Archive for November, 2008

England 6 – 42 South Africa

November 23rd, 2008

This was my first return to watching an England game at Twickenham in about eight years.  It’s been impossible for me to afford tickets until now, and even then there are few available for direct purchase.  The ones I ended up using were available through my Dad, after he got selected in his local Club’s ‘ballot.’  Needless to say I was very much looking forward to watching England play what was a fatigued South African side.

The day started well, with me making the journey down to Richmond, and parking in an ever-so-tight space at Richmond Station’s NCP Car Park (due to my idiocy of not having any cash on me).  It worked out ok, as I was told by my father that it would be just a short walk to the ground.

It was a nice little walk, though not little at all – around 3 miles.  Luckily, despite the freezing weather, there was no snow, and I enjoyed the refreshing walk, surrounded by like-minded fans heading to the game.  It was great to see some South African’s all dressed and painted up.

If you’re only bothered about my opinion on the game, skip to “The Game” section.  The next section can be skipped if required.

Selfish Toffs

A consequence of walking alongside other people though, is that you can eavesdrop on their conversations.   One group of men, having alighted a tinted windowed people carrier in the middle of the A306 (as I was crossing the round in front of them) managed to really get my back up.  Whilst walking along in their midst, they were talking about the affects of the Credit Cruch.. all perfectly happy with themselves that they were ‘above’ it.  One retorted “I recently was forced (sic) to buy a new car in the current climate, as my son, 18, had just passed his driving test and had been promised a new Audi A4 as a reward, and a replacement for his VW Golf.”

“It’s like I just walked in their and named my price.”

–Biggest Twonk in World

Their next topic of conversation was “How did we get the tickets for Twickenham?”

“How did we get the tickets for Twickenham?”

Twickenham was redeveloped in the early 90s, and has just had the final stand finished (The South Stand).  The money for this development was raised by corporate and personal debentures. This means that an individual or company pay a certain amount, and are then given a seat for x number of years.  This works well, however, with the Twickenham model, it had been criticised for having too high a proportion of corporate tickets – and the fans on modest incomes are excluded.

In order to combat this, a certain number of tickets are allocated to each club around the country.. though I’m not sure how many tiers of the league are covered.  The clubs can then decide how to distribute the tickets within their club.  Some of them give them to the best attended, others hold ballots .etc.  One thing that clubs must NOT do – is resell them to other distribution companies (i.e. hospitality).

Well, as I was with these guys walking to the ground, one of them asked the fated question.. and the answer was that he’d got them through a hospitality company… rather than through his club.  He was then asked why he didn’t get them through his club, and evidently they’d struck a ‘deal’ with a hospitality company..


His friend then replied that perhaps they should get a corporate debenture, as they weren’t too expensive @ £15,000 a seat.  The other friend then piped up that he may just get a personal one, and that he’d spoken to someone at Twickenham about getting one (for a similar price).

However, the thing that really got my back up, was that the first guy said.

“I’ve done a deal with my club, that I pay a bit extra, and I make sure that I get half their allocation.  I then distribute that to all my clients.  Sure, it’s a bit extra, but it’s less than having to pay for a debenture, and everybody’s happy.”


Now, I don’t object to successful people from being able to buy a debenture and get a seat, no matter how expensive it appears.  I’d love to become ‘successful’ and have £15,000 spare to spend on a seat.   It’s a reward for my hard work, and that money goes on to fund the sport that I enjoy.  It’s a great plan, and good for the game.

What I object to, is guys that obviously have the money to spend.. yet still look for loopholes and dodgy grey areas in order to get the best value deal for themselves.. and ignore the consequences of their actions.  They’re stopping the less well-off fans from attending…  I’d have loved to have gotten the name of the club, (and the name of the guy) – but unfortunately they both were not mentioned.

The Game

The game itself started badly, and got slowly worse.  I got one of these RefLive! earphones.. which is some kind of FM radio which receives broadcasts from the referee’s microphone.  It was really good for understanding what was going on.. and unlike the TV when they tune in-and-out, it provided a revelation during scrimmaging and when the ref was giving the players a “talking to.”

