July 27, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Liberty Falling, Nevada Barr

1999 mystery, seventh in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. With her sister hospitalised in New York, Anna stays on Liberty Island (where the statue is) and explores Ellis Island outside hospital visiting hours. Then a young girl falls to her death from the statue.

July 27, 2016 08:03 AM

July 26, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Electra Woman & Dyna Girl

2016 superhero comedy (miniseries re-presented as film), dir. Chris Marrs Piliero, Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart: IMDb

Low-level superheroes Electra Woman and Dyna Girl move to Los Angeles to make the big time. But can they be true to themselves?

July 26, 2016 08:00 AM

July 25, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death of a Ghost, Margery Allingham

1934 classic English detective fiction; sixth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The great artist John Lafcadio left twelve final paintings, to be shown one per year after his death. At the unveiling of the eighth, a young artist is fatally stabbed with a pair of decorative scissors.

July 25, 2016 08:03 AM

July 24, 2016

Andrew Elwell

The writing's on the wall

For the last couple of jobs I've had, having some sort of status display has proved itself really useful. Things like an overloaded nagios dashboard help to drill down to see what system issues you may have, but on large systems there'll always be some component that's not green (however your service should work around these transparently to the end user).  In a smaller team without 24/7 operations staff and shift handovers, how do you know things aren't on fire when you walk into the office? - I'll ignore the fact that you probably read your email over breakfast.


At $job[-1] we put a spare monitor on the office wall and ran concerto on a PC feeding it. The backend at that time was php, and made assumptions such as assuming that short tags were OK - I hacked on a branch to make it more standard with the scientific linux systems we were using at the time. Given this was (is?) a student project out of the Rensselaer Institute ir's hardly suprising as young developers want LATEST SHINY. They then went through a second system effect, rewriting from scratch and completely missing the launch of the raspberry pi, which could have made a killer combination.
The problem is that many browser based clients need the overhead of X11 and all the various hacks to remove mouse cursors and make them more 'kiosky'


Fast forwards a few years and I have mini-magnus on my desk showing status and a set of 3 unused monitors on a wall looking to display some info. A quick bit of research flagged up info-beamer which has been used in production at the CCC events for several years. I've been playing with it for a couple of days now in the standalone pi and hosted variant.

hosted info-beamer

The install of this is very smoothly done. Small zip file download to populate an SD card with the raspberry pi bootloader files and a squashfs  and it self-installs the rest of the distribution from S3 and prompts you to register the node to your info-beamer account (in a similar way to a chromecast).
Florian has made some really nice touches to the setup - little things like setting cec_osd_name if your TV screen uses it, a custom kernel logo, and suppression of all but the player-related boot messages. In a public area, this makes it look a lot more professional than most of the other solutions which show the operating system before launching a player should they reboot. I've only played with a couple of the sample packages, but the install process is slick, if initially confusing terminology between packages, setups and playlists.

I'd love to see this integrated with indico - the meeting software used at CERN. Hint :-)

standalone info-beamer

The personal use player is distributed as a binary executable - I can understand the reasons for that, but it doesn't feel right. It doesn't (yet?) come as a debian package - It should be trivial for me to do myself according to the docs. When that's done, I'll install and run using systemd rather than the daemontools method (which is used by the various syncer scripts used in the hosted version). My concern is that the logging is presently noisy (good for debugging, bad for SD lifetime) 
I'm also planning on managing these R-Pi nodes using Ansible (Puppet is overkill for this as I want something that can bootstrap up a fresh SD card without needing extra daemons running) so I suspect there'll be future blogging on that. 

I've not yet investigated sending values directly to the info-beamer listening port (hoping I can do something with an MQTT subscriber) but pushing json files from various subsystems seems to work well. Obligatory screenshot:
Prototype display testing
Overall, I'm very impressed. Given I'd started learning lua for some nodemcu work I should be able to develop something functional. I've asked the work graphic designer to assist, so hopefully it won't end up "engineer style"

by Andrew Elwell ( at July 24, 2016 01:28 PM

Roger Bell-West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 4 July 2016

This new group is organised via Meetup, and I went along to the initial meeting in the Churchill Tap.

July 24, 2016 08:04 AM

July 23, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Blind Descent, Nevada Barr

1998 mystery, sixth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Lechugilla Cavern is a huge and largely unexplored cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park; whena friend and fellow ranger is injured there, Anna swallows her claustrophobia and goes in to help with the evacuation.

July 23, 2016 08:03 AM

July 22, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Summer Barbecue 2016

On a day of sun and showers, a surprising lot of us got together for beer and belly-pork.

July 22, 2016 08:04 AM

July 21, 2016

Steve Kennedy

Blink (and the thieves are gone)

There's a new home security security system, it was originally a Kickstarter project and was delayed a long time. But now it's here and it's called Blink.

There's a sync module and then camera units (the system can cope with 10 units in total i.e. 9 cameras and 1 sync unit). Currently it all works over WiFi, but as there's an Ethernet port on the sync unit, it's expected that it will be enabled with some future version of the firmware.

Set-up is relatively simple, install the iOS (or Android) app, create an account and then it will look for the sync unit (it initially uses its own WiFi), connect to it and select the WiFi network you want it to work with.

It then asks to set-up the cameras, which is done by adding the number printed inside them (you have to open them to put the batteries in anyway), they then get added (and you can name them) and they also connect to the WiFi network.

The camera install is relatively straight forward too, open the back, put in the batteries, push out the bit of plastic in the hole where the mount goes, put it all back together (snaps), put the mount on, then affix the two sided pad and stick it on a wall (or wherever suits).

Though they're battery powered, they should operate for a year under normal operating conditions. The cameras have a motion detection on them (infrared red) and also an LED flash (for night time usage) which is VERY bright. If a burglar were to break in, they'd probably be more put off by being blinded rather than a camera being in the room. The cameras can take a photo or video (720p with audio) and the system can be alarmed and when triggered, your phone will notify you and get a video or photo.

People have used the cameras outside, but they're not waterproof so if that's required, mount them somewhere where they'll be protected from direct rain (like under the eaves or similar).

A single sync module and camera costs $99 (available from or directly from Blink), a 2 camera kit is $159, 3 camera kit $219 and 5 camera kit $399. Additional cameras are $70. Unfortunately they don't seem to be directly available in the UK yet (though Blink will ship to the UK).

by Steve Karmeinsky ( at July 21, 2016 06:46 PM

Liam Proven

Would anyone like to buy my Blackberry?

I am reluctant, but I have to sell this lovely phone.

It's a 32GB, fully-unlocked Blackberry Passport running the latest OS. It's still in support and receiving updates.

The sale includes a PDAir black leather folding case which is included in the price -- one of these:

It is used but in excellent condition and fully working. I have used both Tesco Mobile CZ and UK EE micro SIM cards and both worked perfectly.

The keyboard is also a trackpad and can be used to scroll and select text. The screen is square and hi-resolution -- the best I have ever used on a smartphone.

It runs the latest Blackberry 10 OS, which has the best email client on any pocket device. It can also run some Android apps and includes the Amazon app store. I side-loaded the Google Play store but not all apps for standard Android work. I am happy to help you load this if you want.

It is 100% usable without a Google, Apple or Microsoft account, if you are concerned about privacy issues.

It supports Blackberry Messenger, obviously, and has native clients for Twitter and other social networks -- I used Skype, Reddit, Foursquare and Untappd, among others. I also ran Android clients for Runkeeper, Last.FM and several other services. Facebook, Google+ and others are usable via their web interfaces.

I will do a full factory reset before handing it over.

It has a microSD slot for additional storage if you need it.

It is about a year old and has been used, so the battery is not good as new, but it still lasts much longer than the Android phablet that replaced it!

You can see it and try it before purchase if you wish.

Reason for sale: I needed more apps. :-( I do not speak Czech and I need Google Translate and Google Maps almost every day.

Note: no mains adaptor included but it charges over micro-USB, so any charger will work, although it complains about other phone brand's chargers -- but they still work.

IKEA sell a cheap multiport one:

You can see photos of my device here:

This is the Flickr album, or click on the photo above.

I am hoping for CzK 10000 but I am willing to negotiate.

Contact details on my profile page, or email lproven on Google Mail.

July 21, 2016 05:39 PM

Roger Bell-West

Endless Blue, Wen Spencer

2007 science fiction. The starship Fenrir was lost ten years ago to a misjump, but its warp engine has just reappeared in open space… embedded in coral, and accompanied by three dead bodies and a fishing boat. Captain Mikhail Ivanovich Volkov takes the frigate Svoboda to find out where the Fenrir has been.

July 21, 2016 08:03 AM

July 20, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Pyramid 92: Zombies

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's zombies.

July 20, 2016 08:04 AM

July 19, 2016

Liam Proven

Respinning Linux -- Linux as a tool for bringing Internet access to the socially-disadvantaged

I found this post interesting:

"Respinning Linux"

It led me to comment as follows...

Have you folks encountered LXLE? It's a special version of Lubuntu, the lightest-weight of the official Ubuntu remixes, optimised for older hardware.

Cinnamon is a lot less than ideal, because it uses a desktop compositor. This requires hardware OpenGL. If the graphics driver doesn't do this, it emulates it using a thing called "LLVMpipe". This process is slow & uses a lot of CPU bandwidth. This is true of all desktops based on GNOME 3 -- including Unity, Elementary OS, RHEL/CentOS "Gnome Classic", SolusOS's Consort, and more. All are based on Gtk 3.

In KDE, it is possible to disable the compositor, but it's still very heavyweight.

The mainstream desktops that do not need compositing at all are, in order of size (memory footprint), from largest to smallest:
* Maté
* Xfce

All are based on Gtk 2, which has now been replaced with Gtk 3.

Of these, LXDE is the lightest, but it is currently undergoing a merger with the Razor-Qt desktop to become LXQt. This may be larger & slower when finished -- it's too soon to tell.

However, of the 3, this means it has a brighter-looking future because it will be based on a current toolkit. Neither Maté nor Xfce have announced firm migration paths to Gtk 3 yet.

July 19, 2016 05:04 PM

Roger Bell-West

Endangered Species, Nevada Barr

1997 mystery, fifth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. After the events of the previous book, Anna's sent to Cumberland Island Park for "pre-suppression" fire duty, and a bit of a lighter posting. But she and another ranger spot a plume of smoke, which turns out to be the fresh wreckage of the island's drug-interdiction plane.

July 19, 2016 08:02 AM

July 18, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Angie Tribeca, season 1

2016 police parody, 10 episodes. Detective Angie Tribeca solves crimes in the RHCU, the Really Heinous Crimes Unit.

July 18, 2016 08:01 AM

July 17, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Sweet Danger, Margery Allingham

1933 classic English detective fiction; fifth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Fitton family operate a run-down watermill in Suffolk, but may be the forgotten heirs of Averna, a tiny European principality that may suddenly be terribly important. US vtt Kingdom of Earth and The Fear Sign.

July 17, 2016 08:04 AM

July 16, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Summer Stabcon 2016

This long-running games convention started off as a Diplomacy gathering. These days it's a blend of board-gaming and roleplaying. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

July 16, 2016 08:04 AM

July 15, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Firestorm, Nevada Barr

1996 mystery, fourth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Anna's called in to help fight a wildfire in Lassen Volcanic National Park, but the wind shifts and a firestorm overtakes the team. When they come out of their protective tents, one of them's been stabbed in the back.

July 15, 2016 08:04 AM

July 14, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Back to School at Dartmouth in space

For my latest RPG campaign, Wives and Sweethearts, I've been trying something a little different, making extensive use of the rules from GURPS Social Engineering: Back to School.

July 14, 2016 08:04 AM

July 13, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Swastika Night, Katherine Burdekin

1937 feminist alternate history. Seven centuries after Nazi victory, women are uneducated cattle, and men have eliminated history, books, and creativity.

July 13, 2016 08:02 AM

July 12, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Leaving Earth money board

As will have become apparent, I'm a big fan of Joe Fatula's boardgame Leaving Earth. The thing that's most fiddly, though, is money: you reset your funds to a standard level at the start of each turn, which means lots of passing paper banknotes back and forth.

July 12, 2016 08:01 AM

July 11, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Ill Wind, Nevada Barr

1995 mystery, third in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Visitors to Mesa Verde Park and the Anasazi cliff dwellings have been coming away with a strange and deadly illness.

July 11, 2016 08:04 AM

July 10, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Pyramid 91: Thaumatology IV

Pyramid is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's magic.

July 10, 2016 08:03 AM

July 09, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Police at the Funeral, Margery Allingham

1931 classic English detective fiction; fourth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The very elderly Caroline Faraday has a house in Cambridge run on strict Victorian lines; her ageing son, daughters and nephew put up with the lack of freedom for the free bed and board, having variously failed at their own lives. But everyone's fairly horrible, and it seems that one of them is also a murderer.

