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Even Tories are human

July 30th, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

The television news for the last few days has been full of reports about the situation in Calais. What is really disconcerting about it all is the way the reporters, commentators and anchors manage to avoid using a certain word: people.

They always talk about ‘migrants’ doing this, and ‘migrants’ doing that. At no point do they ever refer to the migrants as people. It might seem like splitting hairs, but it feels like a concerted effort to de-humanise an entire group of people, which so often is what we do so that nobody kicks off too much when we do something bad to them.

The same thing happens with people who receive benefits. You won’t see them called ‘people who receive benefits’. They will be, at best, ‘benefit claimants’ but more usually ‘scroungers’, ‘skivers’ or worse. They are defined by one single thing. Even the Krays get better PR than that – they are defined by being a) gangsters and b) good to their mum.

It is a dangerous path to go down. Dehumanising individuals or groups never ends well, and defining people by one single characteristic or attribute to the exclusion of all others is the first step to dehumanising. I always feel a bit uncomfortable when people who inhabit the chatrooms, forums and newspaper comments start describing anybody as ‘animals’. There is always that unsaid, but implied, conclusion that we needn’t worry about due process or any other niceties because you only need to apply that to people.

How are we ever going to solve problems if we are continually being whipped up into a lynch mob mentality?

Even the dentist who shot Cecil the lion is a human being. Not a very nice one, obviously, and not deserving of any sympathy, but nevertheless still a human being.

Even Tories are human. There, I said it.

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Wordy Rappinghood

July 5th, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Life

No matter how many times I read this I can’t make it make sense:

While the process was laborious, for, as is often the case, because the computer systems managers have specified don’t report data of this kind, it resulted in atitudinal changes amongst engineers.

I think you have to remove “for” and put the “because” there instead, and then insert “that” between “systems” and “managers” to fix the grammar. And then add PARKLIFE! to the end. Obviously.

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Yes – Like it is

July 5th, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Music

I still have not got round to listening to all 7 of the identical live albums that Yes released last month as part of the Progeny box set and then noticed on Spotify that there is yet another live album out, released last week. Whereas the Progeny discs are all from are all from 1972 concerts, the new album (Like It Is) is from a concert in August last year.

This was when they were playing Fragile and Close To The Edge in their entirety, so there are some pieces that will not have been performed live often, if at all. The obvious problem is that Fragile was a collection of band songs interspersed with solo pieces and in the 2014 concerts only two people were left from the 1971 band so you have Alan White doing the Bill Bruford piece, Geoff Downes doing the Rick Wakeman piece and Jon Davison doing the Jon Anderson piece. The other obvious problem is that some of those solo pieces were very much studio work not really lending themselves to live performance, especially We Have Heaven, with all its multitracked vocals.

In spite of that it worked, even with the culture shock of having Roundabout played during the show rather than at the end.

The biggest problem overall is that Jon Anderson is not singing. Jon Davison is OK but he isn’t up to Jon Anderson in his prime, and not as accurate as Benoit David. Mind you, Jon Anderson now would have trouble matching his early 70s performances.

As this was a play-the-album tour, most of the songs are kept close to the originals, so no messing around and doing anything at a totally different tempo or a different style, but that is not to say they are carbon copies of the originals either. They even managed to find a new slant on Roundabout after all this time.

What really makes the album is the way the bass playing seems to give it a lot more muscle, particularly on Heart of the Sunrise, which makes it even more sad that Chris Squire died only days before the release because it shows him just getting better and better.

I think we would all have preferred Rick and Jon to have been there, but if you can get over that it is a decent album and a reminder, as if we needed it, of just how good Chris Squire was.

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A coping strategy

July 4th, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Life

I am currently ploughing my way through a book about ‘systems thinking’ (Freedom from Command & Control by John Seddon). It is not exactly a page-turner, but there is no option to wait for the film to come out. It suddenly got to be more fun when I decided to add some bits of my own, as per the creative satirising of Russell Brand, hence:

This is to illustrate the generisability of the systems approach to these kinds of organisation… PARKLIFE!

or

Acting on lagging measures risks sub-optimisation of the system… PARKLIFE!

