# Planet Uknot

## March 27, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Thirsty Meeples March 2019

Back to the boardgame café. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

## March 26, 2019

### Liam Proven

#### Why is Google writing Fuchsia?

A poorly-worded question on Quora links to a rather interesting (if patchily-translated) Chinese discussion of the Fuchsia OS project.

But so as to keep my answer outside of Quora...

Fuschia is an incomplete project. It is not yet clear what Google intends for it. It is probably intended as a replacement for Android.

Android is a set of custom layers on top of an old version of the Linux kernel. Android apps run on a derivative of the Java virtual machine.

This means that Android apps are not strictly native Linux applications.

Linux is a Unix-like OS, written in C. C is a simple programming language. It has many design defects, among which are that it does not have strong typing, meaning that it is not type-safe. You can declare a variable as being a long floating-point number, and then access one byte of it as if it were a string and replace what looks like the the letter “q” with the letter “r”. But actually it wasn’t a “q”, it was the value 80, and now you’ve put 81 in there. What was the number 42.37428043 is now 42.37428143, all because you accidentally treated a floating point number as a string.

Better-designed programming languages prevent this. C just lets you, without an error.

It also does little to no checks on memory accesses. E.g. if you declare an array of 30 numbers, C will happily let you read, or worse still write, the 31st entry, or the 32nd, or the 42nd, or the 375324564th.

The result is that C programs are unsafe because of the language design. It is essentially impossible to write safe programs in C.

However, all Unix-like OSes are written in C. The entire kernel is in C, and all of the tools, from the “ls” command to the text editors to the programs that read and write configuration files and set up the computer, all in C. All in a language that has no way to tell if it’s reading or writing text or integer numbers or floating point numbers or hexadecimal or a binary-encoded image file. A language which won’t tell you if you slip up and accidentally do the wrong thing.

A few geniuses can handle this. A very, very few. People like Dennis Richie and Ken Thompson, who wrote Unix.

Ordinary humans can’t.

But unfortunately, Unix caught on, and now most of the world runs on it.

Later derivatives of the Unix operating system gradually fixed this. First Plan 9, which imposed much stricter limits on how C worked, and then tried to replace it with a language called Alef. Then Plan 9 led to Inferno, which largely replaced C with a safer language called Limbo.

But they didn’t catch on.

One of the leading architects of those operating systems was a programmer called Rob Pike.

He now works for Google, and one of his big projects is a new programming language called Go. Go draws on the lessons of Plan 9, Alef and Limbo.

Fuschia is written in Go instead of C.

Thus, although it has many other changes as discussed in the article you link to, it should in theory be fundamentally safer than Unix, being immune to whole categories of programming errors that are inherent to Unix and all Unix-like OSes.

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Hot Pink Farmhouse, David Handler

2002 mystery, second in the Berger and Mitry series. Berger is settling in for the autumn to write a book about westerns, but small town politics and crime won't leave him alone; and the crime is Mitry's job too. Someone's blown up in her car on her way back from an illicit rendezvous, and she seems to have had a remarkable number of enemies.

## March 25, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Marching in London

I went along to the march on Saturday, not because I think it will help, but because I'd have felt bad if I hadn't.

## March 24, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Magic Strikes, Ilona Andrews

2009 modern fantasy, third in the Kate Daniels series. When a shapeshifter gets killed and she's frozen out of the investigation, Kate's annoyed, but they're within their rights. When another shifter, a friend of hers, is deliberately crippled, that's another matter.

## March 23, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

2018 animation, dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman; IMDb / allmovie.

Kid bitten by radioactive spider, great responsibility, blah blah. But this isn't just another retread of the usual origin story: universes are colliding, and each of them has its own Spider-Man.

## March 22, 2019

### Liam Proven

#### Retro Man Cave looks at the 2 original PCs that revolutionised the European PC market

I had to point out a couple of issues...

* The OS that came with it... The original 'Strads came with _two_. Digital Research's DOS Plus:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOS_Plus
... _and_ MS-DOS. DOS Plus was very obscure -- the only other machine I know to come with it was the Acorn BBC Master 512 -- but it was a forerunner of DR-DOS, which was a huge success and much later became open source.

* That isn't WordStar you show. Well, it sort of is, but it's not _the_ WordStar that you correctly describe as the leading DOS wordprocessor until WordPerfect came along. Amstrad bundled a special custom wordprocessor called WordStar 1512. This is a rebadged version of WordStar Express, which although it came from MicroPro Corp, is in fact totally unrelated to the actual WordStar program. The rumour was that WordStar Express was a student project, written in Modula-2. It is totally incompatible with actual WordStar, using different keystrokes, different file formats, everything. But it did allegedly get the student a job! It didn't sell so Amstrad got it very cheap.
https://www.wordstar.org/index.php/wordstar-history

* WordStar was originally written for CP/M and ported to MS-DOS, meaning that it didn't support MS-DOS's more advanced features, such as subdirectories, very well. MicroPro flailed around a bit, including developing WordStar 2000, another unrelated program that looked similar but used a totally different and incompatible user interface, thus alienating all the existing users.