England were poor, at a fundamental level.  Their handling was exceptionally bad, their kicks misguided and their passing futile.  There was no ‘depth’ to their attacking line, and only once did an English player receive the ball moving forward at a decent rate of knots.  It was almost as though England were playing netball, with the receiver as static as a snowman. (topical).  Each time the ball went from wing to wing, England were lucky to move forward 5 meters; sideways they probably covered 50 times as much ground as going forward.  Everything was very slow.

The first good bit of rugby was a run made by Paul Sackey, which ended up with him taking a fairly big knock to his leg.  He thought he could run it off.. he was wrong.. yet 70 minutes later and he finished the game.. a lumbering shadow of his true capability.  It was a bad decision, and the rest of the 81,000 fans there would probably agree with me.  He should have left the field within 5, and if Martin Johnson didn’t want to call it – Sackey should have made the decision himself.   There were two clear cut chances when a fully-fit Sackey would have grabbed the ball – at pace – and finished with a try.  Instead, handling errors due to him being short of the pace expected by the passer meant that these chances were missed.

I don’t want to fault Martin Johnson for the performance, as he’s a new guy in charge… but rather than come up with fantastic ideas, and set-plays.. as is the American Football way (a sport which Johnson adores) – England need to get the basics right.  Handling errors were abundant, and the passing was obvious.  There was only one move that showed any degree of passing competence, and that was the aforementioned one which ended with Sackey’s injury.

England need to play deeper, faster and savvier.  There was no point in Cipriani being on the pitch to direct anything today, decent passes sweeping from wing to wing would have been enough to get passed what was a fatigued South Africa side.  I don’t think the score flattered them.. England deserved to get trounced – but each one of their tries was a result of England incomptence, rather than South African magic.

It’s the little things…

One difference that really stood out for me since my last visit, is that the numbers on the players shirts are now almost unreadably small.  When Clive Woodward took over as England boss, I recall him saying that in order to build up the team, he removed all references of past greatness.  Pictures of England’s successes were removed, and awards removed from the changing room and tunnel – for those were not the successes of the current team.. but their ancestors.  In order to be able to get those things back up on the wall.. the current team needed to perform to win them themselves.. only then would they be returned.

I wonder if since Johnson has become Manager – references to his teams’ triumphs have been removed.  It’s time to draw a line under Englands past acheivements and status, and accept that the current team isn’t good enough.  For me, the post-world cup years (2004-2007) were a period of indiscipline for the England team.  Silly penalties were given away for technical indiscipline and poor handling.. by God’s grace these seemed to magically evapourate during the last world cup – which is the only reason England were able to progress so far.  Instead of building on their unexepected success.. by analysing what caused it and noting the difference – England have regressed to where they were in 2004.

England’s individuals need to stand up and be counted.  Get the numbers made bigger on their shirts so they know that everyone knows it’s them who’s throwing the decisive pass; taking the tackle.  Too many players today looked scared of the tackle, running away from it and dropping the ball rather than taking it in order for the play to be recycled.  The forwards didn’t want the ball, so spent their time piling on the ruck to give the backs their chance.. and the backs didn’t want to be tackled so ran sideways or backwards.

I can see England getting trounced by the All Blacks next week should they put in a performance similar to the one shown today.. and wouldn’t be surprised if they broke 50.  However, many of the errors that the team showed today don’t occur when the players play for their club teams.  Handling errors are mainly due to confidence issues – and that may be improved by inspirational leadership from M.J.  I would be massively suprised if he’s able to turn it around before next week.. but the talent is there.. it’s just a case of focusing on the basics, and getting the TEAM to believe.

Manchester Congestion Charge

November 21st, 2008

It’s been years coming, and the vote is soon to go ahead on the Manchester Congestion Charge.. with the results due on the 12th December.

