Get with the programme

Apparently my lack of any particular interest in the following things is like farting in nerd church:

  • Doctor Who
  • Firefly
  • Amanda Palmer
  • Brian Blessed

Nothing personal against any of these people/things. I just don’t really “get” them.

If you think suicide is weak or shameful, you just don’t understand

Recently, someone fairly well known in certain circles committed suicide. People commit suicide all the time of course, but this person could fairly be described as a form of genius, a polymath, hero to many. Since their sphere of influence was (is!) strongly Internet-based, the net has been alive for weeks with people feeling the need to comment upon it.

I haven’t made a comment upon it because I didn’t know this person. I knew of them, of many of their great works and deeds and philosophies. Didn’t agree with some of them, but there you go. Anyone who knew anything about this person knows that the world is much worse off to not have them in it, so no one needs to hear that from me. Speaking about their circumstances specifically though is something I still don’t feel comfortable about. It feels to me a bit too much like some sort of leveraging of grief in order to just make statements about oneself.

Yes, I do realise that by just saying that stuff I have passed comment and now you all know something of my politics and beliefs so I’m really cool for how much I care right? Well, I couldn’t avoid it as otherwise it ends up coming across like, “I don’t care that they died; I didn’t know them.”

This particular incident though, being fodder for Internet discussion by persons not closely emotionally tied to the deceased, has lead to me now seeing quite a few people expressing views like, “don’t hero-worship someone who killed themselves, they’re weak and selfish.” Or, “I’m so disappointed in them that they felt this was necessary.” Like, publicly expressing them, for the world to see. Some influential people.

I still, weeks later, can’t quite put into words how much I am disgusted with these sorts of comments, or even exactly why I am. This is my best attempt so far and it’s not really going very well is it?

This is not about the individual concerned; these are views that some people express whenever there is a suicide that is notable enough to be a topic of discussion, but emotionally remote enough from them that they feel able to “speak their minds.”

There is just some shocking level of arrogance involved when you say that someone was weak, selfish, acted shamefully, disappointed you (YOU, for fuck’s sake!) by ending their own life.

I don’t entirely (thankfully) know what goes through someone’s mind when they decide to end it all but I am pretty sure that they are in such a bad place that any thought of what other people will think has long ago ceased to have any positive effect and probably has the opposite instead.

I don’t know how to stop people killing themselves through despair. I don’t know what the best strategies are. But please just stop acting like suicidal people feel they have some sort of choice, that if they would just not let everyone down so much it would go better for them. I can’t begin to imagine that helps.

Their action must have come from a place where they truly believe no choice exists, and if you can’t sympathise with that then please at least maintain a respectful silence.

How do I send a message of praise to a tube driver’s manager?

Earlier today I was helping Mum to the station after she’d been down to stay with us for a few days. We were on the Piccadilly line, and I started to notice that the driver was doing a lot of talking. Apart from his upbeat and friendly tone—itself sadly a rarity it seems—he had something useful to say before each stop.

He was telling us things like:

  • Which side of the train the doors would open.
  • Where the elevators were located on the platforms and how many people could fit in them (“This elevator has a capacity of fifteen, one five, persons”!)
  • Short cuts for interchange between lines (“you’ll find it quicker to go up to the ticket hall but then do a U-turn and go back down to the Jubilee line”)
  • Between which stations it would be possible to make a mobile phone call.

Some of his attempts at humour may not have been to everyone’s taste…

Cross the platform for the District line to Barking. That’s Barking, woof woof!

…but looking down the carriage I saw more than one person with a smile on their face. On a dreary London afternoon that’s got to be a win.

As we started to reach Central London his comments became more like mini tourist information, calling out the interesting places that are near each station and I heard at least one person comment, “Oh I didn’t know that was there!”

I’ve lived in London since 2004 and I’ve never heard a tube driver put so much effort and personality into their announcements. It was a really welcome surprise; too often you can hear the exasperation in the drivers’ words and they don’t even say “please.” It’s worse than leaving it to the automated announcements.