(And WordStar users are almost fanatically loyal. George R R Martin is one -- all of "a Game of Thrones" was written in WordStar!)

After annoying its users for so long that various companies cloned the original program, MicroPro eventually did something marginally sensible. It bought the leading clone, which was called NewWord, and rebadged it as "WordStar 4," even though it wasn't derived from WordStar 3 at all.

So what Doris had there is a shoddy alternative app from MicroPro, and a better 3rd party alternative that in fact _became_ the real product.

* Locomotive BASIC 2 -- this was sort of a sop, a bone thrown to Locomotive Software who did almost all the original Amstrad CPC and PCW 8-bit business apps. BASIC 2 is pretty much totally unrelated to, and incompatible with, the ROM BASIC in the CPC range, or Locomotive's Mallard BASIC for the PCW, but it was written by the same company. It was the only high-level language built for PC GEM, I believe. It was sold on nothing other than the Amstrads and so disappeared into obscurity.

Rather than BASIC 2 and the fairly awful WordStar 1512, Amstrad ought to have offered LocoScript PC, the DOS version of the Amstrad PCW's bundled wordprocessor. This was a very good app in its day, one of the most powerful DOS wordprocessors in its time, with advanced font handling and very limited WYSIWYG support.

* No RAM expansion in the 1640. That's a plain mistake. There's no expansion possible. The 8086 can only address 1 MB of RAM, and the upper 384 kB of that space is filled with ROM and I/O space in the PC design. 640 kB is all an 8086 PC can take, so there *is* no possible expansion. Thus, no point in fitting slots for it.

Apart from these cavils, a good video that I enjoyed!

### Roger Bell_West

#### Nell Gwynne's On Land and At Sea, Kage Baker

2012 steampunk SF short novel, very loosely connected with the Company series. The finest brothel in 19th-century Whitehall… goes on holiday to Torquay. At least, that was the plan.

## March 21, 2019

### Steve Kennedy

#### CRL's demo day, hardware start-ups for the love of making things

The evening of Thursday 14th of March was Central Research Laboratories demo day, once again held at U+I (one of the backer of CRL).

It was kicked off by an introduction from Matt Hunter of CRL and then Marcus Sheppard from U+I - really just the normal things about the accelerator and that applications would close shortly for the next cohort.

Then followed a panel discussion chaired by Matt with the Rob Nicoll founder of Chip[s]board (who was on the previous CRL cohort) and Arnold du Told CRL Investor in Residence.

Alice Johnson the CRL Programmes Manager then gave an introduction and to the start-ups themselves.

The first start-up up was Cosi Care and Lauren Bell who have a solution to treat eczema. It's a hardware device that has a cool surface and reduces the effects of the eczema while being easy to use.

Agile Planet presented their Bio Burner Bio which is a compost material made by processing waste wood in a special kiln. It actively removes C02 from the atmosphere, and has a range of benefits including improving plant growth. Agile Planet have created a new home burner that will enable anyone to create biochar in their own garden. Design to be released in 2019.

Nxsteps's Alecia Esson presented their Bluetooth enabled shoe inserts that can measure the pressure on various parts of the feet and with an accompanying app, analyse stresses while running and other sports.

Alex Strang presented Moment Pebble which is a stone that lights up and encourages the user to be mindful in the workplace as Mindfulness is now big business as well as helping people's mental states in the busy world.

Saving women everywhere is Y-Heels and Yaagni Patel allowing users to clip/slot off their heels so removing the discomfort without having to cary a second pair of shoes. Simple, yet sophisticated.

How do mountain biker's and other sports users protect themselves? With Hero Skin of course which is the next generation of body armour which is worn on the chest. It's flexible and comfortable and allows movement giving the user protection while they have the freedom to carry out their sport. As a mountain biker Dorota Grabkowska the Founder and CEO knows about the dangers of not using Hero Skin benefits that come with using it.

Last but certainly not least was Odin Ardagh from Brahman Design. They would have been a tough act to follow anyway. Previously they made the Høvel which is a brass pencil sharpener that uses standard pencil sharpener blades that can be replaced and rather than placing the pencil in the sharpener, it's used like a plane on pencil itself. This was made to be used by designers for designers and gifted for that bit of desk jewellery that every designer should have to show they appreciate design. The newest object is called the IRIS and it's just that, a circular brash ring with an inner iris that can be adjusted to make a small or large circle. Again it's functional, but actually just really pretty and it feels good to use.

So for once an accelerator that has start-ups that are not just IoT/blockchain/AI/etc companies - people doing hardware but things that are interesting and making beautiful things because they can

### Roger Bell_West

#### Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 18 March 2019

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

## March 20, 2019

### Jonathan Dowland

#### Learning new things about my old Amiga A500

This is the sixth part in a series of blog posts. The previous post was glitched Amiga video. The next post is First successful Amiga disk-dumping session.