I currently live in Manchester, just off the Oxford Road – reputed for being the busiest bus route in Europe.  It links the students of Fallowfield to their University.. and workers like me to the City Centre.  It’s a fantastic route, and although prices have gone up a bit recently (£1.20 to get to the City Centre) – it’s still a great and easy way to get into the City… and it runs 24 hours a day.

However, I don’t work in the City Centre all the time.  My office is two suburbs across Manchester in Levenshulme.  Again, there’s a Bus service that links just outside my flat to Levenshulme, which is great.  However, there’s also the “Fallowfield Loop.”  It’ a disused railway line that links Chorlton-cum-Hardy to Gorton, and most mornings I cycle the 1.6 miles to work.  It’s well kept, swept of leaves weekly by Sustrans.

I also cycle into town, though you’d think with all the buses, this wouldn’t be too enjoyable.  However, there are clearly marked cycle routes and the bus drivers are the most ‘cycle-aware’ of any Bus drivers I’ve had the pleasure of cycling past.

So the congestion charge.. I live within the M60, so as soon as I take my car out of the drive I’ll have to pay it.  However, improvements are promised to the cycling infrastructure, and to the public transport.  I think it’s only going to improve other areas of Manchester, and help reduce people’s dependencies on their cars when travelling in the city.  However, I do think the ‘boundary’ of the congestion charge needs to be revised in some Industrial Areas.

For example, near the Trafford Centre, and just inside the ringroad, there is alot of industry.  These Estates have lots of lorries heading in and out of them, many of which head straight out onto the M60 and off onto their journies.  Now, one company was quoted as saying they’d be paying £70,000 a year Congestion Charge.. despite not causing any congestion.  From an environmental aspect, that’s probably indicative of the pollution their causing – so charge them.  However, a more realistic solution for them would be to move to the other side of the M60, onto GreenField land, and pollute just the same.  Surely it’s better to keep them on their current brownfield site – modify the congestion charge zone – and then set emissions reductions targets within the zone.. which is precisely what London have done for Lorries within the M25.

Use your vote.

Ubuntu-UK… Team Leader Elections

November 16th, 2008


After a great 13 months with Alan Pope at the helm, it’s time to choose a new Ubuntu UK PoC.

I’ve enjoyed Alan’s time as PoC, and have been able to work with him in his role on one project.  No doubt his contributions will continue even after he steps down as PoC.

There was discussion a while back, about what being a PoC is about.  In my opinion, a PoC defines his or her own role on the Community – but at the end of the day is seen as a figurehead for his or her Localised Community.

The Ubuntu UK community is a happy and well balanced one.  Under Alan’s tenure, we have held together end enjoyed some grand release parties.  With Canonical residing in our Locality too, we even got a visit of Mr Shuttleworth.  Alas, I have not yet been there (time for me to setup events to areas outside of London).

I seriously considered running for the post myself, however, I don’t feel like I have yet been active enough to consider a promise to be ‘more active’ to be anything more than use IRC _three_ times a day :)

However, I have a good relationship with one of the three runners, and am therefore going to endorse him running as Ubuntu UK PoC.

Dave Walker

I’m sure the other guys have a lot to offer too, but Daviey is someone who I’ve worked with in the past, and who I can see being a great walking advertisement for ubuntu (and that’s not just down to the extra real-estate available on his t-shirts)…

Please take time to vote, for whoever you wish here:

I’m (maybe) off to India

November 11th, 2008

Fantastic News.  The week before Christmas I’m hopefully heading out to India to help with a big Christmas Party for some kids in hospital.  It’s something that my Dad is organising.. so hopefully I can post more details once I know what I’m doing and where exactly it is I am going.  

As I’m an uber geek, I’ll work out which language these kids speak, and take my ubuntu laptop over there with that language pack installed. :)

Hopefully I can give these kids a great Christmas.  It’s something that I’ve been hoping to do for a while, (as was the gist of my post only a few days ago,) and I’ve got to thank my Dad for giving me this (potential) chance to go over there this Christmas and ‘Make a Difference.’