No one loves their job all day every day and you can’t manufacture sincere enthusiasm, but it makes so much difference. Naturally we primarily want the trains to be punctual and reliable, but once that is covered, having an actually pleasant personality when dealing with the public also goes a long way.

So I was thinking, Transport for London employees probably just get a lot of grief when things go wrong, and a lot of the time that will be entirely out of their control anyway, but still they have to be the interface with the public and deal with it. Here is a chap that did personally go out of his way to do a good job; someone should say thanks. Maybe he’ll keep doing it. Maybe he’ll get others to do it.

I’d like to say thanks to him for making our journey entertaining and for helping to make London a more appealing city for our visitors. How do I make sure his manager sees this?

It was a Piccadilly line train headed for Cockfosters. It arrived at Piccadilly Circus at 13:20 Wednesday 29th August.

Update: Looks like it was this guy:

Opinions are divided!

Personally I would take his cheery announcements every day twice a day rather than the norm. Don’t stop!

Dear Intarweb, please provide ethics check

Earlier this evening I received a marketing email from a company I had never heard of, for an event I wasn’t interested in, to an email address I had only ever given to a differently, seemingly-unrelated company that we shall call Company U.

When this sort of thing happens it may be an indication that Company U has leaked their customer address database or else decided to sell the contact details on, so I’d sometimes follow it up instead of just opting out and consigning the address to the bitbucket forever.

In this case as many times before, I decided to have a whinge on twitter about it first.

Anyway to cut a long story short they got in touch, and it turns out that this marketing email has been sent by Company S. Someone from Company S emailed me to apologise and to remove my address from their list.

I asked this person how they obtained my email address that had only been sent to Company U, and they admitted that they used to work for Company U and that their “rampant CRM system” had somehow “indexed all of my PERSONAL emails”.

Now, from my point of view, this would actually suggest that this person has likely taken a database of customers of Company U with him to his new employer.

So, Internauts, do I have a duty to shop this guy to his former employer Company U? Or am I just frothing in my nerdrage here at the terrible inconvenience of being sent a piece of email I don’t want? Is the man a menace, or should I just get over it?

Infected Finger Incident

September 4th 2011 ^

I cut my left index finger somehow. Slightly painful, but it was only a little cut so I thought no more.

Early hours of September 5th 2011 ^

I noticed that my finger was swollen, and its knuckle also. It was slightly more painful to bend my finger.

Early morning of September 5th 2011 ^

swollen knuckle, red line along tendon
I noticed that there was a red line between my swollen knuckle and my wrist, following the line of the tendon. It was hot and tender to the touch.

Late morning of September 5th 2011 ^

red line snaking up my arm
I noticed that the red line had now gone past my wrist and was snaking its way up my arm. It was very warm to the touch. I started to get a bit worried about it. It varied over time in how angry it looked; the picture on the right was taken when it wasn’t very visible.

We had a grocery order arriving between 1pm and 3pm and I hadn’t had any sleep, so I decided to get some sleep and see what it looked like after the order had arrived.

The order arrived near 3pm. The red line on my arm had faded to almost invisibility. Unless you were looking for it you probably wouldn’t have spotted it. My finger wasn’t so sore any more either. I decided there was no need to worry about it.

Evening of September 5th 2011 ^

We had dinner and started to watch a movie. My arm got more and more uncomfortable, the red line was showing more than ever, and I noticed that it was now just starting to go above my elbow.

At this point I decided that I did actually want to see a medical professional. Having recently seen what happened with Maria’s foot I had a bit of the fear.

We made our way to Ashford Hospital NHS walk-in centre, which is a short bus ride away. It’s open until 10pm seven days a week, with last consult at 9.30pm. We arrived at about 8.20pm and I described my situation, only to be told that they were not seeing anyone else that evening. I was given the choice of out of hours GP or accident and emergency.

