Planet Uknot

July 21, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Packing Cubes

On a recent ten-day European trip, I tried out packing cubes for the first time, and my impression is highly favourable.

July 21, 2018 08:03 AM

July 20, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes

2010 contemporary fantasy. In a decaying alternate-present Johannesberg, Zinzi December is one of the animalled: people who, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, have acquired an animal companion and magical powers. Of course, that's not entirely a good thing.

July 20, 2018 08:00 AM

July 19, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Unnatural Causes, P. D. James

1967 detective fiction, third of James's novels of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. Dalgleish is on holiday, visiting his aunt's cottage on the Suffolk coast; but one of the local writers has gone missing, and soon the police announce that his body has been found.

July 19, 2018 08:02 AM

July 18, 2018

Roger Bell_West

The Exile Waiting, Vonda N. McIntyre

1975 science fiction, broadly in the same universe as Dreamsnake. In the last city on a post-apocalyptic earth, Mischa the thief is trying to get passage off-world for herself and her brother before their telepathic talents doom them both.

July 18, 2018 08:02 AM

July 17, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Summer Stabcon 2018

This long-running games convention had another instance at the start of July, on a very very hot weekend. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

July 17, 2018 08:00 AM

July 16, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Her Royal Spyness, Rhys Bowen

2007 mystery/thriller, first in its series. In 1932, Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie ("Georgie"), thirty-fourth in line to the throne, is desperate to get away from her brother's frozen castle in Scotland, and unwilling to be married off to Prince Siegfried of Romania, but is without funds of her own, so she travels to London to try to make her own way in life. Things rapidly become excessively complicated.

July 16, 2018 08:03 AM

July 15, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Mythical Orichalcum in GURPS

Orichalcum is a term that shows up in Plato's Critias, particularly in association with Atlantis, as a signifier of the decline of civilisation. For role-playing purposes one can do more with it.

July 15, 2018 08:00 AM

July 14, 2018

Roger Bell_West

A Dark So Deadly, Stuart MacBride

2017 mystery, tartan noir. In Oldcastle, a notional Scottish city that's mostly Aberdeen with some shades of Edinburgh, the detectives nobody wants (but who can't be fired) end up in the Misfit Mob. When lots of bodies turn up at once in the town dump, they get the most boring one. But now they've got a serial killer to track down…

July 14, 2018 08:02 AM

July 13, 2018

Roger Bell_West

July 12, 2018

Jonathan Dowland

The Cure's 40th Anniversary

Last Saturday I joined roughly 65,000 other people to see the Cure play a 40th Anniversary celebration gig in Hyde Park, London. It was a short gig (by Cure) standards of about 2½ hours due to the venue's strict curfew, and as predicted, the set was (for the most part) a straightforward run through the greatest hits. However, the atmosphere was fantastic. It may have been helped along by the great weather we were enjoying (over 30°C), England winning a World Cup match a few hours earlier, and the infectious joy of London Pride that took place a short trip up the road. A great time was had by all.

Last year, a friend of mine who had never listened to the Cure had asked me to recommend (only) 5 songs which would give a reasonable overview. (5 from over 200 studio recorded songs). As with Coil, this is quite a challenging task, and here's what I came up with. In most cases, the videos are from the Hyde Park show (but it's worth seeking out the studio versions too)

1. "Pictures of You"

Walking a delicate line between their dark and light songs, "Pictures of You" is one of those rare songs where the extended remix is possibly better than the original (which is not short either)

2. "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep"

I love this song. I'm a complete sucker for the Phrygian scale. I was extremely happy to finally catch it live for the first time at Hyde Park, which was my fourth Cure gig (and hopefully not my last)

The nu-metal band "Deftones" have occasionally covered this song live, and they do a fantastic job of it. They played it this year for their Meltdown appearance, and a version appears on their "B-Side and Rarities". My favourite take was from a 2004 appearance on MTV's "MTV Icon" programme honouring the Cure:

3. "Killing An Arab"

The provocatively-titled first single by the group takes its name from the pivotal scene in the Albert Camus novel "The Stranger" and is not actually endorsing the murder of people. Despite this it's an unfortunate title, and in recent years they have often performed it as "Killing Another". The song loses nothing in renaming, in my opinion.

The original recording is a sparse, tight, angular post-punk piece, but it's in the live setting that this song really shines, and it's a live version I recommend you try.

4. "Just Like Heaven"

It might be obvious that my tastes align more to the Cure's dark side than the light, but the light side can't be ignored. Most of their greatest hits and best known work are light, accessible pop classics. Choosing just one was amongst the hardest decisions to make. For the selection I offered my friend, I opted for "Friday I'm In Love", which is unabashed joy, but it didn't meet a warm reception, so I now substitute it for "Just Like Heaven".

Bonus video: someone proposed in the middle of this song!

5. "The Drowning Man"

From their "Very Dark" period, another literature-influenced track, this time Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast": "The Drowning Man"

If you let the video run on, you'll get a bonus 6th track, similarly rarely performed live: Faith. I haven't seen either live yet. Maybe one day!

July 12, 2018 01:59 PM

Roger Bell_West

Switchback, Melissa F. Olson

2017 modern fantasy short novel novella, second in its series. The underdog FBI department that fights vampires gets a case in a small town.

July 12, 2018 08:03 AM

July 11, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

2018 modern romance/slice of life, seinen manga adaptation in 12 episodes: AniDB, vt "After the Rain". High school student Tachibana Akira has a crush on Kondou Masami, the middle-aged manager of the restaurant where she does a part-time job.

July 11, 2018 08:04 AM

July 10, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

2012… hard to categorise, but I think "contemporary thriller" comes closest. Unemployed web designer Clay Jannon gets a job at a bookshop… which turns out to be distinctly Odd.

July 10, 2018 08:00 AM

July 09, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 2 June 2018

This Meetup-based boardgames group continues to meet at the Marlow Donkey.

July 09, 2018 08:04 AM

July 08, 2018

Jonathan McDowell

Fixing a broken ESP8266

One of the IoT platforms I’ve been playing with is the ESP8266, which is a pretty incredible little chip with dev boards available for under £4. Arduino and Micropython are both great development platforms for them, but the first board I bought (back in 2016) only had a 4Mbit flash chip. As a result I spent some time writing against the Espressif C SDK and trying to fit everything into less than 256KB so that the flash could hold 2 images and allow over the air updates. Annoyingly just as I was getting to the point of success with Richard Burton’s rBoot my device started misbehaving, even when I went back to the default boot loader:

 ets Jan  8 2013,rst cause:1, boot mode:(3,6)

load 0x40100000, len 816, room 16
tail 0
chksum 0x8d
load 0x3ffe8000, len 788, room 8
tail 12
chksum 0xcf
ho 0 tail 12 room 4
load 0x3ffe8314, len 288, room 12
tail 4
chksum 0xcf
csum 0xcf

2nd boot version : 1.2
  SPI Speed      : 40MHz
  SPI Mode       : DIO
  SPI Flash Size : 4Mbit
jump to run user1

Fatal exception (0):
epc1=0x402015a4, epc2=0x00000000, epc3=0x00000000, excvaddr=0x00000000, depc=0x00000000
Fatal exception (0):
epc1=0x402015a4, epc2=0x00000000, epc3=0x00000000, excvaddr=0x00000000, depc=0x00000000
Fatal exception (0):

(repeats indefinitely)

Various things suggested this was a bad flash. I tried a clean Micropython install, a restore of the original AT firmware backup I’d taken, and lots of different combinations of my own code/the blinkenlights demo and rBoot/Espressif’s bootloader. I made sure my 3.3v supply had enough oompf (I’d previously been cheating and using the built in FT232RL regulator, which doesn’t have quite enough when the device is fully operational, rather than in UART boot mode, such as doing an OTA flash). No joy. I gave up and moved on to one of the other ESP8266 modules I had, with a greater amount of flash. However I was curious about whether this was simply a case of the flash chip wearing out (various sites claim the cheap ones on some dev boards will die after a fairly small number of programming cycles). So I ordered some 16Mb devices - cheap enough to make it worth trying out, but also giving a useful bump in space.

They arrived this week and I set about removing the old chip and soldering on the new one (Andreas Spiess has a useful video of this, or there’s Pete Scargill’s write up). Powered it all up, ran flash_id to see that it was correctly detected as a 16Mb/2MB device and set about flashing my app onto it. Only to get:

 ets Jan  8 2013,rst cause:2, boot mode:(3,3)

load 0x40100000, len 612, room 16
tail 4
chksum 0xfd
load 0x88380000, len 565951362, room 4
flash read err, ets_unpack_flash_code

Ooops. I had better luck with a complete flash erase ( erase_flash) and then a full program of Micropython using --baud 460800 write_flash --flash_size=detect -fm dio 0 esp8266-20180511-v1.9.4.bin, which at least convinced me I’d managed to solder the new chip on correctly. Further experimention revealed I needed to pass all of the flash parameters to to get rBoot entirely happy, and include esp_init_data_default.bin (FWIW I updated everything to v2.2.1 as part of the process): write_flash --flash_size=16m -fm dio 0x0 rboot.bin 0x2000 rom0.bin \
    0x120000 rom1.bin 0x1fc000 esp_init_data_default_v08.bin

Which gives (at the default 76200 of the bootloader bit):

 ets Jan  8 2013,rst cause:1, boot mode:(3,7)

load 0x40100000, len 1328, room 16
tail 0
chksum 0x12
load 0x3ffe8000, len 604, room 8
tail 4
chksum 0x34
csum 0x34

rBoot v1.4.2 -
Flash Size:   16 Mbit
Flash Mode:   DIO
Flash Speed:  40 MHz

Booting rom 0.
rf cal sector: 507
freq trace enable 0

Given the cost of the modules it wasn’t really worth my time and energy to actually fix the broken one rather than buying a new one, but it was rewarding to be sure of the root cause. Hopefully this post at least serves to help anyone seeing the same exception messages determine that there’s a good chance their flash has died, and that a replacement may sort the problem.

July 08, 2018 02:21 PM

Roger Bell_West

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Neil Gaiman

2007 Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning alternate-world noir. In 1940, refugee Jews from Europe were granted a temporary homeland in Alaska; sixty years later it's about to be handed back to the USA. But for homicide detective Meyer Landsman, that can't get in the way of solving the latest murder.