Sysinfo output for my A500

I saw a tweet from Sophie Haskins who is exploring her own A500 and discovered that it had an upgraded Agnus chip. The original A500 shipped with a set of chips which are referred to as the Original Chip Set (OCS). The second generation of the chips were labelled Enhanced Chip Set (ECS). A500s towards the end of their production lifetime were manufactured with some ECS chips instead. I had no idea which chipset was in my A500, but Sophie's tweet gave me a useful tip, she was using some software called sysinfo to enumerate what was going on. I found an ADF disk image that included Sysinfo ("LSD tools") and gave it a try. To my surprise, my Amiga has an ECS "AGNUS" chip too!

I originally discovered Sophie due to her Pizzabox Computer project: An effort to acquire, renovate and activate a pantheon of vintage "pizzabox" form-factor workstation computers. I once had one of these, the Sun SPARCStation 10, but it's long since gone. I'm mildly fascinated to learn more about some of these other machines. After proofreading Fabien Senglard's DOOM book, I was interested to know more about NeXTstations, and Sophie is resurrecting a NeXTstation mono, but there are plenty of other interesting esoteric things on that site, such as Apple A/UX UNIX on a Quadra 610 (the first I'd heard of both Apple's non-macOS UNIX, and their pizzabox form-factor machines).

#### First successful Amiga disk-dumping session

This is the seventh part in a series of blog posts. The previous post was Learning new things about my old Amiga A500.

X-COPY User Interface

Totoro Soot Sprites?

"Cyberpunk" party invitation

My childhood home

HeroQuest board game guide

I've finally dumped some of my Amiga floppies, and started to recover some old files! The approach I'm taking is to use the real Amiga to read the floppies (in the external floppy disk drive) and then copy them onto a virtual floppy disk image on the Gotek Floppy Emulator. I use X-COPY to perform the copy (much as I would have done back in 1992).

FlashFloppy's default mode of operation is to scan over the filesystem on the attached USB and assign a number to every disk image that it discovers (including those in sub-folders). If your Gotek device has the OLED display, then it reports the path to the disk image to you; but I have the simpler model that simply displays the currently selected disk slot number.

For the way I'm using it, its more basic "indexed" mode fits better: you name files in the root of the USB's filesystem using a sequential scheme starting at DSKA0000.ADF (which corresponds to slot 0) and it's then clear which image is active at any given time. I set up the banks with Workbench, X-COPY and a series of blank floppy disk images to receive the real contents, which I was able to generate using FS-UAE (they aren't just full of zeroes).

A few weeks ago I had a day off work and spent an hour in the morning dumping floppies. I managed to dump around 20 floppies successfully, with only a couple of unreadable disks (from my collection of 200). I've prioritised home-made disks, in particular ones that are likely to contain user-made content rather than just copies of commercial disks. But in some cases it's hard to know for sure what's on a disk, and sometimes I've made copies of e.g. Deluxe Paint and subsequently added home-made drawings on top.

Back on my laptop, FS-UAE can quite happily read the resulting disk images, and Deluxe Paint IV via FS-UAE can happily open the drawings that I've found (and it was a lot of fun to fire up DPaint for the first time in over 20 years. This was a really nice piece of software. I must have spent days of my youth exploring it).

I tried a handful of user-mode tools for reading the disk images (OFS format) but they all had problems. In the end I just used the Linux kernel's AFFS driver and loop-back mounts. (I could have looked at libguestfs instead).

To read Deluxe Paint image files on a modern Linux system one can use ImageMagick (via netpbm back-end) or ffmpeg. ffmpeg can also handle Deluxe Paint animation files, but more care is needed with these: It does not appear to correctly convert frame durations, setting the output animations to a constant 60fps. Given the input image format colour depth, it's tempting to output to animated GIF, rather than a lossy video compression format, but from limited experimentation it seems some nuances of the way that palettes are used in the source files are not handled optimally in the output either. More investigation here is required.

Enjoy a selection of my childhood drawings…

blockmap.wl being reloaded (click for animation)

A couple of weeks ago I release version 3.0 of Wad Compiler, a lazy functional programming language and IDE for the construction of Doom maps.

3.0 introduces more flexible randomness with rand; two new test maps (blockmap and bsp) that demonstrate approaches to random dungeon generation; some useful data structures in the library; better Hexen support and a bunch of other improvements.

Check the release notes for the full details, and check out the gallery of examples to see the kind of things you can do.

Version 3.0 of WadC is dedicated to Lu (1972-2019). RIP.

### Roger Bell_West

#### Rattling the Bones, Ann Granger

2007 thriller/mystery; seventh of Granger's novels of Fran Varady, would-be thespian and amateur sleuth. When Fran runs into Edna, the homeless woman she used to know when she was living in a squat, it seems like a welcome encounter; but Edna's scared of something, and someone is following her. And that's before Fran starts digging into old secrets.