I called the out of hours GP number. A callcentre operative took my details and a doctor phoned me back within about 15 minutes. He said that I should have someone look at my arm, and arranged an appointment with a doctor based at West Middlesex hospital. It was the last available appointment, 9.30pm, and I wasn’t sure we could get there in time. I knew there was also an A&E at West Middlesex though, so I figured that if we missed the appointment then I would just go to the A&E there anyway.

One £20 cab journey to Isleworth later, we arrived at West Middlesex hospital at about 9.27pm and I was seen by a doctor.

four times a day
She immediately said that I had an infection which was travelling under my skin, with the red line being cellulitis. She said that it was good that I hadn’t delayed seeking medical attention any further, because if the infection reached the lymph nodes in my arm pit then I would likely need intravenous antibiotics as opposed to the oral antibiotics she prescribed me (500mg flucloxacillin four times a day, 500mg penicillin four times a day).

Early hours of September 6th 2011 ^

swollen hand and finger
My hand was by now even more swollen and finger near the wound very painful to the touch. Even resting my hand on a pillow was painful. My whole arm was stiff and slightly painful to move, with some pains around half way between elbow and arm pit. I couldn’t sleep.

swollen finger
The red line of cellulitis seemed to have faded away, however. It was still too soon to tell if this was due to the antibiotics (of which I had only taken 500mg of each thus far) doing their stuff, or just a coincidence.

September 11th 2011 ^

swollen finger
There’s only 24 hours of medication left now. Pretty much since the 7th things got better very quickly with only my finger remaining sore.

swollen finger
Right now the skin all around the area that was infected has flaked off and shiny new skin is underneath. Thanks modern medicine! I like not dying of septicaemia.

Confusing hardware issues at home

I’ve got this server in my loft at home that’s mainly a file server for the data we use/view/listen to here. It looks like this:

A bit of a beast. When I bought it over 4 years ago I somehow thought I’d be adding a lot more drives. Anyway.

It’s been a good, reliable bit of kit and had no problems for a long time apart from overheating in the old house, but that was a problem with the room it was in. It’s never even lost a disk. A couple of months ago though the PSU went pop and ever since then it started occasionally giving me this sort of thing:

Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.400044] ata3.01: exception Emask 0x0 SAct 0x0 SErr 0x0 action 0x6 frozen
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.400095] ata3.01: cmd c8/00:50:9e:a2:1d/00:00:00:00:00/f2 tag 0 dma 40960 in
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.400098]          res 40/00:01:01:4f:c2/00:00:00:00:00/10 Emask 0x4 (timeout)
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.400167] ata3.01: status: { DRDY }
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.400196] ata3: soft resetting link
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.719196] ata3.00: configured for UDMA/33
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.759036] ata3.01: configured for UDMA/100
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.759075] ata3: EH complete
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.800851] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] 625134827 512-byte hardware sectors (320069 MB)
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.801386] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] Write Protect is off
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.801418] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] Mode Sense: 00 3a 00 00
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.808855] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] Write cache: enabled, read cache: enabled, doesn't support DPO or FUA
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.810058] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] 625134827 512-byte hardware sectors (320069 MB)
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.810452] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] Write Protect is off
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.810482] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] Mode Sense: 00 3a 00 00
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.867347] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] Write cache: enabled, read cache: enabled, doesn't support DPO or FUA
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.871943] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] 625134827 512-byte hardware sectors (320069 MB)
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.873744] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] Write Protect is off
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.873770] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] Mode Sense: 00 3a 00 00
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.873966] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdc] Write cache: enabled, read cache: enabled, doesn't support DPO or FUA
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.874062] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] 625134827 512-byte hardware sectors (320069 MB)
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.874125] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] Write Protect is off
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.874148] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] Mode Sense: 00 3a 00 00
Mar 21 13:53:16 specialbrew kernel: [5875576.874195] sd 2:0:1:0: [sdd] Write cache: enabled, read cache: enabled, doesn't support DPO or FUA

There’s 6 drives in there and the above messages have been seen referring to all of them at one time or another, so I don’t believe it’s as simple as a broken disk.