July 08, 2018 08:00 AM

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon

2007 Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning alternate-world noir. In 1940, refugee Jews from Europe were granted a temporary homeland in Alaska; sixty years later it's about to be handed back to the USA. But for homicide detective Meyer Landsman, that can't get in the way of solving the latest murder.

July 08, 2018 08:00 AM

July 07, 2018

Roger Bell_West

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Settings: Caverntown, Sean Punch

This first Dungeon Fantasy Settings book deals with a town - in other words, the very thing that Dungeon Fantasy tends to skim over lightly, as merely a place to heal up, sell loot and buy supplies.

July 07, 2018 08:01 AM

July 06, 2018

Jonathan Dowland

Newcastle University Historic Computing

some of our micro computers

some of our micro computers

Since first writing about my archiving activities in 2012 I've been meaning to write an update on what I've been up to, but I haven't got around to it. This, however, is noteable enough to be worth writing about!

In the last few months I became chair of the Historic Computing Committee at Newcastle University. We are responsible for a huge collection of historic computing artefacts from the University's past, going back to the 1950s, which has been almost single-handedly assembled and curated over the course of decades by the late Roger Broughton, who did much of the work in his retirement.

Segment of IBM/360 mainframe

Segment of IBM/360 mainframe

Sadly, Roger died in 2016.

Recently there has been an upsurge of interest and support for our project, partly as a result of other volunteers stepping in and partly due to the School of Computing moving to a purpose-built building and celebrating its 60th birthday.

We've managed to secure some funding from various sources to purchase proper, museum-grade storage and display cabinets. Although portions of the collection have been exhibited for one-off events, including School open days, this will be the first time that a substantial portion of the collection will be on (semi-)permanent public display.

Amstrad PPC640 portable PC

Amstrad PPC640 portable PC

Things have been moving very quickly recently. I am very happy to announce that the initial public displays will be unveiled as part of the Great Exhibition of the North! Most of the details are still TBC, but if you are interested you can keep an eye on this A History Of Computing events page.

For more about the Historic Computing Committee, cs-history Special Interest Group and related stuff, you can follow the CS History SIG blog, which we will hopefully be updating more often going forward. For the Historic Computing Collection specifically, please see the The Roger Broughton Museum of Computing Artefacts.

July 06, 2018 01:54 PM

Roger Bell_West

Provenance, Ann Leckie

2017 SF, set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch series but not in Radchaai space. Ingray Aughskold is a low-ranking political daughter, trying for a major coup to get herself some status. But her plans are going to go comprehensively wrong.

July 06, 2018 08:00 AM

July 05, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Wireless networks in the wild

I've been running a wireless network receiver while out (mostly driving) with the smartphone, logging beacons and locations.

July 05, 2018 08:02 AM

July 04, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 21 May 2018

This Meetup-based boardgames group continues to meet at the Marlow Donkey.

July 04, 2018 08:01 AM

July 03, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

2018 SF, 12 episodes: AniDB, in the same setting as Sword Art Online but sharing no characters with it. People come to the virtual reality game for various reasons, and most of them find what they're looking for.

July 03, 2018 08:02 AM

July 02, 2018

Steve Kennedy

The next generation of built-it-yourself Smart Robot is here and it's Smartibot

There are some very clever people in this world and Ross Atkin is one of them. He's more widely known from the BBC TV program The Big Life Fix (with Simon Reeve).

In the past he did a previous Kickstarter project, The Crafty Robot (now with it's own website), over 4,000 robots were sold on the campaign.

Now Ross has launched the next generation of robot, the Smartibot again with a Kickstarter Campaign.

By backing £1 you'll get a PDF so you can print your own mini Smartibot case, though for £35 (£30 earlybird) you get the main board, 2 motors, a battery box and all the components and all cardboard parts to build teabot, AI Bot and Unicorn.

£60 get you the Genius kit which also includes a LED matrix board and distance and gesture sensor.

The most expensive kit is £100 and includes 3 of everything so all 3 bots can be built and a limited edition shiny version cases (gold AI, rainbow Unicorn and silver Teabot - all numbered and signed).

The AI bot (it's not really Artificial Intelligence, but Machine Learning that runs on your phone - beware it can eat your battery) that can do nice things like track an object and follow it.

The main board can actually control up to 4 DC motors and 10 servos all controlled from an app. Microsoft is also involved which will allow Smartibot to be programmed using their MakeCode system (that can be used to program the Micro:Bit used in schools) using a block language or javascript.

Though Smartibot will launch with the two expansions boards (LED/distance) more are planned in the future.

The kits do come with cardboard (cut-out) cases, but Smartibot can be embedded in anything, including a potato. However cases can be 3D printed or even built out of Lego. Of course Smartibot can also be put into existing toys with electric motors and used to control them, so you could make your RC car and give it some smart brains and make it autonomous.

Don't delay and get your Smartibot now

by Steve Karmeinsky ( at July 02, 2018 03:46 PM

Roger Bell_West

A Dismal Thing to Do, Charlotte MacLeod

1986, cosy American detective fiction; third of MacLeod's novels (as "Alisa Craig") of Madoc and Janet Rhys. After Janet is nearly killed while trying to give assistance at a road accident, Madoc is brought in at the other end of the case to track down stolen military equipment.

July 02, 2018 08:01 AM

July 01, 2018

Roger Bell_West

June 2018 Trailers

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

July 01, 2018 08:01 AM

June 30, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Way Down Dark, J. P. Smythe

2011 young adult science fiction, first of the Australia Trilogy. Chan lives on the generation ship Australia, built in haste after Earth collapsed; they didn't find a new planet, so they've kept going. But its society is breaking down. Spoilers.

June 30, 2018 08:02 AM

June 29, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Pyramid 116: Locations

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's a set of four locations, with some effort made to blend detail with broad applicability.

June 29, 2018 08:00 AM

June 28, 2018

Jonathan McDowell

Thoughts on the acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft

Back at the start of 2010, I attended in Wellington. One of the events I attended was sponsored by GitHub, who bought me beer in a fine Wellington bar (that was very proud of having an almost complete collection of BrewDog beers, including some Tactical Nuclear Penguin). I proceeded to tell them that I really didn’t understand their business model and that one of the great things about git was the very fact it was decentralised and we didn’t need to host things in one place any more. I don’t think they were offended, and the announcement Microsoft are acquiring GitHub for $7.5 billion proves that they had a much better idea about this stuff than me.

The acquisition announcement seems to have caused an exodus. GitLab reported over 13,000 projects being migrated in a single hour. IRC and Twitter were full of people throwing up their hands and saying it was terrible. Why is this? The fear factor seemed to come from was who was doing the acquiring. Microsoft. The big, bad Linux is a cancer folk. I saw a similar, though more muted, reaction when LinkedIn were acquired.

This extremely negative reaction to Microsoft seems bizarre to me these days. I’m well aware of their past, and their anti-competitive practises (dating back to MS-DOS vs DR-DOS). I’ve no doubt their current embrace of Free Software is ultimately driven by business decisions rather than a sudden fit of altruism. But I do think their current behaviour is something we could never have foreseen 15+ years ago. Did you ever think Microsoft would be a contributor to the Linux kernel? Is it fair to maintain such animosity? Not for me to say, I guess, but I think that some of it is that both GitHub and LinkedIn were services that people were already uneasy about using, and the acquisition was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

What are the issues with GitHub? I previously wrote about the GitHub TOS changes, stating I didn’t think it was necessary to fear the TOS changes, but that the centralised nature of the service was potentially something to be wary of. joeyh talked about this as long ago as 2011, discussing the aspects of the service other than the source code hosting that were only API accessible, or in some other way more restricted than a git clone away. It’s fair criticism; the extra features offered by GitHub are very much tied to their service. And yet I don’t recall the same complaints about SourceForge, long the home of choice for Free Software projects. Its problems seem to be more around a dated interface, being slow to enable distributed VCSes and the addition of advertising. People left because there were much better options, not because of idiological differences.

Let’s look at the advantages GitHub had (and still has) to offer. I held off on setting up a GitHub account for a long time. I didn’t see the need; I self-hosted my Git repositories. I had the ability to setup mailing lists if I needed them (and my projects generally aren’t popular enough that they did). But I succumbed in 2015. Why? I think it was probably as part of helping to run an OpenHatch workshop, trying to get people involved in Free software. That may sound ironic, but helping out with those workshops helped show me the benefit of the workflow GitHub offers. The whole fork / branch / work / submit a pull request approach really helps lower the barrier to entry for people getting started out. Suddenly fixing an annoying spelling mistake isn’t a huge thing; it’s easy to work in your own private playground and then make that work available to upstream and to anyone else who might be interested.

For small projects without active mailing lists that’s huge. Even for big projects that can be a huge win. And it’s not just useful to new contributors. It lowers the barrier for me to be a patch ‘n run contributor. Now that’s not necessarily appealing to some projects, because they’d rather get community involvement. And I get that, but I just don’t have the time to be active in all the projects I feel I can offer something to. Part of that ease is the power of git, the fact that a clone is a first class repo, capable of standing alone or being merged back into the parent. But another part is the interface GitHub created, and they should get some credit for that. It’s one of those things that once you’re presented with it it makes sense, but no one had done it quite as slickly up to that point. Submissions via mailing lists are much more likely to get lost in the archives compared to being able to see a list of all outstanding pull requests on GitHub, and the associated discussion. And subscribe only to that discussion rather than everything.

GitHub also seemed to appear at the right time. It, like SourceForge, enabled easy discovery of projects. Crucially it did this at a point when web frameworks were taking off and a whole range of developers who had not previously pull large chunks of code from other projects were suddenly doing so. And writing frameworks or plugins themselves and feeling in the mood to share them. GitHub has somehow managed to hit critical mass such that lots of code that I’m sure would have otherwise never seen the light of day are available to all. Perhaps the key was that repos were lightweight setups under usernames, unlike the heavier SourceForge approach of needing a complete project setup per codebase you wanted to push. Although it’s not my primary platform I engage with GitHub for my own code because the barrier is low; it’s couple of clicks on the website and then I just push to it like my other remote repos.