## March 19, 2019

### Neil McGovern

#### GNOME ED Update – February

Another update is now due from what we’ve been doing at the Foundation, and we’ve been busy!

As you may have seen, we’ve hired three excellent people over the past couple of months. Kristi Progri has joined us as Program Coordinator, Bartłomiej Piorski as a devops sysadmin, and Emmanuele Bassi as our GTK Core developer. I hope to announce another new hire soon, so watch this space…

There’s been quite a lot of discussion around the Google API access, and GNOME Online Accounts. The latest update is that I submitted the application to Google to get GOA verified, and we’ve got a couple of things we’re working through to get this sorted.

## Events all round!

Although the new year’s conference season is just kicking off, it’s been a busy one for GNOME already. We were at FOSDEM in Brussels where we had a large booth, selling t-shirts, hoodies and of course, the famous GNOME socks. I held a meeting of the Advisory Board, and we had a great GNOME Beers event – kindly sponsored by Codethink.

We also had a very successful GTK Hackfest – moving us one step closer to GTK 4.0.

Coming up, we’ll have a GNOME booth at:

• SCALEx17 – Pasadena, California (7th – 10th March)
• LibrePlanet – Boston Massachusetts (23rd – 24th March)
• FOSS North – Gothenburg, Sweden (8th – 9th April)
• Linux Fest North West – Bellingham, Washington (26th – 28th April)

If you’re at any of these, please come along and say hi! We’re also planning out events for the rest of the year. If anyone has any particularly exciting conferences we may not have heard of, please let us know.

## Discourse

It hasn’t yet been announced, but we’re trialling an instance of Discourse for the GTK and Engagement teams. It’s hopeful that this may replace mailman, but we’re being quite careful to make sure that email integration continues to work. Expect more information about this in the coming month. If you want to go have a look, the instance is available at discourse.gnome.org

### Roger Bell_West

#### A small perfect moment

I recently attended a meeting of the governing board of my employer, and we went out for a meal afterwards.

## March 18, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### OGRE in Cambridge

I played OGRE with a friend's set of the Designer's Edition, the famously huge Kickstarter project from 2012.

## March 17, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Clarkesworld 150, March 2019

Clarkesworld is a monthly on-line magazine edited by Neil Clarke.

## March 16, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Apex 117, February 2019

Apex is a monthly on-line magazine edited by Jason Sizemore among others.

## March 15, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Ocean's 8

2018 caper film, dir. Gary Ross, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett; IMDb / allmovie. Con-artist and thief Debbie Ocean gets out of prison, and immediately plans her biggest heist yet.

## March 14, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Not Less than Gods, Kage Baker

2009 steampunk science fiction in The Company setting. Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax is born, grows up, is trained to be a spy, and in 1850 goes on his first mission for the Gentlemen's Speculative Society.

## March 13, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Airecon in 2019

I went back to this year's Airecon, still growing fast in Harrogate (it's now apparently the second-largest boardgame event in the UK). With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

## March 12, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Sherry Thomas

2017 mystery, second of the Lady Sherlock series. Charlotte Holmes is doing well her disguised life as "Sherlock" the consulting detective, but her latest client comes from rather too close to home.

## March 11, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Ocean's Thirteen

2007 caper film, dir. Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, Brad Pitt; IMDb / allmovie. After one of their number is ripped off by a business partner, the gang gets together again for another casino robbery.

## March 10, 2019

### Steve Kennedy

#### Have a phone, then protect it with a Mous(e)

Mous is a company that produces phone cases - originally for iPhones, but now for Samsung phones too. Well you've spent all the money on some shiny new hardware, you don't want to break or scratch it really.

The cases come in a variety of materials (carbon fibre, walnut, shell, leather and bamboo), though they are just a skin on the actual base material. The case is highly impact resistance and has some clever tech inside that distributes a shock wave through the case therefore avoiding the phone and reducing the chance of damage. Mous have tested their cases on real phones by dropping from the tops of buildings, ladders etc.

The back of the case also has a magnet embedded, so the phone can be stuck to various things, there's a car air vent/grill mount to allow for dashboard mounting.

This works nicely to use something like Google Maps or Waze and isn't too conspicuous so you can just glance over the phone without being too distracted.

Since the mount is also magnetic the phone stays reasonably well put (though it can dislodge if you hit a large bump or pothole).

There's another mount which uses a suction cup to stick to the windscreen. The suction is pretty good and it takes quite a bit of effort to remove the mount after use (and tends to leave a ring behind). Again the phone stays attached reasonably well (though the unit that was tested, the metal section did come out, though a blob of glue fixed that).

The phone is much more visible, though that can be advantageous depending on what kind of application is run on the phone.