Reading non-finction is never going to be the same again.

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Party lines

July 2nd, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Life

Since re-joining Crawley council I have been to a stupid amount of meetings, briefings and seminars. I think I had 8 different meetings last week. In a lot of those I have noticed something that I don’t think was always the case, although I may be mistaken – it was a long time ago – a tendency for the Labour and Tory members to segregate themselves in meetings.

The only exception was an overview & scrutiny meeting I went along to as an observer. The next meeting I went after that was a development control meeting. The officers had put name plates around the table in a fairly random fashion so I just sat where my name was. At this point the leader of the Tories asked if I minded moving so he could have all of his group together. I didn’t mind. I don’t care where I’m sitting, but I thought it was a bit odd, given that these meetings are supposed to be totally non-party-political and act in a quasi-judicial capacity.

Since then all the meetings have seen the Tories arrange themselves along one side of the table and Labour along the opposite side, and it now seems to just happen automatically.

The irony of all this is that in the last full council meeting it was the same Tory group leader who accused Labour of ‘politicising the council’. The council, of course, is a political body full of politicians so is already about as politicised as you can get to start with, but development control is supposed to be non-political in the party sense, with whipping and predetermination being completely against the constitution so why was the opponent of politicising so keen to politicise it?

Not that I am particularly bothered by it. Just mildly amused.

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Bye bye branches

July 2nd, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Life, Technology

I had an interesting email from Barclays today, inviting me to take part in a trial of paying in cheques via online banking.

Interesting because this is exactly the feature I was saying they should have when I last received a cheque from somewhere. With online banking capable of doing most things and cash available from ATMs everywhere, the only reason I ever had to go into a bank was to pay in cheques, which is quite rare now, but a bit of a pain.

Last time I did it I was wondering why we can’t just take a photo of the cheque with a smartphone and pay it in through the banking app on the same phone, and that seems to be exactly what they are trying.

There is a downside to all this. It removes yet one more reason to go into a bank and so can’t bode well for the prospects of bank staff. It will certainly make it easier to cut down on the number of branches or the numbers of staff.

Despite being enthusiastic about how convenient this could be for me I will not take part in the trial for practical reasons. I get cheques so rarely that the trial will probably be over before I get one, especially since only Barclays cheques are part of it, but I hope it works and gets expanded to cover any cheques.

 

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Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore

June 14th, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Life

We arrive at books by many different routes. It may be that a cover catches our eye in the shop, or a review in a magazine sounds good, or somebody recommends it. I came to this book by a bit of a backwards route. I very much enjoyed a book called The Reader on the 6:27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent and the publisher’s blurb for the book said that it was like “Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore meets Amélie”. Now I had never even heard of the 24-hour book, but I thought I should give it a go purely on the basis that if people who liked it would like the book I just enjoyed so much then I should like it too.

OK, so publishers have been known to exaggerate or even lie when pushing their books, but it was worth risking the few quid on downloading it. It turns out that I did enjoy Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, even though it really isn’t anything much like the book that was being compared to it.

The Penumbra book is actually sort of like what the Da Vinci code might have been if it had been written by Douglas Coupland and was not about Jesus at all. At first I felt a little guilty reading what looked like it might be a hymn to printed books on a Kindle, but it soon turned a bit technological.

The bookstore of the title is one with a tiny but eclectic and carefully-chosen selection of books for sale, but a massive amount of mysterious books on the higher shelves are only borrowed by mysterious customers. The hero of the book  is a recently-unemployed website designer who starts to investigate these mystery books, which leads to a 500-year-old secret society dedicated to cracking the secrets of life.

At this point it turns into a sort of quest for the hero, who treats it like a real-life dungeons and dragons game, adopts the role of ‘rogue’ and enlists the modern-day equivalents of a wizard and warrior to help him. By this time it is all getting a little complicated but compelling.

After the conclusion of the story there is a bit of a postamble (if that is a thing) which briefly describes what everybody went on to do and seemed to set everything up for a series of sequels, so I was a little surprised to find that the book was followed up by a prequel instead – Ajax Penumbra: 1969, which I immediately downloaded and read.