I seem to be coming across as a bit of a GitHub apologist here, which isn’t my intention. I just think the knee-jerk anti GitHub reaction has been fascinating to observe. I signed up to GitLab around the same time as GitHub, but I’m not under any illusions that their hosted service is significantly different from GitHub in terms of having my data hosted by a third party. Nothing that’s up on either site is only up there, and everything that is is publicly available anyway. I understand that as third parties they can change my access at any point in time, and so I haven’t built any infrastructure that assumes their continued existence. That said, why would I not take advantage of their facilities when they happen to be of use to me?

I don’t expect my use of GitHub to significantly change now they’ve been acquired.

June 28, 2018 08:30 PM

Roger Bell_West

Top Gear season 2.25

2018 motoring show, 6 episodes. The inevitable plunge into comedy starts here.

June 28, 2018 08:01 AM

June 27, 2018

Denesh Bhabuta

Nominet Non-Executive Director Elections 2018

 Home, UK          27 June, 2018          16.00 BST

Elections for two Board seats at Nominet UK are currently taking place, and I have decided to throw my hat in to the ring. Why? Well, I am passionate about Nominet and what it does and has done… and I would like to contribute toward its future.

For some reason, this year, the election statements and candidate videos are not being published outside of Nominet Membership-only accessible areas. I believe in openness and transparency. As the role is in an organisation that affects many more stakeholders than just the membership, I take the view that such matters should also be available to the stakeholders at large. After all, the current weighted voting system relies on the number of domains a Member’s Registrar business has under management (the idea being that the more domains you have under management, the more say you have as you represent those end-user stakeholders and their views).

Thus, I am publishing my election statement, supporting documents and video here.

First, the video statement…

The Proposers: Claranet & BT

Proposed by David Freeman (Claranet)

Claranet supports this nomination.

Denesh has a notable background in the Domain Name System and registrar community, along with engagement in other relevant industry fora such as DNS OARC, RIPE and UKNOF.

We have believed for some time that Denesh has relevant experience and industry engagement to make an excellent board member for Nominet. Indeed we feel this was well demonstrated in his prior term.

David Freedman

Seconded by Neil McRae (BT)

BT nominates Denesh Bhabuta for the position of member elected Non-Executive Director at Nominet.

Denesh has been involved and engaged in DNS and the wider registrar community, ICANN, RIPE, NANOG, UKNOF, DNS OARC and other industry fora for more than two decades.

We reflect on his previous term (until 2017) with huge positivity - one which underlines Denesh’s view that Nominet is a membership organisation with a public purpose. This was demonstrated by him pushing for appropriate diversification to secure the survival of the core business, increased member engagement, openness, transparency, democracy and better communication. We firmly believe Denesh has the right experience and wider industry engagement to serve as an excellent board member for Nominet.

Neil McRae
MD - Strategy and Architecture.
BT Chief Architect

Election Statement

Having served as a Nominet Board Member previously (2014 – 2017) I would like to request your vote to allow me another term in office.

I am passionate about Nominet, its stakeholders and its future.

My “gap year” not only gave me the opportunity to reflect on my previous term, but also allowed me to work on other projects and interests that had been bubbling away. This in turn allows me to bring some new insights and experiences in to Nominet.

I finally got the Portuguese Network Operators Group off the ground, in a country with a different business mindset. I am also now part of the RIPE Diversity Task Force which looks at encouraging diversity in the community at large.

Having been on the Board in the past I will bring stability and a sense of familiarity to the team.

I have been involved with Nominet in one form or another since 1996, and have seen it grow since its inception, steering through various challenges and changes in the industry and business environment. My guidance to Nominet was initially through feedback channels, the nom-steer mailing list and then by being involved with the creation of and being elected to the Policy Advisory Board between 1999 and 2006. I continued my involvement by attending Nominet AGMs, EGMs, and taking part in consultations and round tables. It was a real privilege to serve the wider stakeholder community whilst I was a Board member from 2014 - 2017.

I reflect on my previous term and am happy to report that I promoted all of my key beliefs whilst on the Board.

My main achievements were

• to ensure an understanding within the Board of the fundamental difference between Members and Registrars (despite current practical terms dictating they may be one and the same. This, in my view, allows the organisation to move forward.

• pursuing increased member engagement.

• promoting and supporting openness, transparency, democracy and better communication. eg, no recommendation of candidates, smoother elections process

• supporting cautious and apt diversification to ensure the longevity of the core business of running the .uk registry remains paramount

That said, I have more to give. I would like to continue to steer Nominet in a direction appropriate for its future and that of its stakeholders. I am passionate about keeping Nominet as a membership organisation and would like to see an expanded membership to support the longevity of the .uk registry and its Public Purpose ideals. In my view, there is more that needs to be done in terms of membership equality and equity.

I have a pragmatic approach to everything. My involvement within the industry at large over the past 29 years and continued participation and engagement in various fora - Domains and DNS, Networks, Operations, Engineering, Security, Policy and Governance - give me a holistic view and the desired experience to the Board.

Please feel free to contact me via the contact form at if you have any questions.


Curriculum Vitae

You may also refer to:

I am a motivated and very experienced person in many different business areas - Internet, education, events, arts, health, property and retail. My roles have varied from being at the coalface, through guidance and management to giving business continuity and strategic direction to companies.

Skills & Experience

Ability to step back and independently assess and evaluate information
Board level experience in various types of organisations - profit, not for profit, member based
Explaining technical jargon in terms most people can understand Fantastic networker
Open minded and receptive
Policy and Governance background in Internet industry Understanding of Internet (domains, network infrastructure, operations) and how it all fits together

Current Roles

Portuguese Network Operators Group, Lisbon, PT ; Open forum for technical and operational knowledge sharing
Co-founder and Committee Member (2017 - Present)

Elm Green Parents Association, Chelmsford, UK ; Registered Charity (Number: 1151342) supporting the school and school community to advance the education of pupils
Trustee (2016 - Present)

OARC Inc., Indianapolis, IN, USA ; Non Profit member based Research Organisation
External Relations & Event Director (2014 - Present) - under contract via Meidan Ventures Limited

Meidan Ventures Limited, Cambridge, UK
Director & Principal Consultant (2013 - Present)
Business areas:
D&A Events UK (Event Management)
Denesh Bhabuta Management Consultancy
Cyberstrider (Reselling Internet Solutions)

Internet Protocol Limited, Cambridge, UK ; IPv4 Address Space strategy, sourcing
Director (2013 - Present)

D&A Events Limitada, Lisbon, Portugal ; Event Management Director & Chairman (2011 - Present)

UKIF Limited, Oxford, UK ; Not for profit organisation running UK Network Operator’s Forum (UKNOF)
Executive Director (2011 - Present)
UKNOF Event Director (2006 - Present) - under contract via Meidan Ventures Limited

Usurp ; Not for profit arts collective Chairman (2003 - Present)

Past Roles

Nominet UK and Nominet Registrar Services Limited
Non-Executive Director (2014 - 2017)
In my time at Nominet, I was a member of the following committees:
Audit & Governance Committee
Development Working Group
Elections Sub-Committee
Membership Engagement Working Group
Nominations Committee

Cybershire Limited ; Internet & IP Transit Services Director (2010 - 2013)

UK ENUM Consortium Limited ; Not for profit organisation - ENUM Governance
Executive Director (2008 - 2010)

London Internet Exchange ; Not for profit Internet Exchang 
Programme Committee Member (2006 - 2009)

LONAP Limited ; Not for profit Internet Exchange Point
Finance Director (2004 - 2006)

Aexiomus Limited ; IP Transit Provider
Chief Operations Officer (2001 - 2011)

RIPE NCC ; European IP Address Resource Organisation
Local Internet Registry Working Group Co-Chair (2001 - 2003)

FirstMark Communications Europe (Germany based) ; Communications & Internet Services
Internet Services Specialist (European Core Network Planning) (2000 - 2001)

Level (3) Communications ; Communications & Internet Services
Internet Services Support Group Manager (1999 - 2000)

Demon Internet ; Internet Services
Hostmaster Group Manager (1996 - 1999)

Nominet UK
Policy Advisory Group Member (1999 - 2006)

Cyberstrider (Limited since 1999) ; Internet Services
Director (1993 - 2010)

Other roles: Software Analyst, HENSA/micros, Lancaster University (1994 - 1996) ; Business Consultant, Greenwich Technology Partners Limited (2001) ; Director, Denesh Bhabuta Corporation Limited (2003 - 2010) ; Non-Executive, Inner Healing Limited (2004 - 2009) ; Programme Committee & Funding Council, UKNOF (2005 - 2013) ; Non-Executive, NJ Training Limited (2007 - 2008) ; Director, DB Corp Limited (2010 - 2013)


International House, Lisbon, PT University of Cambridge
CELTA (2011)

Institute of Commercial Management
Dip, Event Management with Public Relations (2007)

Institute of Management
Introductory Award in Management (1997)

University of Westminster
PGDip, Cognitive Science and Intelligent Computing (1994)

Queen Mary and Westfield, University of London
BSc (Hons), Biotechnology with Business Studies (1992)



1. Are you or is any person connected to you a Director or a shareholder of a company which is:
• A member of Nominet?
• In partnership with Nominet?
• In a joint venture with Nominet?

Meidan Ventures Limited (of which I am a Director and 100% shareholder) is a Member and Registrar of Nominet.

Connected via corporate body (UKIF Limited and OARC, Inc):

Keith Mitchell T/A SMOTI Enterprises Inc. is a Member and Registrar of Nominet.

Keith Mitchell himself is a Director and Board Member at
UKIF Limited (a not-for-profit organisation running the UKNOF conferences, where I am one of the six Directors on the Board and Meidan Ventures Limited provides end-to-end Event Management services). Nominet is a participant at and a potential sponsor of UKNOF.

Keith Mitchell is also President of the non-profit membership organisation OARC, Inc. - the DNS Operations, Analysis and Research Center (DNS-OARC) - of which Nominet is a paid member and has been a sponsor. Meidan Ventures Limited supplies end-to-end Event Management services to DNS-OARC. I do not have a Director or Board position within OARC, Inc.