Mous also make a wall mount

That is just the standard mount with a sticky back, your milage will vary depending on what surface it's being attached to and how clean it is.

There's also a card attachment, that sticks to the back of the case, allowing a couple of cards to be kept with the phone, which is useful if your going somewhere and only want to worry about carrying the phone and not a wallet (say at a festival or beach, so you can still be contacted and buy things).

A lightning charging cable is also available that has a very tough casing which is unlikely to be broken.

One last thing, if a case is purchased a hybrid glass screen protector is included (although also sold separately), which will protect your screen from nasty scratches (and a hammer if you feel so inclined).

So if you're looking for a decent case (and screen protector) that has a bunch of accessories that allow you to mount or store your phone, you can't really go wrong with Mous (don't leave the house with your shiny iPhone or Samsung without one).

Pricing for the Limitless 2.0 case is £39.99 for carbon fibre or leather and £49.99 for the wood finishes.

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Water Room, Christopher Fowler

2006 police procedural mystery/horror, second in the Bryant and May series. An elderly woman is found dead in the basement of her house… dressed for a trip outside, even though she hardly ever went outside, and with river water in her throat. It's not even clear that it's a crime, never mind any questions of motivation; but with the Peculiar Crimes Unit under threat of closure, Bryant and May do their best to investigate and justify their existence.

## March 09, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Death Race 2050

2017 satirical action film, dir. G.J. Echternkamp, Manu Bennett, Marci Miller: IMDb / allmovie. In the dystopian future of America, the most popular entertainment is a cross-country road race with bonus points for slaughter en route.

## March 08, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### GURPS Steampunk 3: Soldiers and Scientists, Phil Masters

This is the third of the new GURPS Steampunk supplements, updating and extending the old book; with genre and technology already covered, this volume deals with character generation.

## March 07, 2019

### Jonathan Dowland

#### glitched Amiga video

This is the fifth part in a series of blog posts. The previous post was Amiga/Gotek boot test. The next post is Learning new things about my old Amiga A500.

Glitchy component-video out

As I was planning out my next Gotek-floppy-adaptor experiment, disaster struck: the video out from my Amiga had become terribly distorted, in a delightfully Rob Sheridan fashion, sufficiently so that it was impossible to operate the machine.

Reading around, the most likely explanation seemed to be a blown capacitor. These devices are nearly 30 years old, and blown capacitors are a common problem. If it were in the Amiga, then the advice is to replace all the capacitors on the mainboard. This is something that can be done by an amateur enthusiast with some soldering skills. I'm too much of a beginner with soldering to attempt something like this. I was recommended a company in Aberystwyth called Mutant Caterpillar who do a full recap and repair service for £60 which seems very reasonable.

Philips CRT

Luckily, the blown capacitor (if that's what it was) wasn't in the Amiga, but in the A520 video adaptor. I dug my old Philips CRT monitor out of the loft and connected it directly to the Amiga and the picture was perfect. I had been hoping to avoid fetching it down, as I don't have enough space on my desk to leave it in situ, and instead must lug it over whenever I've found a spare minute to play with the Amiga. But it's probably not worth repairing the A520 (or sourcing a replacement) and the upshot is the picture via the RGB out is much clearer.

As I write this, I'm in a hotel room recovering after my first day at FOSDEM 2019, my first FOSDEM conference. There was a Retrocomputing devroom this year that looked really interesting but I was fully booked into the Java room all day today. (And I don't see mention of Amigas in any of the abstracts)

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Sons of Heaven, Kage Baker

2007 science fiction, eighth of The Company series. As 9 July 2355 approaches, all the forces determined to take advantage of the Silence, the point after which no information has flowed back in time, put their pieces on the board and ready their plans.

## March 06, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Ocean's Twelve

2004 caper film, dir. Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, Brad Pitt; IMDb / allmovie. The crooks' victim from the first film wants his money back, and he's a Scary Guy. How to get it for him? Steal it, of course.

## March 05, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Black Tower, P. D. James

1975 detective fiction, fifth of James's novels of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. After a medical scare and a hospital stay, Dalgleish visits an old friend to recuperate – only to find that the friend has died suddenly.

## March 04, 2019

### Jonathan McDowell

#### Bordering on ridiculous

There’s been a lot of discussion (to put it mildly) about the backstop in regards to Brexit. Effectively the TL;DR is that it’s designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, in the absence of some more organized solution. As someone born and raised in Northern Ireland I’m in favour of that. My parents live in Newry, which is just north of the border on the main Belfast/Dublin road. I remember the border checkpoint.

The backstop causes problems because it requires the United Kingdom to keep in sync with the EU in many respects, to retain the customs union and allow the free movement of goods across the border in a friction-free manner. Originally there was a suggestion that this union could apply solely to Northern Ireland, with some sort of checks made on the air/sea border between NI and the rest of the UK. The DUP rejected any suggestion of a border in the Irish Sea, and as the party propping up the Tories they have some sway in this whole thing. That’s unfortunate, as I think that this sort of special status for Northern Ireland could make it a very attractive place to do business, with good access to both the rest of the UK and the EU. The DUP claim to be rejecting anything that might make Northern Ireland separate from the UK. What they fail to acknowledge is the multitude of ways in which NI is separate, some of them their doing.