If anyone has got any more suggestions, or stuff they think would be useful to do out there, please let me know.  All I know at the moment is that I’ll be heading out for about a week before Christmas.. Once I know what the exact situation is, I’ll be able to ask for more specific suggestions!

Here I go with Kubuntu

November 9th, 2008

Today I traveled from Macclesfield, Cheshire – to Harlow, Essex. Why? To watch the two teams do battle in the FA Cup, 1st round proper. It was a fairly interesting game to watch, Macc Town finishing 2-0 victors.

However, on the journey, I had my iPod in, and was listening to the #Ubuntu-UK Podcast, with Laura, Alan, Daviey and Tony. They began with a very long discussion on KDE.. and Alan saying that he was going to spend an entire development cycle using Kubuntu.. though he hadn’t got round to it yet.


I use Ubuntu on my work PC, home laptop, and private VPS(s). I love the OS and it works wonders for me. I used to run Xubuntu on my old laptop, but since upgrading I’ve been getting away with bog-standard Ubuntu. :)

So I’ve decided to follow Alan’s lead… though I think I may have beaten him to it. I intend to run Kubuntu for the entire intrepid release on my laptop. I’ve started today (9th Nov @ 00.00) and will be running Kubuntu for the foreseeable future. Hopefully I’ll be able to submit some bug reports .etc and help out the Kubuntu community in general.

I started in Linux using KDE.. and made the switch to gnome (on Gentoo) when I started my first job. Soon after I was googling for Linux distros that used gnome as default; found Ubuntu; and the rest (as they say) is history.

So here I go on my Kubuntu journey. I’ll need to switch stuff like mail over to K mail, Music over to amaroK.. but bear with me.. it could be an interesting ride :)

Solutions, not just choices.

November 8th, 2008

I don’t  know whether I can claim I’ve had an epiphany; that probably puts too much emphasis on the issue – but tonight I have found myself deep in thought regarding open source software, my job as an open source/open solutions development manager, – and (for want of want of a better phrase), the ‘Greater Good.’

I haven’t come into programming via a very orthodox route.  I didn’t program computers as a kid (though I did have a play on a ZX81 some Sunday afternoons if Dad felt like letting me), and I didn’t do IT at school past the age of 13.  Since the age of about 15, I’ve wanted to help people; that is, make a difference to them at a personal leve.  Unfortunately, I’m massively squemish, so couldn’t become a doctor.  Therefore I decided to look into psychology.  It was only when I started applying to University that I did in fact want to be a psychiatrist, rather than a psychologist, as to do that I’d need to have done biology and chemistry at A-Level, and then a degree in Medicine. (I guess there are no squemish psychiatrists then…)

Despite this, I continued down my path as a psychologist, by studying Psychology at University.   However, as I wasn’t 100% sure that this was the route for me, I supplemented my course with a Busines degree, coming out with a 2:2 from MMU Cheshire in June 2007.  I was fairly disappointed with my grade, to say the least.. but I do have to admit it’s an accurate representation of the time I spent studying… unfortunately much of the rest of my time was spent working with computers – or ‘faffing’ as my flatmate used to say.

Back in 2004, when I started University, by chance I made a good friend in ‘Dan.’  We shared quite a few interests, including a love of fairly heavy rock & metal, plus we were both ‘literate’ in IT.  There comes a time at University when you’ve blown your budget, and your waiting for the next payment to hit your account.  It happened to us all.  The first part of the month is spent with your head over a bin passing stuff from your stomach into the bin, and the second half is spent much the same way, with the fudamental difference that any edible scraps are now going in the opposite direction*.

I digress.