2. Are you a member of Nominet in your own right?

No. However, Meidan Ventures Limited (of which I am a Director and 100% shareholder) is a member of Nominet.

3. Have you, or any person connected with you, been a registrant of any .uk domains over the past five years? If so, please provide full details.


The number of domains has been numerous and it is easier for me to supply registrant names which can easily be checked within Nominet’s systems for historical and current domains.

Domains I have been a registrant of directly and for any bodies I have been involved with at director/board/committee/shareholder/ trustee level have included the registrant names: Denesh Bhabuta, Meidan Ventures Limited, D&A Events Limitada, UKIF Limited, Usurp, Simon Underwood, Poulomi, Poulomi Desai, Denesh Bhabuta Corporation Limited, DB Corp Limited, Cyberstrider Limited, Cyberstrider Network Services Limited, Aexiomus Limited, Cybershire Limited, UK Enum Consortium Limited, Elm Green Parents Association.

Registrant names of connected person domains: Personal domains belonging to family members - wife, brother, sister, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, grandparents ; and Company domains belonging to them under Registrant Names - Contemporary Living Limited, Contemporary Living (Contractors) Limited, Contemporary Living (Furniture) Limited, Auston Legal Limited, Diyas Productions Limited, JPL Trading Limited, JPL Entertainment Limited, VG Corp Limited, Simplify Me Limited.

4. Have you, or any person connected with you, been a Nominet registrar during the past five years. If so, please provide details of all relevant tags, together with the number of domains registered under each tag.


Meidan Ventures Limited (of which I am a Director and 100% shareholder) currently has the following active tags: CYBERSTRIDER (22 Domains), CS (66 Domains). These along with CYBES, AEXIOMUS, DOMAINSONLINE, and BARGAINDOMAINS were inherited from previous Nominet registrar, Cybershire Limited.

Regarding the registrar connected via corporate body (as mentioned in Q1 above) - as I am not involved in or in control of its day to day business, I am unable to provide the tags other than the one I am aware of and I am also unable to give the number of domains under the tags. As far as I am aware:

Keith Mitchell T/A SMOTI Enterprises, Inc has tag KEITHMITCHELL

5. Does any person you are associated with have any of the following relationships with Nominet? By “associated”, we mean to include any formal or informal contractual and/or advisory relationships. Examples include: Supplier, customer (as registrant or registrar), competitor, banking, distribution and/or any other ongoing, but material relationship (such as a dispute) etc.

Meidan Ventures Limited (of which I am a Director and 100% shareholder):

1) Resells the services of the following Nominet Members and Registrars:-
a) Astutium Limited - Nominet Registrar Tag ASTUTIUM
b) Domainmaster Limited - Nominet Registrar Tag DOMAINMASTER
c) Entanet International Limited - Nominet Registrar Tag ENTANET

2) Provides end-to-end Event Management Services to:
a) OARC, Inc (DNS-OARC) — a non-profit membership organisation, of which Nominet is a member, and has been a DNS-OARC workshop sponsor. Suppliers, sponsors, delegates, customers, volunteers, committee members - may be Nominet competitors and /or Nominet members (and/or Registrars) in their own right,.

b) UKIF Limited - a not for profit organisation which runs the UK Network Operators’ Forum (UKNOF) conferences, within which Nominet are a participant and potential sponsor. Suppliers, sponsors, delegates, customers, volunteers, committee members - may be Nominet competitors and /or Nominet members (and/or Registrars) in their own right,.

3) Provides sales and marketing strategy consultancy to:
a) Datacentred Limited - Registrant (

Meidan Ventures Limited (100% Denesh Bhabuta), Internet Protocol Limited (50% Denesh Bhabuta, 50% Melanie Bhabuta), Denesh Bhabuta and connected persons - Melanie Bhabuta, Rajesh Bhabuta, Sheena Bhabuta - use the following:

Mike Lewis (Accountant) - Registrant (
Owen Keane (Barrister) - Registrant (
Ford Banks Irwin (Solicitors) - Registrant (

Connected person company: Beebits Limited (100% Melanie Bhabuta), uses:
Boox Limited (Accountant) - Registrant (

I am not aware of any other significant associated relationships.

6. Are you associated with any adviser to Nominet? By “associated”, we mean to include any formal or informal contractual and/or advisory relationships. Examples include: Audit, tax, legal, investment banking, pensions or investments and/or management consultancy etc.


7. Are you a member of a Committee or a Commission or do you have a material position with a Regulator, any department of Government, a Trade Body, a Professional Body or a Charitable Organisation? Examples include where the relevant organisation: Influences government policy, influences accounting standards and/or is preparing industry guidance etc.


8. Are you associated with an investment organisation of any nature? By “associated”, we mean to include any formal or informal contractual and/or advisory relationships. Examples include: Venture capital/private equity, hedge fund, investment trust/ fund and/or an organisation taking material positions in shares or securities etc.


9. Are you in a position that you (or a company you are a director or material shareholder of) could make a profit as a result of your directorship of Nominet?


10. Do you know of any other circumstances that could give rise to a potential or actual conflict of interest or duties?


I do not envisage any conflicts of interest. However if any do arise, they will be handled appropriately via declaration and/or recusal.


Questions & Answers

Nominet’s constitution provides that its activities are to be carried out for the public benefit. In the context of a domain name registry and technology company, what does this mean to you?

Public benefit for me primarily means equal access to all without any self-interests blocking the way. In the context of Nominet
as a domain name registry and a technology company, this means providing an equitable system, one which is safe, open and transparent with no (or very low) barriers to registering and maintaining a domain name (in terms of the core business)

Taking this further, it requires:

a safe and secure system to be in place for domain registration and maintenance.

high standards of conduct for each part of the chain (Board, management, staff, systems, members, registrars, resellers) in the process of domain registration and ongoing maintenance.

all channels to market to be equal and equitable.

from the governance side of things, all decisions made by the management need to be open and transparent, subject to scrutiny.

from the governance side of things, everything fed into management (in a bottom-up multi-stakeholder process) should be considered. Special/specific interests should not prevail. There will be times where the management may think one route is better than the one in the feedback being received, however the management must always re-consult until a solution is reached which will undoubtably be of public benefit.

I am refraining about talking about the future of Nominet here or what other activities it could expand into – my answer is purely in the context of a domain name registry using applicable technology. That said, I do believe Nominet’s existing technology can be used in other areas as a registry service outside of the domain names arena and bringing much needed public and societal benefit.

The Nominet Board places a high degree of importance on each director being able to exercise independent judgement, free from any conflicts of interest. Please describe how you would be able to fulfil your duties in the light of your involvement in the domain name industry or your other commercial interests.

Independent judgement has been something I have had to exercise over the course of my career, having to juggle hats depending on which organisation/company I was making a decision about at the time. I employed this diligently when I was a Non-Executive Director of Nominet in the past.

An example I will use here is that of the time one of my previous companies was a member of Nominet with a large number of .uk domains under its TAG/Registrar. I always made a point of wearing my “membership hat” whenever Nominet wanted us to vote on something. I always voted as a member of Nominet (for the benefit of Nominet rather than for the benefit of my Registrar company). The same applied to my time as a Policy Advisory Board member and in the more recent past, during my tenure as Non-Executive Director of Nominet.

This thinking and modus operandi was as important to me then as it is today.

As a non-executive director you will be given access to confidential information about Nominet’s business and the commercial dealings which Nominet has with each of its members. In the light of Nominet being a membership organisation, and any member relationships that you may have, please describe how you will comply with your confidentiality obligations, and avoid the perception that one or more members may gain an unfair commercial advantage as the result of your election.

I have no history of breaching confidences. I have worked in commercial and non-commercial environments and have been given confidential information which has remained as such. My history with Nominet itself proves this - when I was a founder Policy Advisory Board member and when I also took part in Nominet strategy meetings and in the more recent past, in my role as a Non- Executive Director - where I was given confidential information.

I believe all members are equal and should be treated as such. It is thus extremely unlikely that I would provide any Nominet members with any unfair advantage over others, in the course of my professional activities or otherwise.

Joining the Nominet Board is a serious commitment both in terms of preparation time and attending meetings. We estimate a minimum annual commitment of 30 days. In the light of your other employment, business and personal commitments, please describe how you are able to meet this commitment.

I am an independent consultant running my own businesses where time management and allocation are an important part of my daily routine - especially with the various customers and projects I am working on. I would not enter into something without having the necessary time resource to commit. As with my other commitments, I will continue to work with the Nominet Board when it comes to preparing for, planning and attending meetings and any other Nominet business.







by Admin at June 27, 2018 03:34 PM

Roger Bell_West

The Wimsey Papers, Dorothy Sayers

1939-1940 short articles published in The Spectator; various characters from the Wimsey stories write to each other about the early days of the Second World War.

June 27, 2018 08:01 AM

June 26, 2018

Mike Hughes

#NorthernFail – Making the operational perfect storm

The saga of the May 20th UK railway timetable changes continue. Modified services remain in place on the Northern network, still fewer trains are running than before the May timetable change, though a reinstatement of Rest Day Working for Drivers and a temporary timetable has stabilised things somewhat.

In an amazing show of “can-do”, West Coast Railways – the Carnforth-based people who ran the Hogwarts Express for the Harry Potter films, as well as some splendid rail trips with steam locomotives – worked with Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron to manage to return trains to the Lakes Line to Windermere, which hadn’t seen a train for two weeks.

Meanwhile the heads of the involved TOCs and their planning subject matter experts, and colleagues from Network Rail, have been required to give evidence in front of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee.

You can see the full session – almost 2 hours and 30 minutes – at

What was clear from the evidence is that the entire UK Rail Industry and various Governments had a part to play in letting us down, and worse still, no one person has executive responsibility, even to act on massive red flags.

The existence of the temporary service on the Lakes Line has even focused Northern’s mind it seems, because they’ve now said they expect to return Northern-operated trains to the line earlier than originally anticipated, Northern MD David Brown giving a date of 2nd July to the Committee.

They obviously didn’t much like being shown up by a heritage rail operator.