Let’s start with some legal examples. Belfast was the first place to have generally available civil partnerships for gay couples (there was an earlier exceptional ceremony in Brighton for a terminally ill man). Today Northern Ireland is the only place not to allow same sex marriage - England and Wales introduced the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and Scotland introduced the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014. The DUP have repeatedly used the Petition of Concern to block such legislation in Northern Ireland, and stated they will continue to do so.

The other headline difference is the fact that the Abortion Act 1967 does not apply in Northern Ireland, which instead falls back to the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 and the older Offences Against the Person Act 1861, only allowing abortion in cases where it is to preserve the life of the mother.

Less of a headline difference is the fact it’s illegal to give a child under 16 alcohol in Northern Ireland (Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 s.25), unless it’s on the order of a doctor. Everywhere else it’s illegal for under 5s (Children and Young Persons Act 1933 s.5), but ok for older children in private premises. It’s wise to try to prevent underage drinking, but I’d have thought enabling it legally in the home isn’t the risk factor we should be worried about here. NI also has more restrictive off-license alcohol licensing, leading to weird cordoned off areas in supermarkets where they keep the alcohol and most small shops not stocking it at all.

All of these legal differences are reconcilable with the DUP’s status as a conservative Christian right party. However they all serve to separate Northern Ireland more from the rest of the UK, making it look like a parochial backwater, and that’s harder to reconcile with the DUP’s statement that they want to avoid that. Equally there are other pieces of legislation that have variations in the Northern Ireland implementation (and the fact there’s even a separate Act or Order for NI for things predating devolution is sometimes an oddity).

For example, The Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, Article 140 specifies that an employee needs 1 year continuous employment to be able to make an unfair dismissal claim, while the Employment Rights Act 1996, s.108 requires 2 years before such a claim can be made in the rest of the UK. Good for workers in NI, but not a logical difference to have.

We can’t even claim these differences all pre-date the Good Friday Agreement Stormont Assembly. In 2014 the DUP were quite happy to try and diverge NI’s tax regime from the rest of the UK by aiming for a corporation tax reduction that was, irony of ironies, designed to bring NI into line with the rest of Ireland in an attempt to get some of the inward investment pie.

It’s also worth noting that land law is significantly different between NI and England & Wales (to the extent that while doing my law degree I was taught them as 2 parallel strands rather than the lecturers simply pointing out the divergences along the way). Scotland is even more different, so that’s perhaps not as useful an example of variation, but it does usefully lead into a discussion about differences in the provision of government services. Searching the Land Registry for Northern Ireland is in-person physical act. Doing so for England and Wales with the HM Land Registry is possible online.

This can be seen again in the area of driving licences, something you’d expect a unified UK approach for. The rest of the UK has abolished the paper counterpart for driving licences. Not Northern Ireland. If you hold an NI licence and want to hire a car don’t forget to bring your paper part! (Yes, this has bitten me once.) Northern Ireland was also the first part of the UK to have a photograph as part of the driving licence (probably because we were the only part of the UK being stopped at army checkpoints and asked for ID).

On the subject of cars, the MOT in Northern Ireland is performed in government run test centres. Elsewhere in the UK MOT’s are handled by approved test centres - usually a garage. There are advantages to both (primarily a trade off between government impartiality and the convenience of being able to drop your car off for a test with someone who will fix the failures), but there’s no logical reason for the difference across the country.

The executive has also used the sea border with the rest of the UK to its advantage, for example during the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, when additional controls were put in place at ports and airports in Northern Ireland to try and prevent the spread of the disease to NI farming stock. (I remember the disinfectant mats being in place at Belfast International Airport during this period.)

We have other differences too. 4 Northern Irish banks issue their own bank notes (though First Trust are stopping) - they’re worth exactly the same as Bank of England notes (being valid pounds sterling), but good luck freely spending them in the rest of the UK! And for a long time we didn’t even have representation from the big UK banks here (which made having an NI bank account while being at university in England problematic at times).

These geographical and legal differences naturally extend into the private sector. It’s not just the banks who lack representation here, high street shops are affected too. I keep getting Ocado vouchers included in other orders but they’re no use to me because Waitrose aren’t present here. McDonalds didn’t arrive until the early 90s. There are plenty of other examples.

I’m sure some of this is due to the existence of a large body of water between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK making delivery more complex. It’s not uncommon for suppliers to charge more or completely refuse to deliver to NI. Even when they do there are frequently restrictions (see Amazon’s for an example). Good luck getting a replacement phone or laptop battery shipped from a reputable supplier these days!