Well, on one such night, dan came up with the ingenious plan to install Linux on our computers.  I had an Acer Aspire Laptop.. 15…someting.. and Dan had his trusty old laptop.  I hadn’t got a clue what Linux was, but thought I’d go along with it anyway.  18 hours later and Dan had got debian nearly working on _some_ of his hardware.. and I’d managed to install gentoo within the first 30 minutes.. only to find myself at what I now know to be runlevel 3 without any instructions on how to go further.  Needless to say, this completely whetted my appetite for ‘Open Source’ – and I had ‘College Linux’ installed on my laptop within the next couple of weeks.. after getting through my supply of around 50 CDRs.

College Linux was fantastic… for my first taste of Linux it was just so ‘right’ for use at University.  I can’t remember now which exact packages it came with.. but it was usable, had 1.3 for wriitng my assignments, and plenty of other programs that I found useful.  It was tailor made for what I needed, and managed to get through the rest of my first term using it.

I was so impressed with the software, that I set up a website @ which unfortunately is now no longer maintained.. and redirects to here.  However, the initial incarnation of the site was an introduction to Open Source, and my experiences with a few of the more ‘targetted’ packages, like PSPP (clone of SPSS) categorised in a way that would allow non-geek, non-FLOSS people be able to access them.  I had the site running for a just over a year, when I received an email of (someone I now know to be a very good) bloke, saying he liked the site, and wanted to work with me on my ‘mission’ in the future.  Having just been rejected last-minute from an internship, I bit his hand of and responded. “How about I work for you now..” three years later and I’ve not yet got the sack.

My main ‘role’ once I joined the company, was to help them manage their marketing.  There were a few new products coming out, and with the company being so new, we needed to find a way to push the products out to the masses.  We were providing a value-added service to our customers… yet did not at the time have the capacity to raise brand awareness without swamping ourselves with too many clients too fast.  However, the guys were obviously fairly clued up on this, as they’d decided to split my job between marketing for a few days, and configuring an ‘Open Source Office Server’ in the rest of my time.  With the experience and advice around me of people who actually knew about programming issues, and could guide me.. my knowledge increased exponentially.. and within a month I was working fulll time on the Office Server.

So that was where I’ve come from into Open Source Development Management.  Let me now tell you where I’d like to go.

This week, Microsoft announced they would slash the price of their software for companies started within the last 3 years with a turnover of less than £1,000,000.  It looks like a good deal from an uneducated viewpoint, and if your Directors insist “Let’s buy Microsoft as 99.99999% of the Business World use Microsoft”, then you’re in a happy (if not good) place.  This gets me thinking though…

For a short time, it looked like one of my closest friends was to become a Small Business Advisor for a UK Bank… it was a job he thought he’d like – helping Small Businesses get off the ground, and helping them out.  It sounded like a pretty good little job.  It improved even further when he said ‘I might recommend them use stuff like to save money.’  This is exactly the type of people who would grasp ‘Free Software’ with open arms should they fully understand it.  However, like many complicated technilogies – it currently requires too much ‘thinking’ before being useful.  With Microsoft, someone can go out and get it and worry about ‘thinking’ later… with Open Source Solutions, people are asked to think first, and plan ahead.. something that far too many people are unwilling to do (Credit Crunch.. anyone??).

However, Open Source software is maturing – and it’s now easier to use than ever.  With the advent of online applications, people are getting used to ‘change.’  People who would never moved from MS Word are using Google Docs, and realising that actually they don’t need MS Word any more.  No longer tied to MS Word, they even search for other Desktop software to use.. and the progress begins.  People are buying Mini-Laptops with Linux pre-installed and “loving the Mac-like interface on this!” (as heard in the Carphone Warehouse, Manchester, as a lucky punter played about on Ubunty on the Elonex Webbook.)

This makes me happy.  But what would make me happier is that if I could utilise all these tools to make bespoke applications for organisations that require them.  There are earthquakes, famines, refugees and wars all over the world at the moment, and whilst I don’t even being to pretend that Open Source Software can stop that.. it _can_ be a viable solution for organisations looking to organise their IT in ‘the field.’  Software is used already for so many complex things, that sometimes it’s use for recording simple things, like Medical Information.. refugee numbers .etc may be overlooked.