But back to the Perfect Storm…

A number of conditions came together to cause the chaos wreaked on us since 20th May:

  • Late handover of planned infrastructure improvements: In particular the Preston-Blackpool resignalling and electrification. This work didn’t just put up overhead wires, but replaced all the signalling, changed the positioning of junctions and the entire layout of Blackpool North station. This section of line was effectively a new railway and drivers needed to re-train on the route.
  • Failure to deliver other key infrastructure improvements: The electrification via Bolton to Preston is now delayed until the end of the year. This project has suffered multiple setbacks including the lead contractor withdrawing from the work back in 2015 because they said it would overrun, the replacement contractor (Carillion) going bust, and issues with ground stability (discovery of pockets of sand and abandoned mine shafts). This project will be almost two years late if it is delivered at the December timetable change as currently hoped.
  • Unavailability of promised trains: Northern required a number of extra trains if the 20th May plan was to work properly. These were not new trains, but were being made available through something known in the railway industry as a “cascade“, new trains being delivered elsewhere displace trains to other services. Northern were expecting to get additional trains, compatible with their existing fleets, from Scotland and the South West, however this cascade has failed due to delays in the introduction of new trains. In Scotland the trains are having to be modified because drivers have complained about the visibility through the curved windscreens – likening it to “driving a goldfish bowl”. As a result only a tiny fraction of the expected extra carriages were available.
  • Ongoing labour relations issues in Northern, and this is an area which deserves further explanation in itself.

Why are Northern short of trains now?

This relates to the “cascade” that I eluded to above. Think of the cascade as one of those tile games with one empty square.

The plan was to move trains from Scotland and the Plymouth and Cornwall areas to Northern in time for May 2018. With the odd exception (Class 170 units), these would be stock that are technically identical to that which Northern already have in their operation (Class 150/1, Class 158, Class 319), thus easing requirements for crew training and route-clearance.

However to create the “empty square” that allows the cascades to happen, we had dependencies on four projects:

  • Completion of Paddington to Reading electrification
    • This allows roll out of Class 387 electric trains on Thames Valley suburban services between Reading and Paddington.
    • This permits release of Class 165/166 “Turbo” units to move within GWR from the Thames Valley suburban network to the Bristol area.
    • That allows a cascade of trains within the GWR franchise such that it releases a number of 150/1 “Sprinters”, which already work in the Northern area, to Northern.
  • Edinburgh-Glasgow electrification and roll out of Class 385 Hitachi trains
    • The line has been electrified to plan, but the Class 385s are delayed due to the “goldfish bowl effect” of the curved windscreens.
    • This has delayed release of some Class 158 and Class 170 units from Scotland to Northern.
    • Surplus electric trains  have recently been drafted in to Scotland to cover the gap, and hopefully allow some more trains to move to Northern.
  • Late delivery of upgraded High Speed Train sets, themselves cascaded from GWR by IEP introduction, to Scotrail long distance services
    • This would release further Class 158 and 170 units to Northern.
    • The release of the HSTs from GWR was delayed by slow introduction of the IEP and delays to the Great Western electrification.
  • Non-delivery of Class 769 Bi-Mode “flex” units
    • Converted from Class 319 units by addition of diesel engines so they can operate away from the wires.
    • Made necessary by Government’s indecision on electrification of NW secondary routes such as Oxenholme to Windermere.
    • The prototype has yet to complete testing and be signed off.

Northern was meant to have over 60 additional trains delivered in time for May, including being handed over early enough to allow for crew training on types new to Northern (such as the 170 and 769).

Instead they got less than 30.

Who controls what stock is used and where? To a large extent, despite rail privatisation, there is not really a “free market” for rolling stock.  While stock may be privately owned by banks, trusts and investment companies, much like aircraft leasing, the types of stock and the disposition are largely co-ordinated by the Department for Transport.

Northern is not a unified company

While “Northern by Arriva” might be the brand, and there is one company at the back end, Arriva Rail North Ltd, operationally it is a more complex animal.

Northern is effectively a mash-up of some component parts of previous rail franchises.

Remember First North Western? Remember Northern Spirit (this was Arriva’s previous, and similarly disastrous attempt at running trains in the North)?

15 years ago, the decision was made by Whitehall Mandarins to strip out the long distance routes from Northern Spirit and make a separate “TransPennine Express” franchise, which had aspirations of being more an “Intercity” operator and less of a local operator. Some routes from the old First North Western franchise (such as fast trains from Blackpool or Barrow to Manchester Airport) were also transferred into TPE, in addition.

Once the North Wales operations had also been stripped out of FNW due to Welsh devolution and the creation of a single Wales rail operator, the left overs (the local routes around Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire & Cumbria) were merged with the left overs from the opposite side of the Pennines.

This created the “zero-growth” Northern franchise of 2004.

However, this wasn’t a unified company, it effectively had two separate halves, an “East Side” and a “West Side”, divided by the Pennines. Each had it’s own trains, and it’s own train crew. More importantly, the terms and conditions of East Side and West Side employees remained as previously – correctly protected by TUPE – but they were never harmonised with the passage of time.

That is a situation that has persisted to this day.

This was complicated further by the 2016 franchise change which took a number of TPE routes and transferred them (and the folk that work them) back into the Northern franchise. This included drivers at depots such as Blackpool and Barrow. These drivers find themselves working once again for Northern, but as their employment was protected by TUPE, their terms and conditions are different again from other Northern “West” drivers.

Northern have ended up with a fragmented workforce, with multiple different contracts, and different terms and conditions.

Furthermore, the railway is still run as two separate halves in terms of traction and train services. Services are either “East side” or “West side”.

This shows in the quality and types of rolling stock deployed in the various areas.

While some trains are obviously captive to their local areas, such as the electric units (Class 323s around Manchester and Class 333 on the Airedale routes), the diesel units are split such that the lion’s share of the more modern units (e.g. air conditioned Class 158 units) are allocated to the East side, while the West side has a greater proportion of older units such as 150/1 and the non-air conditioned Class 156.

This was a significant sea-change on routes such as Blackpool-Manchester which used to enjoy a number of modern air conditioned Class 175 units under First North Western, then Class 185 units when the service passed to Transpennine, but have more recently been served by a mix of the dreaded Pacers, or the older Class 150 or 156 units.

In the cascade of rolling stock, the newer Class 170 units from Scotland being transferred to Northern will also appear to be focused on East Side services.

Conspiracy theorists might suggest that with Northern Rail HQ being in York, this division of resources is somewhat intentional, ensuring the East side operations have the newer and notionally better units!

However this is more likely to be a habit that persists from the British Rail days. Aside from the premier services such as the WCML expresses, the North West has long had to make do with the leftovers and hand-me-downs.

The longer distance and more “premium” services in the North of England (e.g. North & South Trans-Pennine) had historically always been operated by the Eastern Region out of York, with Eastern Region locomotives and rolling stock (something which persisted through to creation of the Transpennine Express franchise). Services run by the Midland Region tended to be shorter distance, potentially slower, more locally focused, and so tended to get the less modern stock.

I’m not saying the local operations in the North West never received stock from new – a good number of Pacers and Class 150/2 “Sprinter” units were allocated here on delivery, but as part of a wider scheme where new trains were rolled out across the BR regional fleet.

So, really, who IS responsible for the mess?

The Rail industry as a whole bears some level of responsibility for this perfect storm, and I extend this to include the relevant bits of Whitehall.

The operators have done the best that they could with a deck that has been stacked against them by vacillating transport strategy coming out of Governments and the DfT.

Franchise re-carves and reshuffles, on-off electrification schemes, no-growth franchise plans, interference in rolling stock distribution.

Pressure from Whitehall to do less with more. This is particularly evident for Network Rail who were told to reduce costs in their train planning functions, which happened, but then led them into attempting one of the most widespread and comprehensive timetable recasts in probably 30 years with an under-resourced planning & timetabling department.

The fact is that successive Governments have manipulated rail investment as a political tool to win votes, rather than having a long-term strategy.

Want to win an election? Promise to electrify. Win the election? “Oh, sorry, that electrification? It’s indefinitely postponed now.” Meanwhile, money is poured into “shiny” schemes.

The lack of a consistent and coherent rail strategy has created such uncertainty for the industry, such that when decisions are made, they seem more like tactical ones, as opposed to long-term strategy.

Furthermore, the fractured nature of the rail industry seems to mean that no-one is prepared to take the tough “executive level” decisions – such as the one which could have allowed operators to roll-forward the pre-May 2018 timetable until the required infrastructure improvements had been turned over, and the rolling stock cascade was assured.

My opinion is that an even bigger storm coming, and no-one is steering the ship.

by Mike Hughes at June 26, 2018 11:52 AM

Roger Bell_West

June 25, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Otaku ni Koi wa Muzukashi

2018 modern romantic comedy, josei manga adaptation in 11 episodes: AniDB, vt "Love is Hard for Nerds". Obsessive fans of games and manga try to balance their passions with real life.

June 25, 2018 08:02 AM

June 24, 2018

Roger Bell_West

One Fell Sweep, Ilona Andrews

2016 modern fantasy. Dina Demille's magical inn will be the site of another meeting: a dying species has hired a group mind to work out where to find their new home world. But there's another species out there which regards slaughtering the first one as a religious obligation. Oh, and Dina's sister has just sent a message, asking for help.

June 24, 2018 08:03 AM

June 23, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Pyramid 115: Technomancer

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's GURPS Technomancer, the magic-as-technology world inspired by Magic, Inc., Operation Chaos and The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump.

June 23, 2018 11:44 AM

GURPS Magic: Artillery Spells, Sean Punch

This supplement adds to the standard GURPS magic system, with spells designed to destroy hordes of minor opponents.

June 23, 2018 08:00 AM

June 22, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Arabella and the Battle of Venus, David D. Levine

2017 clockpunkish science fiction, sequel to Arabella of Mars. With her fiancé captured by Bonaparte, Arabella Ashby travels to Venus to rescue him.

June 22, 2018 08:00 AM

June 21, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Boardgames at Home, June 2018

It's been a while since the last boardgaming day, and we felt like doing it again.

June 21, 2018 08:01 AM

June 20, 2018

Roger Bell_West

The Mad King, Edgar Rice Burroughs

1926 Ruritanian romance, originally serialised in 1914-1915. Travelling in the tiny kingdom of Lutha, between Austria and Serbia, American tourist Barney Custer finds himself mistaken for the young king, who's been confined for years with a mysterious ailment, and rapidly becomes mixed up in adventure.