July 09, 2016 08:04 AM

July 08, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Midnight Sun

I've been on holiday again. With photographs: cc-by-sa on everything.

July 08, 2016 08:03 AM

Zoe O'Connell (Complicity)

Trans Inquiry report published – a good month to bury bad news?

Without any pre-announcement – a move that, judging by some tweets, annoyed even the Women & Equalities Select Committee – the government released it’s overdue response to the trans inquiry. Once could be forgiven for thinking that the sudden, unannounced arrival of a report in the middle of the largest political crises the UK has seen for decades was an attempt to bury bad news. Despite some oddly positive press coverage suggests the report is promising things it doesn’t, reading the report does little to put those suspicions to rest.

By way of explanation, I should say that there are some well tried and tested methods of dealing with troublesome reports that politicians and civil servants will use. These tactics are not as lavish as Sir Humphrey Appleby, but they work if nobody is paying too much attention.

If you want to genuinely do something about an issue, a response will say something like “We welcome the suggestions made by the inquiry. The Ministry of Silly Walks will publish a green paper later this year, with a view to introducing legislation on the promotion of especially silly walks in public life during the next session of parliament”. This has someone who is responsible (the Ministry of Silly Walks) for doing something concrete (a green paper) by a given date (the end of the year) with a clearly defined end goal. (new legislation with a defined scope)

Conversely, you might not want to do something. In which case there are several tactics:

  • (1) State that existing legislation adequately promotes especially silly walks in public life.
  • (2) In response to calls to do more on a topic, give a long list of positive things you’re already doing to promote silly walks, but try to hide the fact you were already doing them.
  • (3) State that more evidence about the need for silly walks is needed. Don’t do anything to encourage evidence, so you can state later that nobody sent any in.
  • (4) Promise a review of silly walks. If you don’t actually want to commit to anything, don’t give any details of the remit, don’t say which group is doing the review and give any details about timescale. This makes chasing the results nearly impossible, because you can keep saying it’s still a work in progress.
  • (5) If it’s nothing too harmful, publish a report into silly walks at some unspecified future date. Try to avoid giving the scope of the report, which allows you to neatly forget about any inconvenient issues when you get round to publishing it
  • (6) If you really must be seen to do something promise “training” on how to develop a silly walk. Don’t give any further commitments and definitely don’t commit any money to it.
  • (7) Confuse two unrelated or barely related situations to construct a straw-man argument you can dismiss as unworkable.

It’s usually considered polite to promise to “continue to monitor the issue” .

So, with all that in mind, I’ve gone through all the responses given by the government and scored them on how well the government addresses the requests from the original inquiry. I’ll warn you now, this is long (although not as long as the original report) and few areas outside the NHS score above 2/10. Most areas give excuses for inaction covered by the list above, and I don’t believe that it’s any coincidence that the areas that show some glacially slow progress in the right direction – i.e. the NHS – are being delivered by NHS England, not central government.

The original recommendations of the committee are given in italics, followed by the government’s response.

Cross-government strategy

Within the next 6 months, the Government must agree a new strategy
It must also draw up a balance sheet of the previous transgender action plan, confirm those actions which have been completed and agree a new strategy to tackle those issues which remain unaddressed. This must be done within the next 6 months.

Government’s response: “We are monitoring the remaining commitments and will publish an update report on both the existing Transgender Action Plan and the 2011 LGB&T Action Plan”

Score: 2/10. A number (5) from the fob-off tactics list. At least they’ve said something, but it’s already been 6 months since the inquiry report, and this gives no timeline for when they will publish the report.


The Government must also make a clear commitment to abide by the Yogyakarta Principles (setting out various protections for LGB&T people) and Resolution 2048 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe“. (Calls for various protections for trans people, including self-determination of gender and non-binary recognition)

Government’s response: “We have noted the ideals set out in the Yogyakarta Principles and Resolution 2048… we believe that existing international and domestic legislation provides adequate protection for transgender people, and that those mechanisms already in place for ensuring effective implementation are adequate.”

Score: 0/10. A number (1) from the fob-off list. Short of outright denouncing the Yogyakarta Principles and Resolution 2048, it’s hard to see how the government could be more dismissive. They simply note that they are non-binding and go on at length saying little more than “we’re already doing OK, so why try harder”. However, there is no explanation of which bits of the principles or resolution they disagree with.

Gender Recognition Act 2004

The Government must bring forward proposals to update the GRA, in line with the principles of gender self-declaration
The Government must look into the need to create a legal category for those people with a gender identity outside that which is binary
We recommend that provision should be made to allow 16/17-year-olds, to apply for gender recognition

Government’s response: “We will keep these issues under consideration. The Government will review the GRA to determine whether changes can be made to improve it in order to streamline and de-medicalise the gender recognition process. We would like to see more evidence on the case for change and the implications of altering the minimum age, moving to a self-declaration process and extending legal recognition to non-binary gender identities. We will therefore monitor the implementation of alternative gender recognition processes in other jurisdictions and we will analyse the evidence placed before the Committee to inform our work.”

Score: 1/10. A number (3). I’m encouraged that the public statements made on this might mean we get some tinkering with the GRA to remove some of the more onerous medical requirements, hence not scoring this zero. However, this is essentially “We don’t really intend to do anything much”. If they haven’t seen enough evidence by now, the implication is they are unlikely to ever be convinced by the case for change.

Spousal Veto

We do take very seriously the evidence that we have heard regarding the scope that the spousal-consent provision gives for married trans people to be victimised by spouses with malicious intent. … The Government must ensure that it is informed about the extent of this and ways of addressing the problem.

Government’s response: “We will continue to monitor this issue.”

Score: 0/10. Not even bothering to pick a brush-off from the list. I’d rate this negative if I could, this is the civil service equivalent of Arkell v. Pressdram. I have no idea why the 74 married trans people who gained a GRC are worth quoting here stripped of any context, given they don’t report how many people have been blocked or delayed.

Data Protection

“We note that not a single prosecution has yet been brought under [section 22]. (Protection against outing) The MoJ must investigate why there have not been any prosecutions and take action to address this. It must also work with the courts to tackle the issue of trans people being inappropriately “outed” in court proceedings.

Government’s response: “We would like to assure the Committee that the MoJ has commenced discussions to ascertain why there have not been any prosecutions under Section 22. All HM Courts and Tribunals Service staff are obliged to undertake equality and diversity training, which includes an overview of legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. Similarly, equality guidance provided to the judiciary specifically addresses the issue of gender reassignment, and provides advice on how to prevent transgender people from being ‘outed’ in court proceedings.”

Score: 2/10. Looking into the reasons why section 22 isn’t being used, which is positive – no dates but this one is my it’s nature a little more open-ended and at least lists who they’re talking to, so I’m willing to cut them some slack. The issue of people being outed however is effectively ignored with a variation on number 6 – “but we already train them” – passing the buck on to staff and judges.

Gender reassignment as a protected characteristic

The protected characteristic in respect of trans people under the Equality Act should be amended to that of gender identity

Government’s response: “The provision of a protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” in the Act is fully compliant with our obligations under the Equal Treatment Directive… We will keep this under review and will continue to listen to and monitor people’s experiences of discrimination, harassment or victimisation.”

Score: 0/10. Quite a strong number (1), ie “no, we disagree with you and we’re not going to do it”.


The Equality and Human Rights Commission must be able to investigate complaints of discrimination raised by children and adolescents without the requirement to have their parents’ consent

Government’s response: “No such restriction exists on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC’s) power to investigate complaints of discrimination.”

Score: ?. Looks like the Trans Inquiry got the wrong end of the stick on this one.

Exemptions in respect of trans people

We recommend that the Equality Act be amended so that the occupational requirements provision and / or the single-sex / separate services provision shall not apply in relation to discrimination against a person whose acquired gender has been recognised under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

Government’s response: “We are keen to receive further representations and evidence on the availability and use of the exceptions in the Equality Act 2010 from all affected parties to take into account for future policy discussions.”

Score: 1/10. This starts off really well, with a statement that the government “agrees with the principle of this recommendation” but then spends two paragraphs talking about recently published guidance before kicking it into the long grass with a number 3, asking for further representations.

Separate-gender sport

We recommend that the Government work with Sport England to produce guidance which help sporting groups realise that there are likely to be few occasions where exclusions are justified to ensure fair competition or the safety of competitors

Government’s response: “We have established a review of the Duty of Care of sports participants at all levels, and this will include mental wellbeing. Led by Baroness Grey-Thompson, the review is establishing a number of focus groups examining equality issues for all groups, including LGB&T. The Duty of Care Review will publish its findings by the end of 2016.”

Score: 8/10. The government are delivering pretty close to what the Inquiry asked for, even if it’s probably considered too small a step by most people. And they’ve given a date for the group to publish their report. I’m docking them one point for the mention of “mental wellbeing” and because this is almost certainly something that was going to happen anyway, even without the Trans Inquiry.

NHS services

Score: 4/10. This is a narrative section and doesn’t go head-to-head with inquiry recommendations. Some parts of it are very weak, mentioning that a Parliamentary Undersecretary of State spoke at a trans health conference and that they’re planning a symposium on the issue – most trans activists are suffering from consultation fatigue as the trans voluntary sector just doesn’t have the resources to keep plugging away at this year after year. The report does recognise some of the real problems with training doctors and turning around an organisation as large as the NHS, where decision making is often devolved rather than centrally managed. I don’t want to be too critical here as things are genuinely heading in vaguely the right direction, it just needs more momentum.

Professional regulation of doctors

The NHS is failing in its legal duty under the Equality Act…A root-and-branch review of this matter must be conducted, completed and published within the next six months

Government’s response: “NHS England is considering how to strengthen current governance arrangements to deliver this recommendation within the timescale set by the Committee.”

Score: 1/10. I had to triple check my calendar when I saw this. The inquiry report was published in January and it’s now July, which means it has already been six months. And they were only asking for a review in the first place.

Treatment protocols

We are concerned that Gender Identity Services continue to be provided as part of mental-health services… Consideration must be given to the transfer of these services to some other relevant area of clinical specialism

Government’s response: “We are supportive in looking at how this recommendation can be achieved. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness.”

Score: 4/10. There’s some credit due here in that the government is looking into the transfer of services, even if it’s been driven by the clinicians at Charing Cross wanting to get away from West London Mental Health Trust. It’s also really something that it’s not realistic to expect a timetable on. This section also annoys me because the statement that “Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness” has inexplicably attracted positive press as if this is a groundbreaking statement for a government to make, rather than a restatement of the obvious. I’m not sure that whoever wrote the report really intended this to be a headline phrase.


The issues that exist around clinical protocols must instead be addressed through the consistent application of clear and appropriate standards across 19 the Gender Identity Clinics.
The requirement to undergo “Real-Life Experience” prior to GRS must not entail conforming to externally imposed and arbitrary (binary) preconceptions about gender identity and presentation.

Government’s response: “The NHS England Specialised Commissioning Team is leading to review the service specification for adult gender identity services. This will be a significant piece of work but there is a commitment by NHS England to deliver recommendations in 2016. Once the specification is agreed, its implementation will drive consistent application of clear and appropriate standards across all the Gender Identity Clinics.

Score: 6/10. This is all about GICs with archaic and at times barbaic practices – the kind of institutions that would insist you divorced and wore a makeup and skirt to every meeting before even considering treatmnet. It might only be a review at this stage, but is has a date on it and a clear idea of how the problem will be solved. Only 6/10 because it’s possible the review will drag the more progressive GICs backwards by having to conform to outdated ideas.

The Tavistock Clinic (children and adolescents)

Consideration be given to reducing the amount of time required for the assessment that service-users must undergo before puberty-blockers and cross-sex hormones can be prescribed.

Government’s response: “NHS England will consider the outcome of public consultation before making a final decision on the service specification and clinical commissioning policy, which is planned to be by July 2016.”

Score: 9/10. They asked for consideration, a review and consultation has taken place and will publish on or around a given date. Something firmer would be nice, but it’s clinical practice so not something that can be pre-judged by civil servants or ministers. This is what a good response should look like.

Hate crime legislation

The MoJ must ensure that it consults fully with the trans community in developing the Government’s new hate-crime action plan… This plan must include mandatory national transphobic hate-crime training for police officers and the promotion of third-party reporting.
The Government should introduce new hate-crime legislation which extends the existing provisions on aggravated offences and stirring up hatred so that they apply to all protected characteristics

Government’s response: “The Government continues to carefully consider options for taking forward a review of hate crime legislation. The College of Policing is currently undertaking action to improve the level of police knowledge and training around hate crime.”

Score: 1/10. A weak number 4. Not even a promise of a review, merely a hint that they’re considering it.