The incidences of the above have become more and more frequent, so today I spent some time trying to work out where the problem lay.

The way it seemed to affect all ATA busses made me think maybe the (new) PSU was underperforming, but I tried two different ones and they seem fine.

The six disks are inserted into two 3-bay Icydocks. Here’s what they look like:

They’re pretty dumb devices which just let you fit three 3.5″ disks into two 5.25″ bays. On the back they have three SATA data connectors (one for each disk), two molex power, one SATA power and a fan. I bought them because I didn’t want to buy a really expensive disk chassis for home, but I also didn’t want to screw six drives inside the case where they’d be hard to get access to.

Inside I have four of the drives connected to the motherboard’s SATA controller, and two of them connected to an additional Si3112 SATA card. This setup has been in place for over four years.

When all the drives are removed from the Icydocks and directly connected to SATA and power, everything appears to be fine. When either of the Icydocks have three disks in, the problem reappears. I then put three disks in an Icydock, three disks directly connected, but popped one of the disks in the Icydock out. This appears to also work fine (the file systems are all RAID-10 so can stand to run with one disk missing).

I’m a bit confused by that. When I was testing the Icydocks individually, I was using the same set of three disks with each one (with the other three disks connected directly). I could believe that the disk I have now removed is bad in some way that causes the whole bus to reset, but I would have to ask why it affects the other busses, and why it doesn’t happen when it’s directly connected.

I know other people who bought Icydocks and had a real struggle getting them to behave reliably, but mine worked well from the start and have done for over four years. I could believe that one of them went bad when the power popped, even though they are very simple electro-mechanical devices, but it’s hard to believe that two of them did.

I can’t just remove the Icydocks from the picture and forget about it because that leaves six SATA drives running on the floor. 🙂 They need to be inside some form of enclosure, and I don’t want to fork out for a new enclosure or two right now if I can help it.

I’ve left it there for this evening, but I’ll have to return to it tomorrow afternoon. I’ll probably start by putting the other three disks back in their Icydock to see if the removal of that one really does fix it.

Any ideas for ways to narrow the problem down?

I hate hardware.

Update 2010-03-31

I tentatively believe I’ve tracked down the issue.

Joel wins: despite the new PSU being a bit beefier in max output than the dead one I was replacing (500W vs 384W), the new one actually had a lower limit on the 12V rail: 2.5A vs the previous 3.3A.

I scavenged a PSU from elsewhere that also had 3.3A and everything seems fine now and has been for 2 days.

I think that things worked fine outside the Icydocks because the Icydocks have fans, which are probably not very good, and suck additional power. Or else they maybe don’t do any kind of staggered spinup that might happen without them.


I always find it adorable when Jenny talks to me in her sleep, especially when my responses obviously provoke a reaction without waking her up.

Out of nowhere just now:

Her: Erm. Erm. If you’ve separated all the wood stuff how are you going to separate the rest?

Me: What wood stuff?

Her: From my bit.

(voice manages to convey mild irritation at my lack of understanding)

Me: Your bit of what?

Her: Thing!

(Sleep-Jenny clearly losing patience)

Me: Okay then. We’ll work it out.

Her: Good.

(the world has been set to rights)

In the morning I shall endeavour to find out what her bit is and what apart from wood needs to be separated from it.

The dark side of Dubai; the dark side of us

I saw a link to this article about Dubai on Twitter today. Like zts, I found it an extremely disturbing read, stopping at many points to read out loud to anyone who would listen. I recommend that you read it too.

After having read through it, I suppose my first thought is to wonder why anyone who knows that this sort of thing goes on would ever go there. Why any rich person from a democratic country would move there to set up home. Why any Western sporting personalities or pop stars would put their name to Dubai resorts and hotels, to stadiums and their gigs. Coldplay, Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Shakira, Christina Aguilera and Elton John aren’t really acts you associate with slavery, after all.