June 20, 2018 08:01 AM

June 19, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 4 June 2018

This Meetup-based boardgames group continues to meet at the Marlow Donkey; up to eight at this meeting.

June 19, 2018 08:03 AM

June 18, 2018

Roger Bell_West

Murder on a Midsummer Night, Kerry Greenwood

2008 historical detection, seventeenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). As Melbourne suffers under a post-Christmas heat wave, Phryne takes on two cases: a junk dealer's suicide, which his mother earnestly believes is nothing of the sort, and the whereabouts of a possible illegitimate child from sixty years ago. Minor spoilers.

June 18, 2018 08:04 AM

June 17, 2018

Roger Bell_West

UK Games Expo 2018: Sunday

Sunday was mostly a demonstration day as the show wound down; it was much less crowded than Saturday.

June 17, 2018 08:02 AM

June 16, 2018

Roger Bell_West

A Mind To Murder, P. D. James

1963 detective fiction, second of James's novels of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. In a London psychiatric clinic that's still adjusting to being part of the NHS, the unpopular chief administrator is stabbed in the heart. Any of the staff could have done it, and most of them had reason to; but who is guilty?

June 16, 2018 08:01 AM

June 15, 2018

Roger Bell_West

GURPS Encounters: The Harrowed Hearts Club, Jon Black

This first GURPS Encounters book is a tavern/bar/club sourcebook combined with four short adventures.

June 15, 2018 08:04 AM

Andy Smith (

Another disappointing btrfs experience

I’ve been using btrfs on my home fileserver for about 4½ years. I am not entirely happy with it and kind of wish I never did it; I will certainly not be introducing it anywhere else. I’m also pretty lazy though, which probably explains why I haven’t ripped it out and replaced it with something else yet.

I’ve had a few problems with it over the years. To be fair I’ve never lost any data; it’s really the availability aspects of it which I feel just aren’t ready yet. When I use multiple storage devices it’s generally to increase availability. I don’t expect device failure to stop me doing what I need to do, at least for small amounts of device failure.

Unfortunately btrfs has consistently not lived up to these expectations. Almost every single-disk failure I’ve had in the past has resulted in an “outage” of some sort. As this is just our data, at home, it may be strange to think of it as an outage, but that’s what it is. Our data became unavailable in some way for some period of time.

This time around, one of the drives started throwing up “Currently unreadable (pending)” and “Offline uncorrectable” sectors a few days ago. That means that there’s areas of the drive that it cannot read. Initially there were just a small number, and a scrub came back clean so that suggested the problem sectors were at that time outside of any filesystem.

In a more critical setting I’d have spare drives available and would just swap them, but for home use I’m usually comfortable with forcing the drive to reallocate these by forcing a write, before ordering a replacement if the problem doesn’t go away. Worst case, I have backups.

After a day or so though, the number of problem sectors was increasing and it was obvious the drive was going to die fairly soon. I ordered a replacement. About 6 hours before the replacement arrived the drive completely stopped responding.

Now, this drive was at the time one of five in the btrfs filesystem, and the filesystem has a raid1 storage policy so there should have been no issue with one device going missing. But apparently there was a problem. btrfs sits spewing the kernel log with errors about lost writes to a device that’s no longer there; the filesystem goes read-only.

The replacement drive arrives, but with the filesystem read-only I can’t add it. I can’t even unmount the filesystem (says it is busy but lsof doesn’t see any users). Nope, I had to reboot the fileserver, at which point the filesystem wouldn’t mount at all because you have to give it the degraded mount option if you want it to mount with any devices missing.

Add the replacement drive, btrfs device remove missing /path/to/fs to kick off a remove of the dead device. Things are at least up and running read-write while this is going on. In fact it’s still going on, because there was 1.2TiB of data on the dead device and reconstructing it is painfully slow. As I write this we’re now about 9 hours in and there’s still about 421GiB to go.

So, it’s not terrible. No data was lost (probably). A short outage due to a required reboot. But it is kind of disappointing and not really how I want to be spending my time just because a single HDD slipped its mortal coil. I am massively thankful that the operating system of that fileserver is still on four other HDDs on ext4+lvm+md and never give me any trouble. Otherwise I’d have to be booting into a rescue OS to fix this sort of thing. When the thing you’re glad of is that you didn’t use a filesystem, that isn’t a great advert for that filesystem.

I should probably try to find some time to play (again) with ZFS-on-Linux. I did actually give it a go last year but got bogged down trying to compare its performance against btrfs and ext4+lvm+md using fio, which proved quite difficult to do, and I moved on to other things.

One of the things that initially attracted me to btrfs is the possibility of using a mish-mash of differently-sized drives. Due to BitFolk constantly replacing hardware I have in my possession plenty of HDDs of differing sizes that are individually perfectly serviceable, but would be awkward to try to match up into identical sizes for conventional RAID arrays. Over the years of this btrfs filesystem it had started out with mostly 250G drives and just before this failure it was 1x 1TB, 3x 2TB and 1x 3TB.

I had thought that ZFS requires every device to be the same capacity (i.e. it would only use the smallest capacity) but I’ve since been informed that ZFS will just use the capacity of the smallest device in the vdev. So assuming mirror vdevs, I’d just need to pair the drives up (or accept that the capacity will be that of the smaller of the two).

That doesn’t seem too onerous at all, when considering the advantages that ZFS would bring. I’m most interested in the self-healing (checksums) and the storage tiering (through using faster devices like SSDs for L2ARC and ZIL). btrfs doesn’t have a good solution for tiering yet, unless you are insane and want to play with bcache(fs).

So, yeah, should stop being lazy and crack on with ZFS again. In my copious free time.

by Andy at June 15, 2018 12:45 AM

June 14, 2018

Andrew Elwell

Overlaying SLURM job timings on Grafana plots

As you may have noticed, I'm quite fond of Grafana and use it at home and work. One of the dashboards I have at work is the general state of our lustre filesystems, showing IO and metadata traffic, collected by a custom python script (I'm working on converting this to a real collectd python plugin) which stores the data in an influxDB.

I've since written a small python script that talks to our SLURM accounting DB, so that given a jobID, we can get the start/end times and overlay those using the annotations API. One minor niggle in that the API expects epoch milliseconds, and seems to be tied to the TZ of the browser that generated the API key.

~$ annotate_job 2924399
Found the following job:
  User: bskjerven (pawsey0001)
  Cluster: magnus, Partition: workq, QOS: normal
  Nodes: 768, CPUs: 36864
  Start: 2018-06-11 17:23:22, End: 2018-06-11 19:54:44
Got something back - Annotate? (y/n) y
200 - Annotation added

and lo - 

by Andrew Elwell ( at June 14, 2018 12:15 PM

Mark Goodge

GDPR and the local councillor

GDPR has been in the news a lot lately, and rightly so. It makes some significant changes to data protection law in the UK (and elsewhere), as well as making some practices compulsory that were previously merely recommended best practice.

I’m not going to try and provide a detailed analysis of GDPR here. But, from conversations with council colleagues, I felt that it might be helpful to go over a few of the aspects of it that are most likely to affect local councillors.

The ICO’s guidance

The ICO’s position is that councillors should register as data controllers. So far, this advice hasn’t been tested in court. However, my understanding of the relevant legislation is broadly the same, and I’m certainly not going to argue with the ICO’s legal team.

However, there are issues here. Registration is not free. And, while principal and county councillors get an allowance which, in most cases, more than covers essential costs such as this, parish councillors don’t. It can be hard enough to get people to stand for parish councils as it is, and making them pay for the privilege of being elected (or co-opted) is hardly going to help. I would hope that the ICO would recognise this, and introduce a free tier of registration for unpaid elected members of public bodies.

Another problem with a lot of the ICO’s published guidance is that it repeatedly refers to “businesses”. That can be misleading, as it implies that non-business users of data – such as councillors – aren’t affected by GDPR. But that’s the wrong way round. GDPR applies to everyone unless their use falls under one of the defined exemptions. And council work isn’t one of them. So GDPR definitely does apply to councillors, and councillors need to understand how it affects them.

Consent is not everything

You will, I’m sure, have been bombarded by emails from various organisations asking you to re-consent to getting communications from them. And you may have seen stories on social media of even more extreme examples, such as GP surgeries asking for consent to send you appointment reminders by SMS.

However, a lot of this is unnecessary, and results from a misunderstanding of the law. The one thing you absolutely do need explicit consent for is sending marketing material electronically (eg, by email or SMS). As a councillor, that will affect you at election time as election material is deemed by the ICO to be marketing. So you can only send campaign emails to people who have explicitly opted in to receive them. But that is only a tightening up of existing best practice, so, unless you have previously been sailing close to the wind, that’s not going to be an issue.

Lawful use of data

You do not, though, need to get explicit consent to process the data of people who contact you in our role as a councillor asking you to help them with a problem or to report an issue with council services. If someone has asked you for help, it is obviously in their interests for you to help them, and in your interests to do so effectively.

So in this case, your justification under GDPR for processing their data (including communicating with them) is what the legislation calls “legitimate interest”. And your council, if and when you pass the complaint or issue on to them, will be able to act under the “public task” justification. (So, actually, might you; the ICO’s guidance isn’t entirely clear on this point and, again, it has yet to be tested in court). Neither of those require consent.

One thing you can’t do, though, is take the details of someone who has contacted you in your role as a councillor because they are asking for your help, and then use them for other purposes. In particular, you can’t use them for electioneering, as that’s marketing (see above).

Security matters

What really does matter is data security. GDPR significantly toughens up the rules about how you look after data in your possession, including a requirement to notify the ICO if your suffer from a data breach and considerably greater penalties for any shortcomings in your security practices.

This is probably the single biggest effect that GDPR will have on councillors, and an effective understanding of data security is essential.

Councillors, by nature of the role, will inevitably be in possession of other people’s personal data. And in many cases, this will extend to what the legislation refers to as “sensitive” data – for example, health records, religion, even an individual’s politics! So you need to take care to ensure it is stored securely.