Recording names and gender identities

The Government must take the lead by ensuring public services have clear and appropriate policies regarding the recording of individuals’ names and genders

Government’s response: “We will carry out an internal review of gender markers in official documents to find ways to reduce unnecessary demands for such markers”

Score: 1/10 on the basis of evidence presented here, likely a number 4. Internal reviews don’t report publicly, so there is no way to know if this might bear fruit.


The UK must follow Australia’s lead in introducing an option to record gender as “X” on a passport.
The Government should be moving towards “non-gendering” official records as a general principle and only recording gender where it is a relevant piece of information.

Government’s response: “…”

Score: 2/10. Number 7. I’ve struggled to pick some useful details out of the response, but it’s lacking. It appears from irrelevant discussion of biometrics and statements like “The removal of any gender marking on the passport is not currently an option under ICAO standards” (The inquiry doesn’t ask for that) that the government is trying to fudge and confuse the issue by merging together three separate inquiry recommendations. The promise to “conduct a survey with member states on gender and passport markings” is helpful and names specific groups tasked with the work alongside reporting dates. This might well produce evidence useful for campaigning not just in the UK but worldwide, so I’m giving them some credit for that even if they close with the statement “We maintain the need for gender to be gathered at the point of application and included in the passport chip to assist law enforcement and border agencies.”

Prison and Probation services

The MoJ, National Offender Management Service and National Probation Service must urgently clarify what the situation is pending the publication of the new [Prison Service] Instruction.

Government’s response: “An MoJ review… concluded that treating offenders in the gender which they identify with is the most effective starting point for safety and reducing reoffending… The NOMS is working to make sure that a new instruction on transgender prisoners will follow the conclusions of the review. To ensure that any new operational policy is fit for purpose and being correctly implemented, an advisory group is proposed, initially for three years.”

Score: 0/10. The Inquiry didn’t ask for much, so a zero score might seem harsh – however, whilst harm to trans people in some of the other areas covered by the inquiry might be regarded as more remote there is clear evidence that the current policy is directly contributing to the preventable deaths of trans people in prison. Three years will cost lives.

Online services

Government’s desire to work with online service providers rather than further regulate them must not be an excuse for inaction. The Government must keep the situation under close review and work proactively with providers to ensure that they take their responsibilities seriously.

Government’s response: “Government is committed to making the Internet a safe place for all.”

Score: 9/10. The inquiry asked for nothing substantial, the government delivered nothing substantial. Can’t argue with that. Docking one point for the mention of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, which isn’t relevant except that it tends towards being pro-censorship. This hurts rather than helps by causing LGBT resources for youth to become inaccessible to those most in need.


More needs to be done to ensure that gender-variant young people and their families get sufficient support at school

Government’s response: A list of generic LGB&T things that were already being done.

Score: 0/10. Number 2: “Look at all the nice things we’re doing”. Most of these were already in place before the trans inquiry report said more was required, and none of it is trans-specific.


Trans issues (and gender issues generally) should be taught as part of Personal, Social and Health Education

Government’s response: “We trust schools and head teachers to know how best to meet the needs of their pupils in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner, and trust them to decide what specific issues they cover in line with the needs of their pupils.”

Score: 0/10. This isn’t a fob-off, it’s an outright refusal. Printing just “No” would have saved some ink.


The levels of bullying and harassment experienced by trans students in further and higher education are unacceptable.
The Government should also take steps to ensure all further education and university staff receive gender identity awareness training.

Government’s response: “Nick Boles, Minister for Skills, who writes to all further education (FE) college governing bodies, college principals and training providers on a termly basis, will reference the importance of providers being proactive on this issue in his next letter. For higher education, Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, will write to Universities UK, the umbrella body for universities, to highlight the need for transgender equality.”

Score: 1/10. A variation on number 6, only with letter writing rather than training. One point for persuading universities to set up a “task force”, although that’s possibly veering into a number 4.

Social care for young people

We have heard worrying evidence about some social workers’ lack of knowledge on gender variance… The Government should seek to address this through formal training as a matter of urgency.

Government’s response: “Government will commission a study to ascertain the adequacy and consistency of knowledge on gender variance in initial social work training and continuous professional development (CPD). It will use the findings to decide whether additional training materials should be made available.”

Score: 1/10. Number 4. A study, a review… all much the same. No dates or departments given.

A key theme running through this chapter has been lack of sufficient understanding of transgender issues by professionals in the public sector… Appropriate training of public sector professionals on gender identity issues must be a key part of this new strategy.

Government’s response: “We will write to all relevant heads of profession to highlight the need for training on transgender issues for their profession, asking them to introduce training if not already available, and to monitor effectiveness of the training provided.”

Score: 1/10. Another letter-writing variation on a number 6.

by Zoe O'Connell at July 08, 2016 07:30 AM

July 07, 2016

Andy Davidson

Build a home studio for peanuts

I was really happy to once again join 4Challenge, an intrepid group of cyclists that rode over 300 miles to raise over £20,000 for a local Sheffield hospital as their photographer. As part of an awareness campaign we shot a bunch of rider portraits at the start which could be used as part of a rider's presence on social media.


It was also the first outing for my ultra-portable studio kit. I think the pictures demonstrate that it's possible to achieve 'the studio look' without big studio budgets, and in a pretty small amount of space.

If you want to try to replicate the look and feel of some of these images, there are a couple of options. If you already have a simple kit with a simple flash gun or two then you are some of the way there already! There's only three items on your shopping list: You need something that can trigger the flash to burst when it is not connected to the camera, a way to hold the flash in place and an attachment called a modifier which causes the flash's light to illuminate the subject in the way that you want.

A trigger comes in multiple parts, one for the camera and one for the flash gun, or in a multi-light setup, one for each flash gun. Having one allows you to decouple the flash from the camera, meaning much more natural and flattering lighting for your subject. When buying a trigger, do look for one which allows you to connect it to an inexpensive hotshoe flash as well as a studio head in case you want to upgrade. You're also looking for one which will allow you to attach the trigger (and flash) to a standard lighting stand or tripod. This trigger from Neewer fits the bill and is my recommendation because it also comes with a variety of wired attachments that can connect you to different types of flash heads as well as standard 'hotshoe' flashes. Remember you will need Plenty of batteries.

To hold the flash in place you can use your standard tripod with the above trigger. If you don't have one, a Dedicated lighting stand is likely going to be less expensive than buying a tripod just for this use, and be more flexible - given a studio head is small and light, and doesn't need to withstand vibrations, a lighting stand can be taller and weigh less than a tripod.

As for a modifier, I suggest two for your small home studio: a diffusion softbox and a beauty dish.

If you only have one diffusion softbox, the general rule is 'the bigger the better'. The larger a softbox is the more gentle the result, so in the case of portraiture the larger the softbox the more like natural light the light becomes. There are dedicated flash gun diffusers sold but they are small and I recommend not to use them. The largest soft boxes are built for big studio flash heads so you would need an adapter such as this one which converts between the Bowens S ring and a small flash (the S ring is a bayonet attachment for studio flashes). You can then attach any studio softbox and this 80cm softbox should be the perfect trade off between room size and effect. When shooting, experiment with moving the light closer to and further away from your subject - but as a general rule, the shadows become more harsh as you move the flash and softbox further away from the subject.

The beauty dish is an excellent modifier for portraits. This modifier begs for experimentation but as a general rule it creates soft light with a lot of 'shape'. It's widely used to emphasize strong facial features and the tool which gives the classic 'cosmetic ad' look in beauty photography. You can make the light more directional and harsh by adding a honeycomb grid to the modifier. This beauty dish comes with a removable grid and will attach to the same Bowens ring adapter above so is perfect.

You now have the kit needed to shoot studio portraits on the go. This portrait was shot in a normal living room with only a single speedlite flashgun and softbox, mounted on a tripod, and positioned to the left of the model:

Alex, Simple home setup

If you want to extend your simple kit there are a couple of extra recommended items for the kit list - a background and more powerful lights (flash heads).

Working with portable flashes can be frustrating. There are drawbacks to shooting with them - long recycle times (the time it takes for the flash to be ready to fire again), little control over how bright the light will flash, and the relatively small amount of flight generated by each flash. If you shoot regularly you will want to look at more powerful studio heads. The Godox QS line is a bit of an investment with their 600W Studio Light priced at a little over £200, but it's an excellent unit for regular use and very few other options can approach the QS line for quality at this price. For smaller studios or fill in flash, there's a 300W version coming in at about £130. Since you bought the S-ring modifiers to use with speedlights you don't need to replace them, and the trigger mentioned previously can also drive these lights with the large jack (like a headphone socket) adapter.

Lastly, a background is a great way to make use of smaller spaces. Paper or Vinyl backgrounds are suitable - paper makes less 'shiny' reflections but vinyl is more durable. I would recommend you use a grey background if you only buy one, such as this vinyl one since you can make them white (by overexposing them) or very dark (by underexposing them) - or a different colour altogether (by lighting them with a flash that has a colour gel in front of it). The blue background in this shot was produced with the grey vinyl background linked to from this article :


If you use a background like this you will need a stand to hold it up and some clamps to hold it in place.

July 07, 2016 11:00 PM

Roger Bell-West

Green for Danger, Christianna Brand

1944 detective fiction; second of Brand's novels of Inspector Cockrill. At a military hospital during the Blitz, a patient dies under anæsthetic. Later, someone who'd claimed to know who was responsible is stabbed to death. Six suspects are left, and there's not a visible motive among them.

July 07, 2016 08:04 AM

July 06, 2016

Roger Bell-West

UK Games Expo 2016

UK Games Expo continues to expand, and this year moved the trade hall into the NEC for the first time. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

July 06, 2016 08:00 AM

July 05, 2016

Ian Christian

You should be weighing daily and here’s why

Stepping on the scales every day will help you loose weight, and keep it off.  Contrary to some people’s advise, a growing number are recommending you weigh every day.

There’s some great evidence to backup this advise too. Simply making this change may be enough to help you loose weight and keep motivated.

ws-50-1Before we being, I’d like to remind you that tracking weight alone is an awful strategy for tracking fitness .  You need to track fat percentage as well as weight to get a good picture.  Check out my article about why tracking just weight is bad.

But I’ve been told to weigh weekly…

This seems to be quite a controversial area.  Jillian Michael suggests you should step on the scales weekly, stating doing it more often could have a “negative impact on you”.  There’s a lot of hearsay in health and fitness, and unfortunately many people don’t look at, or worse, don’t understand the data.

One of the points Jullian makes is that your body weight can fluctuate huge amounts.  This is exactly the reason you should be weighing more frequently, not less frequently.

It’s not about being weight obsessed

I brush my teeth daily, and that doesn’t make me obsessed with my teeth – it simply means I’m aware of my dental health.  Weighing daily  doesn’t make you weight obsessed.  It’s not about being obsessed, it’s about being aware.

Still not convinced?

Science is on my side.  In 2013 there was a study “to examine the impact of a weight loss intervention that focused on daily self-weighing for self-monitoring as compared to a delayed control group among 91 overweight adults.”.  The conclusion states that “an intervention focusing on daily self-weighing can produce clinically significant weight loss.”. Even the NHS recommend it.  There’s plenty of other studies that conclude the same thing.  Tracking is key to change

Consistency is key

Weigh at the same time every day, under the same conditions.  If you make this part of your wake up routine this is easy.  Wake up and before getting dressed and having your morning drink step on the scales!

By way of example, have a look at my weight loss graph on my recent Huel (a powdered food replacement) and Insanity challenge

My Weight loss on Huel and Insanity

Weight loss

You can clearly see here the huge variations that happen in my weight.  What matters here is the trend, not the individual weight measurements.

How do you think you’d feel if on one week you weigh at a natural low point, but after a week of hard work weighed at a naturally high point?

There are a lot of factors that cause fluctuations in weight, such as how much you’ve had to drink, how much you’ve exercised, how much food you’ve had (and how much is still inside you!)


Make the change, it’s easy

There’s plenty of apps to track your weight.  I personally use the WS-50 scales from Withings.  The image above is a screenshot from the app.  The scales automatically log your weight and fat levels so avoid you having to write them down.  I highly recommend them, and although they are expensive they have helped me achieve my own goals.

I highly recommend you also read about how tracking weight alone is harmful before making the change to weighing daily.

The post You should be weighing daily and here’s why appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at July 05, 2016 09:12 PM

Roger Bell-West

Gullstruck Island, Frances Hardinge

2008 fantasy. The isolated towns and villages of the volcanic Gullstruck Island rely on the Lost, who can project their senses at a distance, to keep them in contact with each other. Arilou is one such Lost, and Hathin is her helper. But it's all going to get vastly more complicated. US vt The Lost Conspiracy.

July 05, 2016 08:04 AM

July 04, 2016

Mark Goodge

Our next Prime Minister – time for Conservatives to decide

Unlike my position on the EU referendum itself, where I deliberately avoided participating in either campaign, I have decided to publicly state who – of the five candidates on offer – I want as the next leader of the Conservative party and, therefore, our next Prime Minister.