Car insurance has also historically been higher in Northern Ireland. A paper produced by the Northern Ireland Assembly, ‘Update: Comparative Car and Home Insurance Costs in NI’ (NIAR 508-10) discussed potential reasons for this, concluding that the higher rate of accidents and associated legal system differences resulting in higher compensation and legal fees were likely causes. I guess that explains some of the terrifying road safety ads shown on TV here over the years.

What’s my point with all of this? Largely that I feel it’s foolish to try and pretend Northern Ireland doesn’t have differences with the rest of the UK, and deciding that the existence of some additional checks on movement across the Irish Sea is the red line seems to be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. If the DUP had shown any inclination to rectify the other arbitrary differences that exist here I’d have more sympathy, but the fact they persist in maintaining some of them just strikes me as hypocrisy.

### Roger Bell_West

#### Ocean's Eleven (2001)

2001 caper film, dir. Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, Brad Pitt; IMDb / allmovie. Gambler and con-man Danny Ocean gets out of prison, and immediately plans his biggest heist yet.

## March 03, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### February 2019 Trailers

Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal. Calibration: I hate you. I hate everything. Open that damn' door and let me out.)

## March 02, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Ocean's Eleven (1960)

1960 crime/drama film, dir. Lewis Milestone, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin; IMDb / allmovie. Old war buddies from the 82nd Airborne get together again, to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.

## March 01, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Gods and Pawns, Kage Baker

2007 science fiction, seven short stories in The Company series (five of them previously published 2001-2004).

## February 28, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Assassination Games

2011 action, dir. Ernie Barbarash, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins: IMDb / allmovie. Two assassins find themselves working together on one last job.

## February 27, 2019

### Liam Proven

#### Why progress estimates are difficult

Someone at $JOB said that they really wished that rsync could give a fairly close estimate of how long a given operation would take to complete. I had to jump in... Be careful what you wish for. Especially that "close" in there, which is a disastrous request! AIUI... It can't do that, because the way it works is comparing files on source and destination block-by-block to work out if they need to be synched or not. To give an estimate, it would have to do that twice, and thus, its use would be pointless. Rsync is not a clever copy program. Rsync exists to synch 2 files/groups of files without transmitting all the data they contain over a slow link; to do the estimate you ask would obviate its raison d'être. If it just looked at file sizes, the estimate would be wildly pessimistic, and thus make the tool far less attractive and that would have led to it not being used and becoming a success. Secondly, by comparison: people clearly asked for this from the Windows developers, and commercial s/w being what it is, they got it. That's how on Win10 you get a progress bar for all file operations. Which means deleting a 0-byte file takes as long as deleting a 1-gigabyte file: it has to simulate the action first, in order to show the progress, so everything now has a built-in multi-second-long delay (far longer than the actual operation) so it can display a fancy animated progress bar and draw a little graph, and nothing happens instantly, not even the tiniest operations. Thus a harmless-sounding UI request completely obviated the hard work that went into optimising NTFS, which for instance stores tiny files inside the file system indices so they take no disk sectors at all, meaning less head movement too. All wasted because of a UI change. Better to have no estimate than a wildly inaccurate estimate or an estimate that doubles the length of the task. Yes, some other tools do give a min/max time estimate. There are indeed far more technically-complex solutions, like... (I started to do this in pseudocode but I quickly ran out of width, which tells you something) * start doing the operation, but also time it * if the time is more than (given interval) * display a bogus progress indicator, while you work out an estimate * then start displaying the real progress indicator * while continuing the operation, which means your estimate is now inaccurate * adjust the estimate to improve its accuracy * until the operation is complete * show the progress bar hitting the end * which means you've now added a delay at the end So you get a progress meter throughout which only shows for longer operations, but it delays the whole job. This is what Windows Vista did, and it was a pain. And as we all know, for any such truism, there is an XKCD for it. https://xkcd.com/612/ That was annoying. So in Win10 someone said "fix it". Result, it now takes a long time to do anything at all, but there's a nice progress bar to look at. So, yeah, no. If you want a tool that does its job efficiently and as quickly as possible, no, don't try to put a time estimate in it. Non-time-based, non-proportional time indicators are fine. E.g. "processed file XXX" which increments, or "processed XXX$units_of_storage"

But they don't tell you how long it will take, and that annoys people. They ask "if you can tell me how much you've done, can't you tell me what fraction of the whole that is?" Well, no, not without doing a potentially big operation before beginning work which makes the whole job bigger.

And the point of rsync is that it speeds up work over slow links.

Summary:

Estimates are hard. Close estimates are very hard. Making the estimate makes the job take much longer (generally, at a MINIMUM twice as long). Poor estimates are very annoying.

TL;DR Executive summary (which nobody at Microsoft was brave enough to do):

"No."

This was one of those things that for a long time I just assumed everyone knew... then it has become apparent in the last ~dozen years (since Vista) that apparently lots of people didn't know, and indeed, that this lack of knowledge was percolating up the chain.

