limited and unlikely to spread to humans. He argues that the global poultry industry is the most likely vector of the disease.

It may also be time to take a long, hard look at the way the world feeds itself, and to decide whether the price paid for modern farming in terms of risks to human health and the Earth’s biodiversity is too high.

OK, I have to declare a vested interest here. I am a long time vegetarian (though I can’t claim any moral high ground because I eat milk and eggs.) I can’t see why there is such a necessity for everyone to have access to ultra-cheap although taste-free chicken and turkey. Taking up a morality in food theme that I already did to death a few weeks ago, I can’t understand how we have become so confused that we talk about “being good” when we mean passing up an extra biscuit but believeg we have no responsibility for the conditions in which our meat is produced.

These poultry are reared in conditions that defy belief. They are stuffed in their thousands into barns where their “lives” must make a mockery of the term. The scale of the Bernard Matthews operation is breathtaking. When the news broke, the numbers of turkeys reported Killed was a lot more than I would have believed there could be in the whole country. And they were in a handful of barns. Is it any surprise that these conditions give rise to diseases.

A few hundred workers were laid off by Bernard Matthews today, with more job losses likely if the public don’t forget their temporary revulsion. The government scientists are doing their best to reassure us. The reassurances have even been rephrased from the original self-contradictory message last week, which was that there was no chance that bird flu could get into the food chain but make sure you cook all poultry thoroughly.

We are now so squeamish compared to people of a couple of generations ago. We don’t even buy poultry if it can be visibly distinguished from Quorn. This makes it much easier for us to ignore what goes on to bring that prepackaged and blamelessly sterile-looking product to the supermarket.

And what goes on is much more repellent than killing creatures to eat, which is what people have done for our entire history. It first involved hunting wild creatures (clearly the best bet from the creatures’ point of view.) Then it involved capturing them and keeping them confined in a simulation of their natural environment until we wanted to kill them (next best bet, although even this is starting to threaten the ecology of the planet as more and more of us need feeding and more and more forest is burned for cattle.) But, what about keeping animals indoors in terrifying and insanitary conditions and feeding them wholly unnatural foods, including the ground-up brains of their own species (does anyone remember BSE?).

There are laws of cause and effect. We are indeed animals ourselves but we somehow believe we can escape the natural laws that seem to govern ecosystems. Species that grow too numerous for their environment and start disturbing its balance too drastically are pretty likely to become extinct. We are turning our planet into a potential hellhole for ourselves.

But, bizarrely, as Leon Bennun points out, we don’t question the global meat industry. We turn on the few escapees from our destructiveness and blame them, failing to understand the role they play in keeping the ecosystem going. I assume this is because wild birds don’t employ people. They don’t pay taxes.

The massive “agricultural” companies employ a fair number of people. Many more people would be employed if the law compelled turkey and chicken “farmers” to rear their poultry using free range methods. It might cost a little more for poultry, but then, it might actually taste of something, so value for money would be about the same. It would surely be safer. The bird flu outbreaks that affected humans in the far east did involve small producers. However, they were localised in their effects. Can anyone even begin to imagine the scale of the effects of an outbreak that could infect humans if it originated in one of these monster turkey/chicken production units?