This isn’t an easy decision to make. All five candidates have both strengths and weaknesses, and it would be foolish to deny that. But this is the reasoning behind my choice. Looking at all five in turn…

To begin with, the two insurgent challengers, Stephen Crabb and Andrea Leadsom. Both of these have reasons to commend them. They both come across as being intelligent and good at making decisions.

However, they both also lack experience. It’s OK to elect as leader someone relatively inexperienced when in opposition, as they’ve got time to get used to being leader before they need to also be PM (and, if it turns out they’re not up to the job, we have time to get someone else in place before the election). But to take over mid-term while in office, you need someone with plenty of experience of a cabinet level post. Crabb and Leadsom just don’t have that. They may both be good candidates the next time around, but not this time.

I like Michael Gove. I admire his reforming zeal, and I think he’s done a good job at both Education and Justice. But I also think that when he said he wasn’t equipped to be Prime Minister, he was both honest and accurate.

I think Gove would make an excellent Home Secretary. I think he has the necessary One Nation sensibilities to make the right decisions there, and the intellect to come up with creative solutions to some of the department’s more intractable problems. But I think that should be the height of his ambitions.

Had Liam Fox been on the final ballot paper the last time around, instead of either David Davis or David Cameron, I might have supported him then. But I think he is yesterday’s man now. The only possible way he might get my vote is if he came through as the compromise candidate, the one who has both the necessary experience and the Brexit credentials (although, personally, I think the latter is almost entirely unimportant at this stage – we need the best PM, not the one who ticks any particular box).

Which leaves Theresa May. Of the five candidates we have, I think she is head and shoulders above the others in terms of both ability and experience, and there really is no plausible alternative.

Regular readers of my blog may be surprised to find me saying that, since I have been scathing enough about her – or, more precisely, the Home Office’s obsessive authoritarianism – in the past. And I still think that certain sections of the Investigatory Powers Bill – aka the “Snooper’s Charter” – are appallingly inconsistent with a Conservative approach to liberty and freedom.

But a failure to take on the vested interests of a small clique of civil servants is not, in itself, a reason not to support May for the leadership. She, alone of the five candidates, has both extensive experience at cabinet level and the qualities necessary to be Prime Minister.

It may seem to be damning her with faint praise to describe her as the “safe” choice, but safe is what we need right now. We don’t need someone who, on his own admission, is not cut out to be Prime Minister. Nor do we need someone who has no significant experience at the highest level of politics.

Theresa May also commands the support of the largest proportion of Conservative MPs. That alone is not a reason to back her – we ordinary party members have a voice, and a right to our opinion, too. But it is an important factor. The Labour Party is currently giving us a textbook example of what happens when the leader doesn’t command the support of MPs. That may not matter so much for the opposition. But in government, such conflict wouldn’t just be disastrous for the party, it would also be disastrous for the country. We need a new PM that MPs on the government benches are happy to serve under.

So, assuming that Theresa May is on the final ballot paper which goes out to Conservative members, she is who I will be voting for. I would urge my Conservative colleagues and fellow party members to do the same.

by Mark at July 04, 2016 05:33 PM

Ian Christian

Understanding Weight Loss – Fat vs Muscle

When it comes to weight loss, lots of people simply track the wrong things.  I saw on a forum that someone had lost nearly 6kg of weight, but actually lost 7.4KG of fat! How is this possible?

To help keep you motivated, it’s vital you understand the measurements and what they mean.  In this article we explore the best methods to keep track of your progress.

The problem with tracking weight

2KG of fat vs 2kg of muscle

Compare the difference between fat and muscle

Tracking weight loss is easy, however for many it can be the worst way of tracking progress.

There are many people who are trying to loose weight but seem to plateau, unable to shift the last few points.  The problem here is that whilst you might be loosing fat, you may well be gaining muscle at the same time, offsetting the weight loss.

For example, if you lost 2kg of fat, but gained 2.1kg of muscle, your scales will tell you you’ve gained weight!

 So how should you track weight loss?

Tracking weight loss isn’t really a problem, it’s when it’s done in isolation.  What’s important is to understand the relationship between body fat and weight.

By way of a real example, I’ll refer to someone’s progress from an online forum.  Here’s the data:

  • 15th June, 15 st 11 lbs (100kg), 60% body fat
  • 4th July, 14st 11.8lb (94.3kg), 56% body fat

After the diet (this person used a Huel Diet – read more about Huel here), and in just under 3 weeks had lost nearly 5.7KG – impressive amount of weight.

In this case, tracking just the weight does look impressive, but it’s more impressive than that!  To explain the figures above; with a starting weight of 100KG and 60% body fat –  60KG of the body weight is fat.

After the diet, 56% of the body is fat, so 52.8KG of fat ( 94.3KG x 0.56 ).

That’s 7.2KG of weight loss!

What if I can’t measure Body Fat?

There’s several methods of measuring body fat, ranging in accuracy.  Personally I use bio-impedance scales – the Withings WS-50 (see amazon link), but you can pick up some body calipers fairly cheaply. I  find body calipers to be tricky to use, especially on yourself!

The easiest method is to ignore your weight, and simply track your ‘Total Inches’. To do this, all you need is a pencil, a notepad and a tape measure. By measuring at key points on your body you’d be able to track your progress over time.

For more information on this, check out this article on eHow.

The post Understanding Weight Loss – Fat vs Muscle appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at July 04, 2016 03:29 PM

Roger Bell-West

Pane Vino

I went to this small Italian tapas-style restaurant repeatedly while in Manchester over Easter.

July 04, 2016 08:04 AM

July 03, 2016

Jonathan McDowell

Confirming all use of an SSH agent

For a long time I’ve wanted an ssh-agent setup that would ask me before every use, so I could slightly more comfortably forward authentication over SSH without worrying that my session might get hijacked somewhere at the remote end (I often find myself wanting to pull authenticated git repos on remote hosts). I’m at DebConf this week, which is an ideal time to dig further into these things, so I did so today. As is often the case it turns out this is already possible, if you know how.

I began with a setup that was using GNOME Keyring to manage my SSH keys. This isn’t quite what I want (eventually I want to get to the point that I can sometimes forward a GPG agent to remote hosts for signing purposes as well), so I set about setting up gpg-agent. I used Chris’ excellent guide to GnuPG/SSH Agent setup as a starting point and ended up doing the following:

$ echo use-agent >> ~/.gnupg/options
$ echo enable-ssh-support >> ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf
$ sudo sed -i.bak "s/^use-ssh-agent/# use-ssh-agent/" /etc/X11/Xsession.options
$ sudo rm /etc/xdg/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop

The first 2 commands setup my local agent, and told it to do SSH agent foo. The next stopped X from firing up ssh-agent, and the final one prevents GNOME Keyring from being configured to be the SSH agent, without having to remove libpam-gnome-keyring as Chris did. After the above I logged out of and into X again, and could see ~/.gnupg/S.gpg-agent.ssh getting created and env | grep SSH showing SSH_AUTH_SOCK pointing to it (if GNOME Keyring is still handling things it ends up pointing to something like /run/user/1000/keyring/ssh).

[Update: Luca Capello emailed to point out this was a bad approach; there’s thankfully no need to do the last 2 commands that require root. #767341 removed the need to edit Xsession.options and you can prevent GNOME Keyring starting on a per user basis with:

(cat /etc/xdg/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop ;
 echo 'X-GNOME-Autostart-enabled=false') > \


After this it turned out all I need to do was ssh-add -c <ssh keyfile>. The -c says “confirm use” and results in the confirm flag being appended to the end of ~/.gnupg/sshcontrol (so if you’ve already done the ssh-add you can go and add the confirm if that’s the behaviour you’d like).

Simple when you know how, but I’ve had conversations with several people in the past who wanted the same thing and hadn’t figured out how, so hopefully this is helpful to others.

July 03, 2016 03:55 PM

Roger Bell-West

K - Return of Kings

2015 futuristic fantasy, 13 episodes, sequel to 2012's K: AniDB. The Kings, magical masters who can also empower their clansmen, come together for a final battle.

July 03, 2016 08:02 AM

July 02, 2016

Roger Bell-West

A Superior Death, Nevada Barr

1994 mystery, second in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. In the Isle Royale park off the Michigan coast, one of the dive operators turns up dead in a long-sunken shipwreck.

July 02, 2016 08:00 AM

July 01, 2016

Ian Christian

Huel Discount Code – £5 Off!

Following the link below will get yourself a Huel discount code, giving you £5 off your first order from Huel.

If you’re a new customer to Huel, you can get yourself a discount, a t-shirt, shaker and scoop all for free!

Click on the banner below, sign up to the Huel news letter, and you’ll receive a discount code!

Huel Discount Code

How to save more!

Huel offer a subscription service, which you can cancel at any point which gives you further discounts.  You can get the best discount by ordering 8 bags at a time giving a 17.5% discount!

The post Huel Discount Code – £5 Off! appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at July 01, 2016 06:03 PM

Alex Bligh

On politics and principle

Jim Hacker (Yes Minister): “It’s the peoples’ will. I am their leader; I must follow them.” 

Recent attitudes to a prospective post-Brexit parliamentary vote shows the declining importance of principle in British politics. It seems to me that in the first 75 years of the last century, politicians had principles which, in general, did not change and from which they were reluctant to reject for political advantage. Politicians would rather cross the floor of the house or enter the political wilderness rather than vote for something in which they did not believe – Churchill being an obvious example. Even in the last quarter of the last century, when trounced in a general election, politicians from the losing party did not immediately accept the politics of their opponents; rather they concluded they had failed to convince the public, and investigated why. The parties might have changed their leaders under such circumstances, but the individuals within the parties did not often change their personal views – consider Tony Benn, for example. Indeed after the death of John Smith and four consecutive general election defeats, Blair’s election meant the Labour leadership took a centrist position, much to the chagrin of old Labour apparatchiks who saw much of his politics as betrayal.

On 23 June 2016, the British people voted 52% to 48% to leave the United Kingdom; like it or not, this is a fact. In the run up to the referendum, politicians backed each side of the argument. With the exception of a couple of MPs (I’m betting Baroness Warsi might feel a little silly switching sides to Remain four days before the result was known), opinions were entrenched and strongly held – held indeed as matters of principle. Yet following the referendum, almost all of those backing Remain (who are in a majority in parliament) appear now to be happy to vote through Brexit, saying “we must respect the will of the people”.

Of course the will of the people must be given respect. However, that does not mean it needs to be blindly followed. Listening, but following ones own principles, and not having them change with the direction of the political wind, is an honourable stance. A politician of principle would, it seems to me, say “I believed this before, and vote with a 4% majority has not changed my mind. I respect your opinion, but I disagree with it, and you elected me as to parliament as a representative to vote in the manner I think best and according to my party’s manifesto. I shall thus vote in the manner I believe is in the best interests of the UK and my constituency, and if you disagree with me, I will be deselected or fail to be re-elected, because that’s how democracy works”. Note that no MP, Douglas Carswell excepted, has a party with a manifesto commitment to leave the EU.

Most pro-Remain MPs have taken the line of backing a parliamentary vote for Brexit because not to do so would be “political suicide”, as David Allen Green notes in the Financial Times. But that seems to me an abrogation of their political principles (assuming they had them in the first place). Britain is a parliamentary democracy, and the crown in parliament is sovereign (ironically a position Leave campaigners were only too keen to emphasise a few weeks ago). If there is question of the legitimacy of our MPs, it should be resolved through a general election. But to change one’s views based on a relatively small majority of the people being in disagreement with you seems to be the mark of a politician more interested in their continued political career than in the principles they claim to hold.

Capital punishment was (with a minor exceptions) abolished in England, Wales and Scotland in 1965. In every subsequent parliament until 1997, a vote was held to restore the death penalty, and every such vote failed. Throughout this period, surveys consistently showed the British people to be strongly in favour of restoring the death penalty at least in respect of some crimes (70% being in favour according to one survey), but on the occasion of each parliamentary vote, most MPs voted against the apparent will of the people. Those MPs did not sacrifice their principled stance. I wonder whether the same would happen now.

by Alex Bligh at July 01, 2016 01:55 PM

Roger Bell-West

June 2016 Trailers

Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal.)

July 01, 2016 08:02 AM

June 30, 2016

Ian Christian

Huel Coffee Recipe – a fantastic mix

This morning I thought I’d try adding a coffee into my Huel, and I was presently surprised.

I’ve always steered clear of the idea of hot Huel – I found the thought of it quiet off-putting.   However, this morning I was feeling a little adventurous!

I was surprised at how nice it was, so I thought I’d share the recipe (if you could call it that).