What is an appropriate form of security will vary according to circumstances, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But these are some things that form a good starting point:

  • Paper records (including written correspondence) should be stored in a lockable filing cabinet.
  • Portable devices (iPads, laptops, etc) should be protected by, at minimum, a secure password and/or PIN.
  • Where possible, personal data stored on a device should be encrypted so that it is unreadable even if the device is dismantled and the storage removed. If that isn’t possible, try to avoid storing sensitive data on the device’s local storage at all. It’s safer to use it as a means of accessing a remote, and secure, data store.
  • Every account that you have on any local device (such as a laptop) or external system (such as an email provider, or a council intranet) should have a strong, unique password known only to you. Check your passwords against have I been pwned.
  • Do not share your passwords with anybody else. Where there is a genuine requirement for someone else to have access to personal data that you control, then give them their own access to it rather than letting them share yours.

Storage and retention

Don’t store data longer than you need to. Obviously, how long that is will depend very much on circumstances. This is another aspect where confusing and, in some cases, downright misleading information has been doing the rounds of the Internet. You certainly don’t need to delete every email immediately after you’ve read it and shred every letter before sunset.

Again, this is where the reasonable expectations of residents will come into it. People who need to contact you a second time regarding an issue will clearly expect that you still have their previous correspondence. And people who contact you regularly (and all councillors will have those!) will, often, expect you to be able to instantly recall every detail of everything they’ve contacted you about in the past!

So don’t go overboard on cleaning out data that has a reasonable prospect of being needed again. But, equally, don’t be a data hoarder. For email, have a standard retention period on your main inbox, but then move stuff you need to keep to a separate mailbox that doesn’t get automatically deleted (and review its contents regularly). For paper correspondence, have a regular sort out of stuff you need to keep and stuff you don’t. And shred the latter.


On the other hand, you should make sure that your data is securely backed up. This is standard IT good practice anyway, but the more important your data is, the more it matters.

The key word here, though is “secure”. Backups have to be kept separately to the device that they are backing up, but they need to be kept in a secure location that only you have access to. If you are storing them offsite (always a good idea), then use a service which encrypts your data so that even the providers of your backup service can’t read it.

Don’t let backups become long term archives. That’s not what they’re for. Backups are a snapshot of your current live files, so that, if something happens to your laptop, or your iPad, or whatever, you can recover them. If you no longer need to store data locally, then it doesn’t need to be in the backups either.


Email is a particular issue for councillors as it has become pretty much the default means whereby we communicate with each other, with officers and with residents. Good data security practices apply to email as much as anything else, but there are some additional factors to consider.

Don’t use a shared email account for council-related email. If you are fortunate enough to be able to have staff helping you on casework, then giving them delegated access to your email is acceptable (although bear in mind that you are still responsible if they screw up). But don’t use an email account that’s shared with someone else. None of these “Mr and Mrs Jones” or “The Bloggs Family” type accounts. Council email should always be on an individual account that you, and you alone, control.

Ideally, council email should be separate to your personal email. If your council provides councillors with email addresses (eg, in the form of then make sure you use that exclusively for council work. If not, then I’d recommend getting a separate email address specifically for council work. It’s easy enough (and free) to create an address at any of the major webmail providers, such as Gmail and Live Mail, and their security is good enough for this kind of use. But be wary of smaller providers that may not fully encrypt mail stored on their servers.

Take GDPR seriously – but don’t listen to the hype

There are a lot of scare stories about GDPR doing the rounds. Most of those revolve around the false belief that GDPR requires consent for every form of data processing. That is so untrue as to be laughable. But it is, nonetheless, a common misapprehension. Another common misbelief is that GDPR only applies to email marketing. That’s not true; it applies to every form of personal data processing (unless covered by an exemption).

However, we are still in the early days of GDPR, and many of its aspects haven’t yet been tested in court. Until then, we don’t know which side of the line some edge cases will fall. And council work is, unfortunately, the sort of thing which is likely to generate those edge cases, as it isn’t as easily classifiable as most commercial uses of personal data.

ICO guidance, and case law, will inevitably evolve in the light of circumstances which need to be tested.

What that means is that keeping up to date with the current interpretation and best practice of GDPR is as important for councillors as keeping up to date with, for example, planning policy and licensing law.


Don’t just take my word for it. There are plenty of online resources that will help you navigate GDPR. Here are a few of them.

by Mark at June 14, 2018 10:38 AM

Roger Bell_West

Watching Out, Ann Granger

2002 thriller/mystery; fifth of Granger's novels of Fran Varady, would-be thespian and amateur sleuth. Fran's in a play, very amateur and over a pub for one night only, but it's still acting work; and she's waitressing at the trendy pizzeria that used to be the Hot Spud Café. But something about it doesn't feel quite right, even before an illegal immigrant boy comes in, desperate to find "Max".

June 14, 2018 08:03 AM

June 13, 2018

Roger Bell_West

UK Games Expo 2018: Saturday

On Saturday I was mostly out in the show rather than at the table, because there was a team of extra demonstrators coming in just for that day.

June 13, 2018 08:00 AM

June 12, 2018

Jonathan McDowell

Hooking up Home Assistant to Alexa + Google Assistant

I have an Echo Dot. Actually I have two; one in my study and one in the dining room. Mostly we yell at Alexa to play us music; occasionally I ask her to set a timer, tell me what time it is or tell me the news. Having setup Home Assistant it seemed reasonable to try and enable control of the light in the dining room via Alexa.

Perversely I started with Google Assistant, even though I only have access to it via my phone. Why? Because the setup process was a lot easier. There are a bunch of hoops to jump through that are documented on the Google Assistant component page, but essentially you create a new home automation component in the Actions on Google interface, connect it with the Google OAuth stuff for account linking, and open up your Home Assistant instance to the big bad internet so Google can connect.

This final step is where I differed from the provided setup. My instance is accessible internally at home, but I haven’t wanted to expose it externally yet (and I suspect I never well, but instead have the ability to VPN back in to access or similar). The default instructions need you to open up API access publicly, and configure up Google with your API password, which allows access to everything. I’d rather not.

So, firstly I configured up my external host with an Apache instance and a Let’s Encrypt cert (luckily I have a static IP, so this was actually the base host that the Home Assistant container runs on). Rather than using this to proxy the entire Home Assistant setup I created a unique /external/google/randomstring proxy just for the Google Assistant API endpoint. It looks a bit like this:

<VirtualHost *:443>

  ProxyPreserveHost On
  ProxyRequests off

  RewriteEngine on

  # External access for Google Assistant
  ProxyPassReverse /external/google/randomstring http://hass-host:8123/api/google_assistant
  RewriteRule ^/external/google/randomstring$ http://hass-host:8123/api/google_assistant?api_password=myapipassword [P]
  RewriteRule ^/external/google/randomstring/auth$ http://hass-host:8123/api/google_assistant/auth?%{QUERY_STRING}&&api_password=myapipassword [P]

  SSLEngine on
  SSLCertificateFile /etc/ssl/
  SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/ssl/private/
  SSLCertificateChainFile /etc/ssl/lets-encrypt-x3-cross-signed.crt

This locks down the external access to just being the Google Assistant end point, and means that Google have a specific shared secret rather than the full API password. I needed to configure up Home Assistant as well, so configuration.yaml gained:

  project_id: homeautomation-8fdab
  client_id: oFqHKdawWAOkeiy13rtr5BBstIzN1B7DLhCPok1a6Jtp7rOI2KQwRLZUxSg00rIEib2NG8rWZpH1cW6N
  access_token: l2FrtQyyiJGo8uxPio0hE5KE9ZElAw7JGcWRiWUZYwBhLUpH3VH8cJBk4Ct3OzLwN1Fnw39SR9YArfKq
  api_key: nyAxuFoLcqNIFNXexwe7nfjTu2jmeBbAP8mWvNea
    - light

Setting up Alexa access is more complicated. Amazon Smart Home skills must call an AWS Lambda - the code that services the request is essential a small service run within Lambda. Home Assistant supports all the appropriate requests, so the Lambda code is a very simple proxy these days. I used Haaska which has a complete setup guide. You must do all 3 steps - the OAuth provider, the AWS Lambda and the Alexa Skill. Again, I wanted to avoid exposing the full API or the API password, so I forked Haaska to remove the use of a password and instead use a custom URL. I then added the following additional lines to the Apache config above:

# External access for Amazon Alexa
ProxyPassReverse /external/amazon/stringrandom http://hass-host:8123/api/alexa/smart_home
RewriteRule /external/amazon/stringrandom http://hass-host:8123/api/alexa/smart_home?api_password=myapipassword [P]

In the config.json I left the password field blank and set url to configuration.yaml required less configuration than the Google equivalent:

        - light.dining_room_lights
        - light.living_room_lights
        - light.snug

(I’ve added a few more lights, but more on the exact hardware details of those at another point.)

To enable in Alexa I went to the app on my phone, selected the “Smart Home” menu option, enabled my Home Assistant skill and was able to search for the available devices. I can then yell “Alexa, turn on the snug” and magically the light turns on.

Aside from being more useful (due to the use of the Dot rather than pulling out a phone) the Alexa interface is a bit smoother - the command detection is more reliable (possibly due to the more limited range of options it has to work out?) and adding new devices is a simple rescan. Adding new devices with Google Assistant seems to require unlinking and relinking the whole setup.

The only problem with this setup so far is that it’s only really useful for the room with the Alexa in it. Shouting from the living room in the hope the Dot will hear is a bit hit and miss, and I haven’t yet figured out a good alternative method for controlling the lights there that doesn’t mean using a phone or a tablet device.

June 12, 2018 08:21 PM

Roger Bell_West

Striding Folly, Dorothy Sayers

1972 collection of the last three short mystery stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey.

June 12, 2018 08:03 AM

June 11, 2018

Roger Bell_West

More apps for the smartphone

Part 2 of an occasional series.

June 11, 2018 08:00 AM

June 10, 2018

Roger Bell_West

The Cold Blue Blood, David Handler

2001 mystery, first in the Berger and Mitry series. Mitch Berger is a New York film critic mourning his dead wife, who rents a house in a rural (but rich) part of Connecticut; Desiree Mitry is a cop on the Serious Crimes Squad. So when Berger digs up a body in the vegetable patch…

June 10, 2018 08:04 AM

June 09, 2018

Roger Bell_West

UK Games Expo 2018: Friday

Friday at UK Games Expo was a half-day of demos, followed by meeting friends.