The prequel does explain a few things from the first book. It is more of a novella than a proper book, being extremely short, but I defy anybody to finish Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore and not want to read the prequel too. Or anything else that Robin Sloan decides to write, because he has a very readable style and seems equally at ease describing historical details (some real, some invented and some a bit of a mixture) , modern technology, and the possibilities for the near future.

By the way, reading it on a Kindle turned out to be very appropriate indeed.

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Feeling at home

June 11th, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Life, Politics

You know how it is when you walk into a place for the first time and it immediately feels comfortable? You just feel at home there for some reason. Well I have had that sort of feeling twice in the last week with council matters.

The first time was when I went down to see the IT department and we went though to the server room. For a start, it was like walking onto the set of the IT Crowd, but then affection for that show is mostly down to the accuracy and familiarity of the the set. As soon as I set foot in there it just felt like my old server rooms at London Underground, even though everything is now rack-mounted and several generations better, it just felt the same. And the store room full of assorted spare parts and old kit was just like the old IT stores in Telstar House.

The second time was today when I paid a visit to the depot in Metcalf Way. In most ways it is totally different to the train depots I used to spend a lot of time in. For a start there are no trains or rails, but it did have the same ambience, the marked out walkways, the hi-vis vests everywhere and the smell of machinery and oil.

Unfortunately I am likely to be spending much more time in the committee rooms than in depots and server rooms, but I’ll have to try and find excuses to keep adding a bit of variety.

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Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends

June 3rd, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

It is now about a month since the elections, when I re-joined Crawley council. I left the council (involuntarily) about ten years ago and it has been a little strange being back in the town hall for two main reasons:

  1. All the things that have changed
  2. All the things that haven’t

Both are lists too long to even attempt to write out in full, but it is not just like stepping back into my own past; in some ways it is like stepping back into the past generally. Partly that is because of my own experience in changing work environments, and subconcsiously forgetting that not everywhere is like my workplace. Also forgetting that my own workplace only went through a massive change about five years ago and conveniently forgetting that the things I find so quaint and old-fashioned in the council were still around in my company quite recently.

For example, people in the town hall still have offices, which are crammed with shelves and cupboards full of paper. I have got used to a place with over 2000 employees where not a single person has their own office even if they are a managing director or HR director, and we routinely scan documents and put them on a server rather than in a filing cabinet.

And yet at the same time the council are doing things that we still only aspire to at work – like delivering payslips by PDF instead of expensive secure printing.

It is not too much of a culture shock though. Many of the staff are still the same ones who were there before, as are many of the councillors of course, so it feels halfway between starting at a new school and going to a reunion of your old school.

So far the biggest disappointment has been the discovery that the council computers only have Internet Explorer on them and no option to use Chrome or Firefox, although the disconcertingly large number of Tories in the chamber runs it a close second.

I don’t intend to start writing loads about politics or the council here, and will probably revert to writing about prog rock, comedy and the usual stuff soon enough, but this has been too large a change to my routine to go unmentioned.

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Programming flavours

June 3rd, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Technology

This evening I came across a great passage in the book I am reading. The passage is about programming languages, the book isn’t. Not really anyway.

But, of course, the point of a programming language is that you don’t just read it; you write it, too. You make it do things for you. And this, I think, is where Ruby shines:

Imagine that you’re cooking. But instead of following the recipe step-by-step and hoping for the best, you can actually take ingredients in and out of the pot whenever you want. You can add salt, taste it, shake your head, and pull the salt back out. You can take a perfectly crisp crust, isolate it, and then add whatever you want to the inside. It’s no longer just a linear process ending in success or (mostly, for me) frustrating failure. Instead, it’s a loop or a curlicue or a little scribble. It’s play.

I have never thought about programming those terms before, but I really like the comparison. I don’t think I have ever seen code described in such a poetic way.

The book itself is about a bizarre book shop, and books so I feel slightly guilty reading it on a Kindle instead of on paper.

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