Coffee Huel Recipe

Step 1:

  • 300ml water – I used room temperature water, which gave me a warm drink, I’ve not tried it with hot water yet.
  • 100g of Huel (or 101g in my case!)
  • 1 Lungo Nespresso coffee

Step 2:

Then mix, blend, shake, whichever you prefer.

Step 3:




I will be publishing more recipe posts soon.

What’s been your favorite recipe?


The post Huel Coffee Recipe – a fantastic mix appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at June 30, 2016 08:16 AM

June 29, 2016

Jess Rowbottom

Memories Of The Future

One of the longest-serving computers I have kicking around is a shell server which since 1993(ish) has hosted my email, domain names, and websites.

Of course it’s been patched and reinstalled but I never bothered actually clearing the configurations up to remove old projects. Yesterday it suffered a bit of a meltdown and I took the initiative to finally do some tidying, a process which largely involved manually going through everything bit-by-bit, line-by-line.

As much as life has changed over the past 25 years, nothing quite prepared me for watching it all be deconstructed in slow motion, long-dead projects being removed and finally consigned to an archive, leading me to consider how much I miss the days when we were flying by the seat of our pants.

Newsboy… Namegate… Geeksearch…

When I worked for Internet service provider Mailbox Internet in the late 1990s we were particularly adept at having mad brainwaves, led by my boss at the time. “Drinkie?” he’d ask, “I’ve had an idea!” The alcoholics amongst us (of which there were several) would head to Joe’s Brasserie for a Sauvignon Blanc on the company tab, accompanied by fevered discussion of why this particular lightbulb moment would or wouldn’t work.

Every project was given a designation, prefixed with “HBS” and which stood for “Hare-Brained Scheme”. Some HBS numbers made it into full projects, some were destined to remain as a couple of lines scribbled on the back of a torn beermat. The most infamous was HBS768, a company called Nomination which in turn became CentralNic – I still have the box file somewhere in the loft.

Snyde…… Ispex…


Mailbox Colo Centre

One night we drunkenly gave thousands of dialup customers a load of webspace while logged in from the Southern Cross pub on a Nokia 9000. Another time we built a data centre which ended up full of every kind of Frankenstein’s monster of servers; it suffered the most horrific air conditioning issues yet gave rise to websites which are now household names.

The server I was now reworking saw its fair share of action in that data centre. Once upon a time it had been actively involved in work for both independent and ICANN-sanctioned domain name registries. It still had configurations to handle email for a shedload of companies whose email servers were temporarily offline and had never officially told me it had been fixed (and at least three domains whose email was still being handled there, a decade later).

MusicResources… Shopgate… Printshed…

The configurations led me out of the Dot Com era working for an ISP and into my life as an IT contractor, providing emergency hosting in times before virtualisation and containers became the norm. It hosted household names (including, bizarrely, Aquafresh), and a proof-of-concept for the Sky TV programme guide, written in perl. Strange weird and wonderful ideas – I mean, who the heck thought a database of tapas restaurants might be a good idea?

I now work with a woman who was born in the same year we initiated several of those projects – she’s a front-end developer who never knew a time where we didn’t have always-on connectivity of broadband. While she can spin up a VPS and get a project deployed in a few hours, she doesn’t know the joy of pointing at tin and proudly saying, “Look! These are our servers!”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blessing that we don’t need to worry about maintenance and suchlike, but it doesn’t feel quite the same pointing at an SSH login.

Cashbase… MI5… Listbunny…

Finally, it felt I was leaving a house which had been home for decades. As I finished clearing everything up, there was a pang of regret as though I was quietly putting the lid on the Wild West era, of the Dot Com Revolution. Will there be another time like it? My old boss still allocates HBS numbers, so who knows…!

No flowers.


Header photo by Shish Batal, who sneakily took a photo of me fixing the emergency pager system at Mailbox back in 1998.

by Jess at June 29, 2016 11:56 AM

June 28, 2016

Alex Bloor

New Parody Song, after 3 years! “We Didn’t Vote for Brexit”

Based on “We didn’t start the fire” by Billy Joel, here’s what almost an entire weekend’s solid work yields! As always, lyrics and vocals by me. Hope you like it. Please share if you do! It’s topical at the moment, … Continue reading

by Alex Bloor at June 28, 2016 05:07 PM

Mark Goodge

Evesham Traffic

Evesham Civic Society is having a meeting this evening to discuss various proposals for improving the traffic flow in the town centre, and in particular restoring two-way access from Workman Bridge to/from the High Street. I can’t be there, as I have another meeting to attend at Wychavon, but I thought I’d stick my oar in anyway with some comments on the suggested solutions.

You need to read these in conjunction with the PDF created by the Civic Society. Since the suggestions aren’t otherwise numbered, I’ll refer to them by the names of the proponents in the order they appear on the PDF.

Alan Pye

This makes Swan Lane and Mill Street two-way and reverses the flow in Oat Street and Chapel Lane.

The main problem with this, as with any scheme which seeks to restore two-way traffic on Swan Lane, is that doing so would almost certainly mean losing the on-street parking. That’s not going to be popular with local residents who don’t have anywhere else to park. It also has two exits onto High Street, one from Swan lane and one from Oat Street, in very close proximity. That’s unlikely to be practical, especially as these locations won’t be suitable for mini-roundabouts. There are also questions about whether the hill section of Mill Street can take two-way traffic, although that could potentially be addressed by a priority system.

On the other hand, it has the advantage of keeping two lanes of traffic onto High Street, albeit on two different streets. That’s important, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Anthony Dowling

This system simply reverses the flow of Swan lane and Oat Street, with Mill Street being made two-way. It has the advantage of not needing any changes to on-street parking, and is one of the most commonly proposed solutions on social media.

However, it still has the issue of two exits onto High Street close together, as Avon Street will still be there. More importantly, it halves the capacity of the exit from the east onto the High Street. At the moment, there are two lanes of Westbound traffic in Swan lane, meaning that when the lights are green, two vehicles at once can exit the junction. From Oat Street, only one at a time would be able to do so. That’s either going to mean longer delays for High Street traffic, or longer tailbacks in westbound traffic, or both. As things stand, the tailbacks in Swan Lane reach Chapel Street at peak times. If all that traffic had to use Oat Street, it would reach much further back.

Schemes involving two way traffic on Swan Lane and/or reversing the flow in Oat Street could work if the parking issue was considered unimportant, and if the volume of vehicles leaving the zone to the west (over Workman Bridge) was high enough to significantly mitigate the loss of eastbound capacity. But I suspect that neither of these would be the case.

James Fleck

This system retains the existing one-way flow in Oat Street, Chapel Street and Swan Lane, but makes Mill Street two way. As such this is by far the simplest suggested solution, and avoids all the gotchas inherent in changing Swan Lane and Oat Street.

My main caveat for this is, again, the hill section of Mill Street. I have a feeling it may not be easy to create a road layout that allows two-way traffic here, especially if buses are still allowed to use this route (and banning them would significantly affect route patterns).

I also think that a mini-roundabout at the Bridge Street/Mill Street junction wouldn’t work, as the junction there also has to cater for Monks Walk which is somewhat offset from Mill Street. However, traffic lights would work well enough here, so that’s not a problem.

James Powell

This is just plain barking.

Kate Gardner

This is, effectively, the same as Alan Pye’s proposal, with the exception that it allows two-way traffic on Chapel Street.

As such, it suffers from the same issues as Alan Pye’s scheme, but with the added disadvantage that the bus stop and parking on Chapel Street would also need to go!

Mark Goodge

This is my suggested scheme. Rather than go into it in detail here, you can see the full article elsewhere on my website.

Phil Cooper

This is much the same as James Fleck’s proposal, with only minor differences at the junctions. The main difference is making the entrance to Rynal Place one way, presumably in order to prevent the use of Lancaster Grove as a rat run. I suspect that this would be unpopular with residents of the Rynals, though, as it would force them to go out onto the High Street in order to head west.

None of these schemes are perfect (not even mine!). They all have drawbacks of one form or another. Which is one of the reasons why all of them are impossible to implement without detailed traffic data and computer simulations. Fortunately, that data collection is now in progress, so we should have some idea in the not to distant future of what is and is not practical. Let’s just hope that some solution to two-way traffic between Workman Bridge and High Street is on the cards after the computer has done its stuff.

by Mark at June 28, 2016 01:14 PM

The next Prime Minister

Nominations for the Conservative Party leadership election – and, by extension, the internal election for the next Prime Minister – open today and close on Friday. Conservative MPs will whittle down the contenders to a final two, who will then be voted on by the membership as a whole. The precise timetable after that depends on the number of candidates, but we should know the winner by late August or early September.

As a party member, I will have a vote in the final ballot. I’m not going to say who I’ll be backing until I know who I have to choose between. But these are some of the principles which will guide my choice.

Firstly, it needs to be someone who can unite the party and the country.

That may sound like a meaningless platitude which will be uttered by every candidate. But it isn’t, and it matters. We’ve just had a very bruising referendum contest, and it’s important that the new leader is someone who can work with both sides. Someone who will appoint ministers on the basis of ability, not cronyism and patronage.

David Cameron has won two general elections by appealing to the centre ground of British politics. That, too, is an essential attribute of his successor. We need someone that the floating voter is comfortable floating towards. It isn’t enough to rely on Labour’s shortcomings to win an election. We need to be able to offer a positive choice to the ordinary, non-political voter. More than ever, a post-EU Britain needs a one nation government.

Secondly, we need someone who appreciates and encourages the work of grassroots Conservatives at association and branch level.

The new leader of the Conservative Party won’t just be responsible for the parliamentary party. It needs to be someone who recognises that politics doesn’t just happen in Westminster, but in county halls, town halls and civic centres across the country. Someone who makes it easy for me and my colleagues to be proud of what we stand for.

The timetable for any possible hustings will be short, but I want to see the final two candidates making a strong effort to reach out to ordinary members and telling us directly why we should vote for them. That’s another reason why I’m not backing any specific candidate yet. I want to hear what they actually have to say to us.

Finally, I want someone who I can trust with the things that matter to me.

Obviously, every party member will have their own priorities which will reflect their own experience and circumstances. But my choice will be influenced by the things that I care about: a strong commitment to civil liberty and freedom of conscience, an understanding of technology and the value to the UK’s economy of an open Internet, a bias towards evidence-based policy-making, and a preference for localism over a one-size-fits-all approach.

The decisions we will make over the next few weeks will have long-lasting ramifications.

Under normal circumstances, party leadership elections are held at on a timetable intended to give the new leader time to settle in before any really difficult decisions need to be made. That won’t be the case this time.

The incoming Prime Minister will need to get straight to work on our negotiations with the EU. An early general election is also on the cards. That makes it all the more important that we in the party think long and hard about who we want in that role. The potential difference in outcome between the right and wrong choice could not be more stark.

by Mark at June 28, 2016 09:01 AM

June 27, 2016

Jonathan McDowell

Hire me!

It’s rare to be in a position to be able to publicly announce you’re looking for a new job, but as the opportunity is currently available to me I feel I should take advantage of it. That’s especially true given the fact I’ll be at DebConf 16 next week and hope to be able to talk to various people who might be hiring (and will, of course, be attending the job fair).

I’m coming to the end of my Masters in Legal Science and although it’s been fascinating I’ve made the decision that I want to return to the world of tech. I like building things too much it seems. There are various people I’ve already reached out to, and more that are on my list to contact, but I figure making it more widely known that I’m in the market can’t hurt with finding the right fit.

  • Availability: August 2016 onwards. I can wait for the right opportunity, but I’ve got a dissertation to write up so can’t start any sooner.
  • Location: Preferably Belfast, Northern Ireland. I know that’s a tricky one, but I’ve done my share of moving around for the moment (note I’ve no problem with having to do travel as part of my job). While I prefer an office environment I’m perfectly able to work from home, as long as it’s as part of a team that is tooled up for disperse workers - in my experience being the only remote person rarely works well. There’s a chance I could be persuaded to move to Dublin for the right role.
  • Type of role: I sit somewhere on the software developer/technical lead/architect spectrum. I expect to get my hands dirty (it’s the only way to learn a system properly), but equally if I’m not able to be involved in making high level technical decisions then I’ll find myself frustrated.
  • Technology preferences: Flexible. My background is backend systems programming (primarily C in the storage and networking spaces), but like most developers these days I’ve had exposure to a bunch of different things and enjoy the opportunity to learn new things.

I’m on LinkedIn and OpenHUB, which should give a bit more info on my previous experience and skill set. I know I’m light on details here, so feel free to email me to talk about what I might be able to specifically bring to your organisation.

June 27, 2016 10:21 PM

Ian Christian

Breville Active-Blend Pro / Black Review

In a previous review of the Breville Active-Blend, however since then they have released the new Active-Blend Pro.  If you’re wondering how the new VBL120 model compares to the previous model (VBL062) then this will answer your questions!  This is a fantastic blender for the price, and looks a lot smarter than it’s previous model.