June 09, 2018 08:04 AM

June 08, 2018

Mark Goodge

Eight websites every politician should bookmark

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse for politics. On one hand, it offers unprecedented access to a global wealth of knowledge. On the other, it facilitates the spread of fake news and provides plenty of digital banana skins for the unwary.

With that in mind, here are eight websites (plus a few more) that everyone involved in politics should be familiar with. Used wisely, they will help avoid some of the more common pratfalls of online life.

1. Snopes

One of the quickest ways to make yourself look an idiot on the Internet is to inadvertently retweet or share an urban myth. One of the simplest ways to avoid looking like an idiot is to check potential urban myths before you share them. Snopes is one of the most comprehensive databases of urban myths (and fake news), and should be your first port of call when faced with something that you’re not familiar with.

See also: Hoax Slayer, Truth or Fiction.

2. FullFact

On similar lines, you want to avoid propagating badly referenced, misleading or even downright made-up information. FullFact is an independent charity that does what it says on the tin – it checks the facts behind the media stories of the day.

From a political perspective, FullFact has two crucial benefits. Firstly, it will provide you with plenty of ammunition to debunk the wilder claims made by your political opponents. Which, as any politician will know, is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the role. But, just as importantly, it will help you avoid making wild and unsupportable claims yourself. Which stops you being on the receiving end of an unwanted debunking. Either way, checking facts is essential to political competence, at any level.

See also: Channel 4 FactCheck

3. The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph

Yes, I know that’s two websites. But I don’t care. That is, in fact, part of the point.

If you are involved in politics in any way, you need to keep up with the news. Broadcast media and, on the web, social media have the benefits of immediacy. But to really know what’s going on, you need to be a regular reader of professional written journalism. And the two best ways of getting that on the web, at least for UK-based news, are the Guardian and the Telegraph. And you should be reading both of them.

Why those two? Because they are the only “broadsheet” daily newspaper websites without a paywall. The Telegraph does have some material that is for subscribers only, but that’s generally opinion rather than news so you’re not missing a lot by not being able to read it. The other free-to-read news websites are either tabloids, web-only outlets or the web presence of broadcasters. And, quite simply, none of those cover news on the web in anything like the quality and depth as the broadsheet newspapers.

Why both? Because it’s equally important not to let your news be coloured by someone else’s politics. In that respect, it’s helpful that the Guardian and the Telegraph represent broadly opposite ends of the political spectrum as far as the broadsheets are concerned. Reading both will give you a more rounded view, irrespective of which of them is closer to your own political perspective.

See also: The Sun and The Mirror will give you a similarly balanced tabloid perspective on the news.

4. Your local newspaper website(s)

I can’t link to these, obviously, as their identities will be different for everybody. But, whatever they are, they’re a valuable way of keeping an eye on what’s important in your local community. In particular, the letters page is often a more representative sample of local opinion that what you see on Facebook and Twitter (as well as, sometimes, being inadvertently hilarious or downright scary).

5. Wikipedia

A lot of people shy away from Wikipedia under the mistaken impression that, being entirely crowd-sourced, it isn’t reliable. In reality, that’s not the case. There is plenty of research which shows that Wikipedia’s reliability is remarkably good. And, of course, if you do encounter errors in it, you can easily fix them yourself! More to the point, the more important a subject is, the more likely it is that Wikipedia will be both accurate and unbiased.

Wikipedia’s other big asset is its breadth of coverage. There is practically no subject too obscure for a page. And its policy of requiring content to be referenced to off-Wikipedia sites makes it an excellent starting point for research, even if not every individual page is necessarily perfect all the time.

6. WhatDoTheyKnow

WhatDoTheyKnow provides an easy interface for members of the public to make Freedom of Information requests to almost every public authority in the UK, all the way from parish councils to government departments.

As a politician you won’t necessarily be using WDTK to place FOI requests yourself (although it can be a useful tool for them at times). But it also allows you to keep an eye on the sort of requests that your local authorities are getting. That can be a valuable heads-up on things that may later come more directly to your attention, as well as giving an insight into the sort of things that FOI officers have to deal with.

7. FixMyStreet

FixMyStreet, as the name suggests, is a way for people to report problems with their local environment – not just streets, but issues such as fly-tipping, graffiti and antisocial behaviour.

As with WhatDoTheyKnow, you probably won’t need to use this so much yourself as most politicians have more direct routes to report problems. But, equally, it’s something that’s worth keeping an eye on as it gives a good overview of the sort of things that people in your area are complaining about.

8. Google

Yes, really. “But”, I hear you say, “I already use Google every day. I don’t need telling to use it!”. Ah, but do you really understand how to get the most out of it?

When I was at school, I can recall being taught how to use a library. That is, taught how books were categorised and classified, and how to find what I wanted by identifying where on the shelves to look.

These days, the Internet is our library. And knowing how to find things on it is just as crucial. Understanding how to craft a search query that will take you to the material you want to see (and avoid all the stuff that the spammers are trying to steer you towards) is a key skill. For example, finding out whether a photograph really is what it purports to be in that social media post, or whether it’s just a stock photo, or tracking down the origins of something quoted in a blog or news article.

I really can’t overemphasise this. If you can master the advanced search functions of Google (or any other search engine), then it’s easy to track down real facts and reliable information. Without it, you are left at the mercy of what other people tell you.

See also: DuckDuckGo, Bing.

by Mark at June 08, 2018 12:45 PM

Liam Proven

The decline and fall of Windows

Underneath, in a lot of ways, NT is a pretty decent OS. The problems are mostly due to the marketing dept.

If the NT team had been allowed to pursue their original goals undisturbed, it'd be a better OS. Marketing insisted:

  • It was possible to use it standalone with full local admin rights;

  • IE had to be integrated;

  • It had to run as many Win9x binaries as possible;

  • The GDI was moved into the kernel for performance.

Etc. etc.

NT the core OS had nothing to do with Windows. It's derived from OS/2 3, the original cross-platform CPU-independent non-x86 version. It originally targeted the Intel i860, the N-Ten. That is where the "NT" sobriquet comes from.

Part of the design spec for NT was that nothing talked directly to the native API. It exposed "personalities" to userspace. It shipped with 3 of them: OS/2, Win32 and POSIX. OS/2 was later removed, again mainly for marketing reasons. It never included Presentation Manager, so it could only run text-mode OS/2 apps, but NT 3.1 (& I think 3.5) included full HPFS support. NT 3.51 could use them but not create them. NT4 couldn't but you could use the driver from 3.51 if you copied it across and created some registry entries.

There's a lot of nostalgia for OS/2 out there, but I used it and it was pretty nasty, especially the 32-bit version. A massive, 1000+line CONFIG.SYS file, which had to be byte-perfect or it wouldn't boot. A weird mixture of 16-bit and 32-bit code, much like Win9x but, amazingly, not even as clearly separated as in Win9x. (Be afraid.) Inability to bootstrap itself from DOS or any other OS. Inability to boot directly from CD for a long time. A weird shell unlike anything else, with weird definition of mouse buttons. E.g. the tree view was separate from file management windows, and its native app model was a strange template-based thing like the Apple Lisa, unlike anything else I've seen.

NT 3 was OS/2 done right, I'm afraid. Simple quick Win3 UI. No text files; everything in a database. (Yes, that decision has come back to bite now, but at the time, it seemed right.) Supported lots of disk formats, lots of network protocols; nothing was more or less "native" than anything else. It was relatively simple, clean and fast. It didn't support much Win9x stuff but to hell with that toytown GameOS.

The shell could be replaced, although few ever made it out there. There was a NeXTstep port, never released, and a skin-deep FOSS clone thereof.

NT4 was when the rot set in. The GDI was moved into the kernel, so rogue graphics drivers could bring down your enterprise OS. Unfinished unstable APIs like DirectX and Direct3D were imported from the Win9x division, but it didn't do PnP or USB.

The new Cairo FS and UI were dumped, unfinished, and the Win9x shell bolted on top instead.

NT 5 ("Windows 2000") at least supported PnP, USB etc. which were nice. Crapware like "Windows Movie Maker", some IE-related bollocks, a half-assed "file and settings transfer wizard" thing were bolted on and couldn't be uninstalled. You couldn't uninstall and reconfigure the network stack or the crappy extras any more. It was still a half-decent OS but starting to bloat out and crumble.

Then XP completed the marketing-led transition to junkware. Ugly themes, more unremovable bloatware. The only good thing was much faster hibernate and wake.

That's when I ditched Windows and switched to Linux and OS X full-time.

But that's when hoi polloi jumped on board with they nasty little games and the malware authors followed them. XP brought NT to the mainstream and that spelled its doom as a credible OS. When the world heard about it, it was all over.

Some Mac owners bitch about how Apple removes "legacy" features too readily. OS X 10.5 couldn't run Classic MacOS apps. 10.6 didn't support PowerPC machines or AppleTalk file sharing, but it could run PowerPC OS X apps. 10.7 dropped PowerPC apps, leaving you with only crappy Ribbon-infested versions of MS Office, and couldn't even print to AppleTalk printers.

But taking a longer view, this is a good thing. It means OS X doesn't accrue so much legacy cruft.

64-bit Windows finally dropped 16-bit app support, but that is about all MS has removed except some ancient network protocols. If MS was serious about Windows, it would have at least the choice of an edition which dropped 32-bit apps too, dropped everything except IPv4, dropped directly-installable binaries, and if I could be bothered to give any more thought to this, I'm sure I could identify half a dozen other ancient bits of unnecessary junk they could remove. MBR disk support, perhaps.

But it isn't. Marketing still rules.

by liam_on_linux at June 08, 2018 10:32 AM

Roger Bell_West

Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold

2003 fantasy, sequel to The Curse of Chalion and set three years later. Ista, widowed mother of the new queen, feels supernumerary – even without her embarrassing history of madness. But the gods haven't finished with her yet.

June 08, 2018 08:01 AM

June 07, 2018

Roger Bell_West

UK Games Expo 2018: Thursday

UK Games Expo expanded again this year, and either it sorted out most of its organisational problems or I managed to shift to doing the things which it's good at.

June 07, 2018 08:02 AM