Nicolas Negroponte broke down barriers by releasing his XO laptop… that hardware in itself would be invaluable in a disaster zone.. a MESH network of beacons reporting on the wellbeing of thousands of people, making sure that help is getting to the right places the fastest. Allowing volunteers to have as much information as possible at their fingertips.. and giving the people who need it the best chance possible for survival.

One of the false ‘mantras’ of Open Source software is ‘Build
it and they will come.’  This is not the case, and this is not what I intend to do.  What I’d like to do is generate some kind of dialog between the people that would require this software, and we, the Open Source community, that have the time and the expertise to provide it.  My reasoning lies in that there may even be just one organisation out there than either reads this, or happens to share my idea that they could help mobilise the Open Source Community to proactively help them.  If so.. then I will regard myself as having success.  However, I believe there are probably tens, if not hundreds of applications of software that organisations like the Red Cross, MSF, and other charities could think of which would make their charities more efficient and productive.  Sure, the disaster-area software may be the most ‘romantic’ in terms of philosophising, but there’s also the administrative software .etc that is invisible behind the scenes.

I’m sure there are more people out there who share my beliefs and opinions, and unless we get together to make this work the benefit to the people who need it most will be delayed.

* this is a slight exaggeration, but I liked the phrase.

Electronic Voting.. no thanks!

November 7th, 2008

In 2000, the world watched as George W. Bush showed flagrant disregard for the American Democratic system and was able to install himself as an unelected US President, with the help of a few cronies in the media, and some others strategically placed at different levels of the administration in the voting system.  The most worrying thing for me, was not the fact that George W. Bush attempted it, but the apathy shown since the election.   No man stood up strong enough on the day to stand in-front of the metaphorical tank to prevent George W. Bush, and the scenes at his inauguration were unprecedented (pelted with eggs, and a mad dash in a car to the White House front door).

Eight years later, and Obama has been elected US president, the first Black American President.  However, you’ll be pleased to know that this post isn’t about _that_ vote, it’s about the vote that’s been going on for the last few months, and finally coming to a head in Liverpool tonight, 6th Nov 2008.

Rick Astley has one the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the MTV awards, beating

  • Britney Spears

  • Christina Aguilera

  • Green Day

  • Rick Astley

  • Tokio Day

  • U2

(That’s actually the first time I’ve looked at the full line up… but I’ll continue with the blog anyway)

Voting for Rick Astley was skewed, not just by the ‘rickrolling’ that amused so many people in 2008, but by a nice easy bit of javascript, used to process around 1 vote every three seconds. Run it in the background during office hours, and there’s your winner.

With so many people using this ‘hack’ – Rick could be sure of winning.

So.. paper voting, and manual hand counting..

I’m never gonna give you up.

Writing ‘Howtos’

November 6th, 2008

Writing howtos can be a great thing, or it can be a dangerous thing.  It’s nice for people to spell out the pitfalls and reasonings behind certain decisions in a pretty standard process, but it’s also a great was to fool onself that understanding a piece of software isn’t necessary in order to use it well.  Sure, you can get away with a simple text editor without reading the instructions (though please ignore vi/emacs .etc).. but for more advanced software packages, there’s nothing quite like reading the manual; and in some cases, people won’t offer to help you out until you’ve shown a certain level of understading in the first place.

I’ve been meaning to write more howtos, as they’re enjoyable to write, and very rewarding when people read them.  However, I want to be writing howtos that require a certain level of understanding on the part of the user, but also provide enough detail for ‘educated’ users to extend and improve.  That’s what open source is all about, right?

Well, luckily for me there’s a whole community of users also contributing.. hopefully when we pull together we’ll get some good content up… in the meantime I’ll put all posts up on the blog too :)

Digimate 1918 19 TFT Screen

November 5th, 2008

Digimate 1918

This has been bugging me and my boss for the last few days. I have this monitor, and at the top there’s a removable thing.  In the middle at the back.

Can someone please suggest what it is for?