The Improvements

Many of the features and functions of this blender are identical to it’s previous model.  The body of the blender is now black and looks far slicker.

Despite the lid on the previous model never leaking in my experience, the new one seems much improved (see pictures below).  Also the bottle now has a rubber grip, improving the look and feel.  The bottle is slightly smaller than those included previously, this one is 500ml vs the 600ml on the former model.

The blades and the bottles from the VBL062 (the old model) still fit in the new model, so you can use them as extras or spares if you’re upgrading.

There’s a subtle difference in the angle of the blades on the new blender – presumably this provides a better and more consistent blend.  An advantage of the Pro version is improved dry blending, which I imagine is part of this slight alteration.

How does it perform?

I am not sure how this performs compared the the Nutribullet, but at a fraction of the price it does everything I need from a blender.

On unboxing the Active-Blend, I decided to test it with some nuts, and some ice.  I was impressed – within a second the nuts were dust! The blender didn’t struggle at all with ice either, crushing it easily.

The blender is 300W, just like it’s predecessor.  It makes just about the same amount of noise, perhaps a little quieter.

The video shows it easily crushing ice, and making a fine powder from some mixed nuts.


The new lid with improved seal insulation sleeve over bottle new bottle with rubber grip new blades vs old blades new and old blender The two blenders side-by-side


If you already have a blender, or the previous model Active-Blend, there’s no compelling reason to upgrade.  However if you’re like me and just wanted a better looking blender that doesn’t look a little bit like a kids toy, the Breville Active-Blend Pro is available from amazon.

The post Breville Active-Blend Pro / Black Review appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at June 27, 2016 08:21 PM

Mark Goodge

Two tribes go to work

Following the EU referendum, there are, broadly speaking, four groups of people in the UK:

Group A – Hardcore Remain voters, who are not only unhappy with the result but are unwilling to accept the outcome and insist on either flinging insults at Leave voters or actively trying to overturn the result (or both).

Group B – Moderate Remain voters, who are disappointed with the result but are willing to respect the outcome and now want to ensure that any negative effects on a post-EU UK are minimised.

Group C – Hardcore Leave voters, who see this as an opportunity to gloat at their opponents, who don’t care about reconciliation and want to take this opportunity to impose their will on a post-EU Britain.

Group D – Moderate Leave voters, who are pleased to have won but recognise that they only have a slim majority, that there are a lot of people who disagreed with them, and that those views should still be heard.

Whichever way you voted in the referendum, I hope it’s obvious that the B and D “moderate” groups are the ones acting in the UK’s best interests (and, for that matter, the EU’s). Sensible, intelligent people need to cooperate to make sure that the UK’s relationship with the EU is renegotiated to provide the best possible outcome for all parties.

If you’re a Remain supporter, that’s obviously going to be sub-optimal to staying in, but it’s still possible to make the most of a less than ideal situation. If you voted Leave, then compromising on some of your ideals will be worth it to ensure a smooth transition to a post-EU Britain.

It’s time for the two sensible tribes to work together. Ignore the ranters and ravers, the xenophobes and anti-democrats, and concentrate on the future rather than the past. Our future depends on it.

by Mark at June 27, 2016 04:14 PM

June 23, 2016

Ian Christian

30 Grams of Protein Within 30 minutes of Waking

I’ve been training hard every morning for the last 6 weeks, doing Insanity while on my Huel diet.  Progress has been great, however I wanted to see if I could find a way of improving my performance.  Tim Ferriss had a potential solution…

The 4 Hour Body

The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss is a fantastic book, and it suggests something called 30 in 30 – that is, 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking.  Tim claims that making this change in your diet can hugely improve weight loss; giving an example of his father losing 8.5kg in a month by making this change!

Whether you believe this or not, I make 2 suggestions

What does 30g protein looks like?

  • 5 large eggs
  • just over half a tin of tuna
  • 300g of cottage chese

That’s quite a lot of food to try for first thing in the morning!  However, simply having 100g of Huel will give you 30g protein along with the vitamins, fats and carbs to balance the diet out.  Huel is a powered, nutritionally complete food so isn’t just a protein powder (see below for discount code).

I find that I can exercise within 30 minutes of having Huel, so I could have it as soon as I woke up, have a coffee, re-hydrate and then do my morning workout.

Previously I was eating after exercising, but as it was such a simple change to try out, I gave it a go!

The Results

I log most of my workouts using a MZ-3 MyZone belt, and with Insanity repeating workouts it was simple for me to compare before and after.

Here’s the before:

Insanity - before

And after:

Insanity - After 30 grams of protein in 30 minutes of waking

The results were quite impressive! My average effort improved 5%, more calories were burnt, and I was working in my maximum heart rate zone for much more of the time.

Also, whether it was due to the increased effort of exercise or because of the 30 grams of protein, my body was like a furnace on the drive to work after.  The air conditioning had to be lowered 2 degrees more!

If you fancy giving Huel a try – use this link to receive £5 off your first order

I highly recommend the 4 Hour Body book by Tim Ferriss

The post 30 Grams of Protein Within 30 minutes of Waking appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at June 23, 2016 07:41 PM

Jonathan McDowell

Fixing missing text in Firefox

Every now and again I get this problem where Firefox won’t render text correctly (on a Debian/stretch system). Most websites are fine, but the odd site just shows up with blanks where the text should be. Initially I thought it was NoScript, but turning that off didn’t help. Daniel Silverstone gave me a pointer today that the pages in question were using webfonts, and that provided enough information to dig deeper. The sites in question were using Cantarell, via:

src: local('Cantarell Regular'), local('Cantarell-Regular'), url(cantarell.woff2) format('woff2'), url(cantarell.woff) format('woff');

The Firefox web dev inspector didn’t show it trying to fetch the font remotely, so I removed the local() elements from the CSS. That fixed the page, letting me pinpoint the problem as a local font issue. I have fonts-cantarell installed so at first I tried to remove it, but that breaks gnome-core. So instead I did an fc-list | grep -i cant to ask fontconfig what it thought was happening. That gave:

/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-Regular.otf.dpkg-tmp: Cantarell:style=Regular
/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-Bold.otf.dpkg-tmp: Cantarell:style=Bold
/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-Bold.otf: Cantarell:style=Bold
/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-Oblique.otf: Cantarell:style=Oblique
/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-Regular.otf: Cantarell:style=Regular
/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-Bold-Oblique.otf: Cantarell:style=Bold-Oblique
/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-Oblique.otf.dpkg-tmp: Cantarell:style=Oblique
/usr/share/fonts/opentype/cantarell/Cantarell-BoldOblique.otf: Cantarell:style=BoldOblique

Hmmm. Those .dpkg-tmp files looked odd, and sure enough they didn’t actually exist. So I did a sudo fc-cache -f -v to force a rebuild of the font cache and restarted Firefox (it didn’t seem to work before doing so) and everything works fine now.

It seems that fc-cache must have been run at some point when dpkg had not yet completed installing an update to the fonts-cantarell package. That seems like a bug - fontconfig should probably ignore .dpkg* files, but equally I wouldn’t expect it to be run before dpkg had finished its unpacking stage fully.

June 23, 2016 02:23 PM

June 22, 2016

Mark Goodge

After the referendum

This time tomorrow morning, we will be voting in the EU referendum. By this time the day after that, we should know the result.

So, what happens next?

Obviously, that depends on what the result is. But this is what I want to see, for both options.

If we vote to Remain

Firstly, it’s essential to bear in mind that voting to stay is not voting for the status quo. Nor is it an endorsement of every aspect of the EU and everything that it does. The EU is horribly broken and dysfunctional in very many ways. If we are staying in it, we need to take the lead both in highlighting the problems and coming up with ways to address them.

Secondly, a choice to remain is not an endorsement of the Remain campaign. Some of the ad hominem attacks on Leave campaigners have been truly appalling. If the Remain campaign is victorious, more than anything it needs to follow this up by being gracious.

A vote to stay is not a rejection of the need to change. It just means change in a different way to leaving.

The long term future of the EU needs to work for everybody, not just those who wholeheartedly buy into its vision. That means taking the criticisms of the EU levelled by the Leave campaign seriously, and seeking to address those from within the structure.

If we vote to Leave

A vote to leave is a step into the unknown. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a leap in the dark. The key priorities of the government over the weeks, months and even years that follow a decision to leave will be about how best to secure the long-term interests of the UK.

There are many possible routes forward if we leave. Some of them are as different as the choice between leaving and remaining. And even if we leave, the opinions of those who voted to stay are still relevant in that debate.

A leave vote means a majority want out of the EU. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a majority want out of free trade, or free movement of people, or cross-border consumer protection.

Voting to leave isn’t the end of a process. It’s the start of one. The start of a new Europe that better serves the needs of all the countries in Europe, whether in or out of the EU.

Whatever we choose

No matter which vision for our future wins, both sides have to accept the result.

No carping, no complaining about the other side taking liberties with the campaign. No conspiracy theories. No accusations of ballot rigging. No subtle (or unsubtle) undermining of the will of the majority. No grudges.

Whatever happens, we have to move on. This has been a deeply unpleasant campaign, with very little to be proud of on either side. It’s time to put that behind us and make a commitment to making this decision work. For all of us.

by Mark at June 22, 2016 07:12 AM

June 20, 2016

Ian Christian

Huel and Insanity – a healthy combination

I’ve made some really great progress I’m really proud of, and I wanted to share it. This  post serves as extra evidence that using Huel as part of a healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference to your life.

For the last 5 weeks I have been combining 60% Huel diet, with the Insanity programme from Shaun T.  If you don’t know what Huel is, it’s a powdered replacement for food, which aims to provide all the fats, carbs, protein and vitamins you required.  Check out my previous article for more information (

My trial has resulted in:

  • Rapid fat loss
  • Weight loss (this wasn’t a primary goal)
  • Increased energy levels
  • reduction in food bills
  • much more spare time

Have a look at the difference in just 5 weeks!

Huel Before and After Photo

Huel Before and After Photo

Additional changes I’ve made in lifestyle (details not covered here – I might put together a full detailed programme in future) have resulted in additional benefits of:

  • less need for sleep
  • clearer head space
  • an increase in productivity

Whilst undergoing my changes, I have been able to maintain a relatively relaxed diet too. On Monday I was at a wedding, and despite eating a lot of cake, cheese, hog roast and BBQ (seriously, it was shameful) I have still continued to loose weight and improve fitness!

My Schedule

My typical week day is:

  • wake up around 6:45
  • espresso, water
  • Insanity as directed by the programme
  • get to work for 9am.
  • 9am – first meal, Huel – 2 scoops
  • 11am – second meal, Huel – 2 scoops
  • 1pmish, when the weather is good enough, 6000 step walk
  • 2pm – 3pm – third meal, Huel – 2 scoops
  • 4pm – 5pm – forth meal, Huel – 2 scoops
  • 6pm – 7pm – dinner – ‘normal’ food, generally healthy but pasta, rice, potatoes have remained on the allowed list.

Typical weekends are hard to define. Insanity Saturday morning, usually Huel for breakfasts, but I tend to eat out, and eat chaotically.

I am now increasing my Huel intake to add an additional 2 scoops throughout the day (I’m adding at meal 1 and 3) as I do not want to loose any more weight.

The Results

Below you can see both weight and fat loss in the last 5 weeks, with measurements being taken twice a day, except where I’ve been away.  The graphs are from the Withings Health app, and I’m weighing using the Withings WS-50 scales (which are fantastic by the way!)

My Weight loss on Huel and Insanity My Weight loss on Huel and Insanity

If you fancy giving Huel a try – use this link to receive £5 off your first order

Huel Discount Code

The post Huel and Insanity – a healthy combination appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at June 20, 2016 11:40 AM

Huel – a nutritionally complete food replacement

I recently gave a talk about Huel – a nutritionally complete food replacement, covering the benefits and how it compered to my Clean Eating Challenge I did a year ago.   About 60% of my diet is Huel these days, and so I’m a huge fan of it.  I hope the speech below helps you to understand why!

If you want to give Huel a try – this link below will give you a £5 discount code.  At the time of writing, your first order will also come with a free t-shirt and shaker!

Huel Discount Code

My Talk on Huel

Do you sometimes miss lunch or breakfast because you don’t have time?

Do you know how many calories you ate yesterday?

Do you know the ratio of proteins, fats and carbohydrates?

Last year, I enrolled on a ‘Clean Eating Challenge’ course – an 8 week course teaching you about nutrition.

The goal was to eat food as close to how nature intended it. This means no pasta, no bread, and certainly no cake! No extra calories were allowed to come from drinks, so this included alcohol.
I was to eat 40% of my daily calories as carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fats – this is a common macronutrient ratio used by athletes. This was to be done while consuming 5 or 6 smaller meals throughout the day rather than 3 large meals.