The urge to take the moral high ground and denounce the practice is strong, and rightly so. Something nags at me though about how much of our society must be built on injustice. The clothes and food we buy when we’re being economical, how much of it comes from oppressed workers? Do we just turn a blind eye all the time?

The people interviewed by Johann Hari in the article either avoid the subject or say they force themselves not to think about it, so a lot of them too are just turning a blind eye. I like to think that if I knew some product was the result of sweat shop labour (let alone slavery) then I would avoid it, but am I kidding myself?

When we could afford it we shopped at Waitrose/Ocado not just because it tasted better but because it’s got to be ethically superior, right? But as soon as we needed to live on a tighter budget this went out of the window and these days we mostly shop at Asda. Most of the bad publicity for supermarkets in the UK seems to be reserved for Tesco but Asda is even cheaper and I can’t really believe their practices are that much better. They have whole cooked chickens for £4, for goodness sake. I could stop shopping there but then that would be less money to spend on other things which would reduce the quality of my life, so this makes me a massive selfish hypocrite.

Of course none of this is comparable to the blatantly fucked Dubai society; if Asda were taking passports off of Filipino girls and forcing them to sell cheap goods for 19 hours a day for no money then certainly I’d consider paying more than 5p per 100ml of Pepsi Max at a competing supermarket.

It’s a bit of a coincidence that we’re hearing all this about Dubai now though, just as they enter the news for allowing their state bank to default massively. This stuff has been going on for years, right? The millions of slaves used to build that place. I confess I never really thought about it before. The worst I’d previously heard was about their insane laws on drugs which could get you locked up for minuscule traces on the outside of your shoes, or for stuff you bought over the counter in the airport.

We all turned a blind eye for years.

If you read this far and for some reason want to comment then it would be great if your comment was not solely based on what you do to consume more ethically than everyone else on the Internet.

The Bedfont Triangle

Since moving in to this flat about 6 weeks ago, the following items have broken or started to behave oddly:

  • Humax PVR started displaying everything in a shade of pink when set to RGB output (like it always has been).
  • One of my LCD panels had its display totally corrupted with a strange tartan effect for about a day, and then went back to working perfectly again without me doing anything.
  • My hair clippers just stopped working, half way through using them.
  • My electric toothbrush wouldn’t turn off for a few minutes, then it stopped and won’t turn back on again now.
  • A brand new wall wart for a wifi access point died after 3 weeks.
  • One of the ports on my desktop switch is permanently lit up while nothing is plugged in. When you plug something in the lights go out.

Stitching together social networking

I don’t think I’m addicted to these things, but I do use social networking a fair bit.

On the microblogging front I use Twitter (mostly posting via

For the classic social networking stuff I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn.

I’m scrobbling my audio to, there is of course this blog receiving occasional posts and I’ve been on IRC for far too long. I’m also on Jabber.

I’m reasonably happy with how this is all stitched together from a publishing point of view, but how are people supposed to find each other on all of these?

Out of the networks I’m in, Facebook is probably the easiest way for you to find people since you can see who knows who and work from there, but then are you supposed to put their names into the search of every other thing you are on? Or are you supposed to tell people everything you’re on every time you add them to any of them? This is clearly stupid.

I once heard about FOAF and how it was supposed to solve all of this. Hardly anyone else seems to have heard about that.

OpenID seems promising. At least once each person has a canonical URL that identifies them, they could put some machine-readable thing on there (like FOAF) that enumerates every other social network they are in so you can see what overlaps.

So why don’t more of these services do this? Is it because the commercial ones (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Bebo, …) are scared of acknowledging the existence of Other Places To Point Your Eyeballs? Maybe the revolution could start by something like reading some FOAF from your OpenID provider to tell other users what social circles you mingle in and how they overlap with theirs?

And no I don’t yet use OpenID, because I don’t actually have a use for it yet, but if someone like did this then I would!