The first meeting we were weighed, measured, our body fat percentage was calculated, and a fitness test to benchmark ourselves was undertaken.
Every week focused on a different lesson and by the end of week one, I had already learnt a huge amount. Everything I ate was measured, weighed, and input into a food tracking app called ‘MyFitnessPal’.

I was struggling to eat higher levels of protein without hitting high fat content, so I invented a ratio I called the ‘PF Ratio’ – protein to fat. I knew that given my targets I needed to hit a PF ratio of 2.3 across the day. Tuna has a PF ratio of 6 – fantastic, if only I like tuna. Chicken had a PF ratio of 8.9 – so I was eating plenty of chicken!

As the weeks went on, I was learning more and more about what I was eating, and was able to balance my meals with less and less effort.
Sunday had turned into ‘food prep day’ – I spent most of the day shopping for food, weighing it, cooking it, separating it into portions – my kitchen was overrun with tupperwear dishes. The key to success was preparation, and preparation took so much time!

It’s amazing how much food you can eat when you cut out the junk food. I was meant to be eating somewhere between 1800-1900 calories a day, and sometimes eating enough food was a challenge!

So, did this diet work?

For me, this diet worked wonders. I lost 3kg in the 8 weeks, and my body fat dropped significantly too. My definition was vastly improved, the before and after photos were borderline unbelievable for 8 weeks.

However – it was a lot of work. Hitting the right ratios of carbs, fats and protein was an awful lot of work. I never even considered if I was getting the correct levels of fibre, vitamin C, Omega 3…. That level of detail and planning would be almost impossible!

It wasn’t just about the food though, I was training 5 – 6 times a week. My life for the 8 weeks became exercise, food preparation, and eating with little time for much else.

I thought to myself, there has to be a simpler way. As it turns out, I’m not the only person who’s thought this.

In February 2013, a software engineer in California, Rob Rhinehart, posted a blog article started:

Food is the fossil fuel of human energy. It is an enormous market full of waste, regulation, and biased allocation with serious geo-political implications.’
’ In my own life I resented the time, money, and effort the purchase, preparation, consumption, and clean-up of food was consuming

I could certainly relate to that resentment at the end of my clean eating challenge. I’m also horribly guilty of food waste. When was the last time you binned something that went out of date before you got round to eating it? A charity “Wrap” claims that 15 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every year– 50% of which is household waste.

In this blog article, he writes ‘I haven’t eaten a bite of food in 30 days, and it’s changed my life.’

As an engineer, his thoughts were that the body doesn’t need food as such, what it needs is the chemicals and elements within it.

So what happens if you combine all the elements in as near to neat form as you can, mix them with water, and drink it instead of eating?

This was the birth of Soylent.

Do you want to know what happened when I gave up eating for a week and lived off ‘food replacement’?


I was disappointed, I thought I’d have a story to tell – but the result was simply that the product did exactly what it said on the tin. I wasn’t hungry, I felt great, and there was no change in body fat or weight. The experience was completely uneventful.

Unfortunately Soylent isn’t available in this country, so I tried a few brands. I’ve eventually settled on a product called Huel. It provides a 40/30/30 macronutrient split, just like my clean eating diet aimed for.  Huel was created by a UK entrepreneur called Julian Hearn with a similar goal to Soylent.

So, what are the benefits?

  • No more food waste, the product lasts for months
  • Lower environmental impact, Huel is vegan.
  • I avoid bad food choices. When hungry it’s so easy to grab a burger, but this leaves no excuses
  • I save money. For under £40 a week I am getting a balanced high protein diet. My clean eating challenge focused on high quality food, which was costing a fortune.
  • I feel good all the time. No lows, no highs, no bloated feeling for having eaten too much.
  • I save time. This is the biggest impact. At home from work at 17:30, by 17:40 I had had my dinner and done the washing up. I estimate a 2 hour saving a day, over a week that’s 14 extra hours. Almost an entire extra days’ worth of time.

These days, I still eat food. I eat it socially, and when there’s a healthy food choice at hand – but the convenience of Huel often wins, and I estimate that 60% of my intake now comes from Huel.

If you want to save time, and feel great, why not give Huel a try?

Huel - before and after

You can get a discount on Huel by using this link:

If you want to see the radical change Huel and exercise had on me in just 5 weeks, have a look at my article Huel and Insanity – a healthy combination


The post Huel – a nutritionally complete food replacement appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at June 20, 2016 05:40 AM

June 19, 2016

Ian Christian

Someone wants to kill me – A hilarious scambaiting conversation

6 months ago I received a spam email, which usually I’d simply ignore but this one sparked my interest:

I want you to read this message very carefully, and keep the secret with you till further notice, You have no need of knowing who i am, where am from,till i make out a space for us to see, i have being paid $50,000.00 in advance to terminate your life

Yesterday I was working on my website and I came across a scambaiting conversation with Igor the Assassin from around Christmas last year.  Re-reading the story I’d forgotten how funny it was (even if I do say so myself!).  Read the funny exchange here. I still can’t quite believe how it ended!

The post Someone wants to kill me – A hilarious scambaiting conversation appeared first on Ian P. Christian's Health Blog.

by Ian P. Christian at June 19, 2016 06:56 AM

June 16, 2016

Andy Davidson

What I look for in a street photograph.

What I look for in a street photograph.

I spend a great deal of my free time looking for opportunities to shoot "Street Photography", a popular genre that has resulted in some of photography's most iconic and memorable images. Though I must admit, it results in some pretty strange looks from people on the street, as well as from my friends.

I don't find something to photograph every time I go out to shoot street photography, and this is pretty normal for people who enjoy street photography. I am looking for a specific image when I head out. I, and many other street photographers, also go out to shoot to a specific recipe, even if the ingredients change often. So what might that image be, and what are those ingredients ?


Whilst a street photograph does not need to feature a person in the image, it often does, yet the image is not a portrait. Most of mine feature a person, even if the person can not be identified. The thing I'm specifically trying to do with my work is put a person into the context of their environment. Doing so helps people relate to your image, gives your image depth and a sense of scale, and makes the story behind your image suddenly lots of times more interesting.

If the story in the image is about the person depicted, then it's essential that the individual is sharp, well lit, but definitely something to do with their environment. If it's a market trader, they need to be in the market. If they're a train passenger, they need to be clearly in a station. The person needs to be interacting with their environment - if not, it's just a portrait. There's no shame in that, and I do also take (and enjoy to look at) posed street portraits, but there is a difference.

Market Trader

If the story is about the environment, you can be much more creative with what you do with the human element. You can silhouette them to provide a human link but make them anonymous, you can blur them to depict movement, or you can candidly catch them interacting with the world around them in some way.

London Leafleting - Blur


Repeating shapes in the street look excellent in images. In most cities there is disorder and chaos on every street, so when you find order and pattern, you should definitely reach for the camera. Interesting repeating shapes can come from reflections, buildings with strong patterns, or man made structures like bridges or marks on the road. When I find a shape that repeats, I tend to look at the scene from different angles (especially different heights) to find the most interesting viewpoint. Looking through windows with patterns on them are interesting ways of seeing out into the world via a repeating shape.

Finish Line Repeating Squares

Light and shadow can paint a beautiful geometry in your scene in many ways - imagine artificial lights from a busy market scene creating strong leading lines through your image, or a low harsh winter sunlight creating long shadows.

Long Shadows


Closely related to timing and Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment", aligning a person, with an element from the scene around you, so that the combination of the static part of the street interacts with something there only temporary, makes for a great image. The effect should tell a story, often it's quite comic. There are some often used ingredients in this recipe for success - someone on their mobile walking past a phone box, people that seem to be interacting with advertising posters, or a well dressed man with a briefcase walking past a famous shop named 'Boss'. The really interesting ones come when you spot your own juxtapositions. They are out there !



When you put all of this together, this involves building a picture by assembling layers. It's common to spot an interesting background or an interesting situation developing and waiting around for all of the elements to come together. Whilst I can cover tens of thousands of steps on a street photography day, most of the shooting happens when I am not moving around much at all. For this shot, I waited a while, until there was a single person on these public stairs, in one of the most populated cities in the world. I am glad I did.

Kolkata Steps

Take this image for example. I spotted the word 'Finish' on a shop and imagined it as a finish line to a race. It was a quiet street and I had to wait a few minutes for someone interesting looking to walk into the frame.

Finish Line


The perfect outcome in a street photograph is when background and foreground interest elements come together and the photographer tells a story about an interesting moment. The gust of wind which surprises a crowd, the moment a child is half-way over a big puddle jump, or the moment a person interrupts a perfectly repeating geometry in your scene in precisely the most photogenic spot. One of my favourite moments was when a couple had a romantic moment in front of the bin men, a confluence of juxtaposition and moment:


June 16, 2016 11:00 PM

June 15, 2016

Andrew Elwell

The Physical Web. Yeah, thats a good idea.

In the last week I've discovered the Physical Web from google, and I'm sold on the idea. Apart from the "what's around here" geeky stuff, it's a great idea for sensible 'distant' digital signage. For example, $dayjob is at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, but we don't plaster our URL over the visitor area - what if guests could be gently prompted to the right URL by beacon?

Again tonight (while watching WASO play the Indiana Jones score) I noticed a set of three A3 posters explaining to users of another part of the conference centre how to connect to wifi and download <exhibit> app. This isn't even Scott Jensen's complaint of a 'dos prompt on the browser' - it's more a dig out the index card from the library, then go to the dos prompt...

by Andrew Elwell ( at June 15, 2016 06:18 PM

Steve Kennedy

Plazmatic X dual beam lighter

There are lighters and then there are lighters, the Plazmatic X dual beam lighter definitely falls into the second category.

The lighter is 7.3cm x 3.6cm x 1.25cm which makes it about twice as high as it is wide (which feels slightly wrong, being used to a Zippo to size), this is probably needed to fit a decent battery and the high voltage electronics.

Amazingly the lighter doesn't use any fuel (no gas or petrol to worry about) as it uses plain old electricity to produce a dual plasma beam. Say lighting a cigarette, you hold it near the beam and suck and the beam bends and quickly ignites the cigarette. Very satisfying experience. It's also mean to be able to light all sorts of other smokables (no judgement here).

The lighter can also be used in all sorts of weather conditions including wind as the plasma beam will still be generated (as long as there's a charge of course).

A full charge will give 50-100 lights (though it's so pretty that it's likely people will just click on the button to see the effect. It charges via a micro USB port (USB cable supplied) and charges to full in about 2 hours.

The lighter comes in various finishes (though they seem to be skins attached to the same base model rather than say anodising the body itself).

The lighter is available directly from the Elementium website for $59.95 (there's free shipping at the moment to the US). This may seem a lot for a lighter, though never having to buy fuel should offset it.

Rate: 9/10 (only because of the case).

by Steve Karmeinsky ( at June 15, 2016 06:02 PM

Mark Goodge

Referendum musings

It’s just over a week to go to the EU referendum, so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

To begin with, let me say what this post is not. I will not tell you how to vote, or try to persuade you which way to vote. And I will not tell you which way I will vote.

There are, however, a number of things which need to be said.

Lies, damned lies and the battle for your vote

The first is that, by and large, the conduct of both sides has been utterly appalling. That doesn’t apply to every individual involved in either campaign, and very many of the grassroots activists on both sides – of which I count many, again on both sides, as friends – have been doing their best to argue their cause in a reasonable manner.

But, still, many of the headline claims made by the leaders of both sides are, at best, pure speculation dressed up as fact or, at worst, outright lies.

We’re doomed, I tell you, all doomed

On the Remain side, the increasingly shrill warnings of economic disaster, rise in terrorism and imminent collapse of civilisation simply do not ring true. By all means, consider a worst case scenario. But a description of the most extreme possible outcomes has to go hand in hand with a realistic assessment of the risk.

If it rains hard enough for long enough, my house could be flooded. We are on the edge of the “thousand year” flood zone. But, realistically, that is very, very unlikely to happen, at least in my lifetime or that of anyone I eventually sell the house to.

The same applies to predictions of what might happen if we leave the EU. It could, theoretically, result in economic disaster. But just saying that it could is insufficient information. To be useful, that has to be part of an overall risk assessment with outcomes ranging from best case to worst case, and with informed and expert predictions of how likely all the various possible outcomes are.

It doesn’t add up

On the Leave side, the repeatedly bandied figure of £350m a week paid to the EU is simply false. And arguing that that’s the right figure to use, because it’s what we would pay if it wasn’t for the rebate, is meaningless. That’s like saying that if I buy a shirt from M&S at 30% off, I should still assess the cost on what I would have paid without the discount. My accountant would laugh at me if I did that.

It’s also simply wrong to say that, whatever we pay to the EU, we could instead spend it on the NHS if we left. That disregards all the money that is currently spent by the EU on things within the UK. The absolute most we could spend on the NHS if we left is the total net cost of EU membership – which is a heck of a lot less than £350m a week. But even that disregards the possibility that leaving the EU may incur other costs which also have to be met. Realistically, this is simply an impossible promise.

Little Britain and Big Brother

The Remain argument that the UK would have to adopt something like the “Swiss model” or the “Norwegian model” to get access to the benefits of the single market if we leave is equally specious.

The UK has a population of 64 million, and a GDP of $2,768 billion (measured in USD as that’s the common unit of comparison). Norway has a population of 5 million, and a GDP of $513 billion. Switzerland has a population of 8 million, and a GDP of $685 billion. In other words, the UK has a population nearly five times that of Norway and Switzerland combined, and a GDP more than double their combined total.

If we leave the EU, we will not need either a “Swiss model” or a “Norwegian model” in our relationship with the remaining EU. We will have a “British model”, negotiated to take account of our economic and population strength. We can’t say for certain what this will look like, but we can be sure it won’t look like anything which currently exists.

Our only goal will be the western shore

On the other hand, leaving the EU will not solve our immigration “problem”. Quite apart from the fact that it is far less of a problem than many people believe – there is absolutely zero evidence that immigrants are squeezing local-born people out of the employment market, for example – the reality is that EU migration is still lower than non-EU migration.

Given that many EU migrants would, if we were not part of the EU, fall into the same categories as the non-EU migrants allowed to come here and would therefore continue to be allowed to come in the future, the idea that we could make a sizeable dent in immigration by leaving is laughable. And that’s assuming we won’t negotiate an agreement with the EU which includes free movement of labour anyway. I strongly suspect we would, because overall, it would be beneficial to us to do so.

The face doesn’t fit

If we disregard the guff from both sides (and there’s an awful lot of it to disregard), though, what are we left with? Can we, as some suggest, make our decision based on the identities of those arguing for either option?

The answer to that is “no”. I’ve previously argued that, when it comes to a general election, you can’t just vote for policies – you have to take account of the perceived competence of those who will implement them as well. But a referendum is the complete opposite. No matter what we decide, we will still have the same government the day after the referendum as before, and we will still have the same options at the next general election.

Voting Remain because you dislike Nigel Farage, or Leave in order to snub David Cameron – or vice versa – is the worst possible reason for making your decision. Voting Leave will not put Ukip in power. Or Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter. Voting Remain is not an endorsement of the current government. The decision we collectively make on 23rd June 2016 will have an effect long after all of us currently active in politics have retired or died. Casting your vote now on the basis of which set of faces you like the most is one of the most mind-numbingly stupid things you could do. So don’t do it.

Making either choice is a decision based on what you, after giving the matter careful consideration, honestly believe is best for the UK in the long run. At least, I hope it is. And that means cutting through the dodgy headlines and looking beyond the faces to try and find the facts.

I’m not, in the space of this article, going to try and give you the facts, beyond those I’ve obliquely referred to already. But I am going to make a few observations.

Break point

After my comment on the behaviour of the campaigners, the second most important thing which must be said is that the EU is badly broken in a number of areas. That fact is, I think, beyond dispute. A full list would be far too long, but the economic sacrifice of Greece on the altar of the Euro and the mismanagement of the migrant crisis are two obvious examples. The question is not “Is there anything wrong with the EU?”. The question is “Can we fix it?”.

In this context, I disagree with the criticism of Jeremy Corbyn for seemingly being lukewarm over the EU, or with Boris Johnson for dithering before coming out for Leave. In both cases, these are the actions you would expect of someone who recognises that there are strong arguments for both options, but that ultimately you have to make a choice between them. I’m not telling you which of Johnson or Corbyn you should vote with, but both of them make a better role model here than those who adopted a knee-jerk position for either Remain or Leave right from the off.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

The reality is that there are some very good arguments on both sides. Anyone who doesn’t recognise that simply hasn’t thought about the issue in any great detail. Equally, there are some very bad arguments on both sides. And the tragedy is that the campaign has seemingly focused on the bad arguments rather than the good ones.

The EU is, as I’ve said, badly broken in many respects, and if it continues down some of those broken pathways it has the potential to do a great deal of harm. But it has also been extremely beneficial in very many ways, and the UK has gained a lot from our membership. Again, I will say that anyone who does not recognise the truth of both these statements has too little understanding to make an informed choice.

Questions, questions

Ultimately, everyone’s decision has to be their own. I’m not telling anyone how to vote, or how I intend to vote. But I will pose a set of questions that will inform my own choice. Hopefully, they will be helpful to others as well. Those questions are:

  1. Are the EU’s structural flaws beyond repair, or can they be fixed?
  2. In the long term – not just the next few years, but for the next generation – which option offers the best prospects for our economic security and freedom?
  3. Is a decision to leave influenced by the “grass is always greener” fallacy?
  4. Conversely, does a decision to stay reflect the sunk costs fallacy?
  5. Which decision will I be most proud of explaining to my children, and why?

I’ll leave it to you to answer those questions for yourselves, or to pose others. I may come back after the vote and explain how I answered them.

by Mark at June 15, 2016 10:56 AM

June 14, 2016

Andy Davidson

Shooting in the city at night.

Here are some easy to follow tips, which explain how to shoot impressive night time cityscapes.

  • Assemble your kit. You can not shoot at night without a sturdy tripod. If you have a choice of cameras, pick the one with the largest sensor as this will work better in the low light. You don't need a specialist lens for cityscapes - a 17-40mm (35mm equivalent) will do a great job. You need a way to time long exposures by hand, maybe a stopwatch on your smartphone or a wristwatch with second hand.
  • Know how you are going to keep warm in the winter months!
  • Pick a time when there is still colour in the sky, so immediately after sunset. The 'Rizon' app for your smartphone will help you pick a time of day just after sunset. If you shoot when the sky is completely black your images will be boring.
  • Buildings lit with artificial lighting often work well as subjects for these shots.
  • Pick a night with little or no wind as your exposure time will be very long and it's important for the camera not to move. Secure your camera to the tripod and ensure that it is not capable of moving independently.
  • Start a capture at f/16 for 30 seconds at ISO 100, in manual mode.
  • If the image is too bright or dark, then double or half the exposure time. Maintain the same ISO and aperture and just vary the exposure time.
  • Compose to deliberately capture movement. Try traffic - this can lead to powerful leading lines in your composition. Try water - this will blur to a smooth silky texture.
  • Experiment with white-balance! Daylight is good for realistic looking colours, but if there is a lot of artificial light in the scene try tungsten or fluorescent.

That's all ! It's an easy way to record impressive and different images.

June 14, 2016 11:00 PM

June 05, 2016

Liam Proven

Did the floppy disk, & diskette drives, die before their time?

I almost never saw 2.8MB floppy drives.

I know they were out there. The later IBM PS/2 machines used them, and so did some Unix workstations, but the 2.8MB format -- quad or extended density -- never really took off.

It did seem to me that if the floppy companies & PC makers had actually adopted them wholesale, the floppy disk as a medium might have survived for considerably longer.

The 2.8MB drives never really took off widely, so the media remained expensive, ISTM -- and thus little software was distributed on the format, because few machines could read it.

By 1990 there was an obscure and short-lived 20MB floptical diskette format:

Then in 1994 came 100MB Zip disks, which for a while were a significant format -- I had Macs with built-in-as-standard Zip drives.

Then the 3½" super floptical drives, the Imation SuperDisk in 1997, 144MB Caleb UHD144 in early 1998 and then 150MB Sony HiFD in late 1998.

(None of these later drives could read 2.8MB diskettes, AFAIK.)

After that, writable CDs got cheap enough to catch on, and USB Flash media mostly has killed them off now.

If the 2.8 had taken off, and maybe even intermediate ~6MB and ~12MB formats -- was that feasible? -- before the 20MB ones, well, with widespread adoption, there wouldn't have been an opening for the Zip drive, and the floppy drive might have remained a significant and important medium for another decade.

I didn't realise that the Zip drive eventually got a 750MB version, presumably competing with Iomega's own 1GB Jaz drive. If floppy drives had got into that territory, could they have even fended off CDs? Rewritable CDs always were a pain. They were a one-shot medium and thus inconvenient and expensive -- write on one machine, use a few times at best, then throw away.

I liked floppies. I enjoy playing with my ancient Sinclair computers, but loading from tape cassette is just a step too far. I remember the speed and convenience when I got my first Spectrum disk drive, and I miss it. Instant loading from an SD drive just isn't the same. I don't use them on PCs any more -- I don't have a machine with a floppy drive in this country -- but for 8-bits, two drives with a meg or so of storage was plenty. I used them long after most people, if only for updating BIOSes and so on.

June 05, 2016 01:05 PM

The rise & fall of the first real x86 rival to Intel: the Cyrix 6x86

I was surprised to read someone castigating and condemning the Cyrix line of PC CPUs today.

For a while, I recommended 'em and used 'em myself. My own home PC was a Cyrix 6x86 P166+ for a year or two. Lovely machine -- a 133MHz processor that performed about 30-40% better than an Intel Pentium MMX at the same clock speed.

My then-employer, PC Pro magazine, recommended them too.

I only ever hit one problem: I had to turn down reviewing the latest version of Aldus PageMaker because it wouldn't run on a 6x86. I replaced it with a Baby-AT Slot A Gigabyte motherboard and a Pentium II 450. (Only the 100MHz front side bus Pentium IIs were worth bothering with IMHO. The 66MHz FSB PIIs could be outperformed by a cheaper SuperSocket 7 machine with a Cyrix chip.) It was very difficult to find a Baby-AT motherboard for a PII -- the market had switched to ATX by then -- but it allowed me to keep a case I particularly liked, and indeed, most of the components in that case, too.

The one single product that killed the Cyrix chips was id Software's Quake.

Quake used very cleverly optimised x86 code that interleaved FPU and integer instructions, as John Carmack had worked out that apart from instruction loading, which used the same registers, FPU and integer operations used different parts of the Pentium core and could effectively be overlapped. This nearly doubled the speed of FPU-intensive parts of the game's code.

The interleaving didn't work on Cyrix cores. It ran fine, but the operations did not overlap, so execution speed halved.

On every other benchmark and performance test we could devise, the 6x86 core was about 30-40% faster than the Intel Pentium core -- or the Pentium MMX, as nothing much used the extra instructions, so really only the additional L1 cache helped. (The Pentium 1 had 16 kB of L1; the Pentium MMX had 32 kB.)

But Quake was extremely popular, and everyone used it in their performance tests -- and thus hammered the Cyrix chips, even though the Cyrix was faster in ordinary use, in business/work/Windows operation, indeed in every other game except Quake.

And ultimately that killed Cyrix off. Shame, because the company had made some real improvements to the x86-32 design. Improving instructions-per-clock is more important than improving the raw clock speed, which was Intel's focus right up until the demise of the Netburst Pentium 4 line.

AMD with the 64-bit Sledgehammer core (Athlon 64 & Opteron) did the same to the P4 as Cyrix's 6x86 did to the Pentium 1. Indeed I have a vague memory some former Cyrix processor designers were involved.

Intel Israel came back with the (Pentium Pro-based) Pentium M line, intended for notebooks, and that led to the Core series, with IPC speeds that ultimately beat even AMD's. Today, nobody can touch Intel's high-end x86 CPUs. AMD is looking increasingly doomed, at least in that space. Sadly, though, Intel has surrendered the low end and is killing the Atom line.

The Atoms were always a bit gutless, but they were cheap, ran cool, and were frugal with power. In recent years they've enabled some interesting cheap low-end Windows 8 and Windows 10 tablets:

Given that there is Android for x86, and have already been Intel-powered Android phones, plus Windows 10 for phones today, this opened up the intriguing possibility of x86 Windows smartphones -- but then Intel slammed the door shut.

Cyrix still exists, but only as a brand for Via, with some very low-end x86 chips. Interestingly, these don't use Cyrix CPU cores -- they use a design taken from a different non-Intel x86 vendor, the IDT WinChip:

I installed a few WinChips as upgrades for low-speed Pentium PCs. The WinChip never was all that fast, but it was a very simple, stripped-down core, so it ran cool, was about as quick as a real Pentium core, but was cheaper and ran at higher clock speeds, so they were mainly sold as an aftermarket upgrade for tired old PCs. The Cyrix chips weren't a good fit for this, as they required different clock speeds, BIOS support, additional cooling and so on. IDT spotted a niche and exploited it, and oddly, that is the non-Intel x86 core that's survived at the low-end, and not the superior 6x86 one.

In the unlikely event that Via does some R&D work, it could potentially move into the space now vacated by the very low-power Atom chips. AMD is already strong in the low-end x86 desktop/notebook space with its Fusion processors which combine a 64-bit x86 core with an ATI-derived GPU, but they are too big, too hot-running and too power-hungry for smartphones or tablets.

June 05, 2016 12:34 PM