The time it hit me personally was upgrading a customer's installation of MS Office XP to SR1. This was so big, for the time -- several hundred megabytes, zipped, in 2002 and thus before many people had broadband -- that optionally you could request it on CD.

He did.

The CD contained a self-extracting Zip that extracted into the current directory. So you couldn't run it directly from the CD. It was necessary to copy it to the hard disk, temporarily wasting ¼ GB or so, then run it.

The uncompressed files would have fitted on the CD. That was a warning sign; several people failed in attention to detail and checks.

(Think this doesn't matter? The tutorial for Docker instructs you to install a compiler, then build a copy of MongoDB (IIRC) from source. It leaves the compiler and the sources in the resulting container. This is the exact same sort of lack of attention to detail. Deploying that container would waste a gigabyte or so per instance, and thus waste space, energy, machine time, and cause over-spend on cloud resources.

All because some people just didn't think. They didn't do their job well enough.

So, I copied the self-extractor, I ran it, and I started the installation.

A progress bar slowly crept up to 100%. It took about 5-10 minutes. The client and I watched.

When it got to 100%... it went straight back to zero and started again.

This is my point: progress bars are actually quite difficult.

It did this seven times.

The installation of a service release took about 45 minutes, three-quarters of an hour, plus the 10 minutes wasted because an idiot put a completely unnecessary download-only self-extracting archive onto optical media.

The client paid his bill, but unhappily, because he'd watched me wasting a lot of expensive time because Microsoft was incompetent at:

[1] Packaging a service pack properly.
[2] Putting it onto read-only media properly.
[3] Displaying a progress bar properly.

Of course it would have been much easier and simpler to just distribute a fresh copy of Office, but that would have made piracy easier than this product is proprietary software and one of Microsoft's main revenue-earners, so it's understandable that they didn't want to do that.

But if the installer had just said:

Installation stage x/7:
Progress: [XXXXXXXXXX..........]

That would have been fine. But it didn't. It went from 0 to 100%, seven times over, probably because first the Word team's patch was installed, then the Excel team's patch, then the Powerpoint team's patch, then the Outlook team's patch, then the Access team's patch, then the file import/export filters team's patch, etc. etc.

Poor management. Poor attention to detail. Lack of thought. Lack of planning. Major lack of integration and overview.

But this was just a service release. Those are unplanned; if the apps had been developed and tested better, in a language immune to buffer overflows and which didn't permit pointer arithmetic and so on, it would have have been necessary.

But the Windows Vista copy dialog box, as parodied in XKCD -- that's taking orders from poorly-trained management who don't understand the issues, because someone didn't think it through or explain it, or because someone got promoted to a level they were incompetent for.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle

These are systemic problems. Good high-level management can prevent them. Open communications, where someone junior can point out issues to someone senior without fear of being disciplined or dismissed, can help.

But many companies lack this. I don't know yet if $DAYJOB has sorted these issues. I can confirm from bitter personal experience that my previous FOSS-centric employer suffered badly from them. Of course, some kind of approximate estimate, or incremental progress indicator for each step, is better than nothing. Another answer is to concede that the problem is hard, and display a "throbber" instead: show an animated widget that shows something is happening, but not how far along it is. That's what the Microsoft apps team often does now. Personally, I hate it. It's better than nothing but it conveys no useful information. Doing an accurate estimator based on integral speed tests is also significantly tricky and can slow down the whole operation. Me personally, I'd prefer an indicator that says "stage 6 of 15, copying file 475 of 13,615." I may not know which files are big or small, which stages will be quick or slow... but I can see what it's doing, I can make an approximate estimate in my head, and if it's inaccurate, well, I can blame myself and not the developer. And nobody has to try to work out what percent of an n stage process with o files of p different sizes they're at. That's hard for someone to work out, and it's possible that someone can't tell them a correct number of files or something... so you can get progress bars that go to 87% and then suddenly end, or that go to 106%, or that go to 42% and then sit there for an hour, and then do the rest in 2 seconds. I'm sure we've all seen all of those. I certainly have. #### Why is the hard disk drive C on Windows computers? From a Quora answer. Windows 10 is Windows NT version 10. Windows NT copied the patterns of MS-DOS, because DOS was the dominant OS when NT was launched in 1993. DOS copies its disk assignment methods from Digital Research CP/M, because DOS started out as a copy of CP/M. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CP/M What Microsoft bought was originally called QDOS, Quick and Dirty OS, from Seattle Computer Products. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Computer_Products The way IBM PC-compatibles assign disk drives is copied from the way the IBM PC running PC DOS assigned them. PC DOS is IBM’s brand of MS-DOS. See the answer about Apricot computers for how (some) non-IBM-compatible DOS computers assign drive letters. The way that CP/M and MS-DOS originally assigned drive letters was simple. The drive you booted from was the first, so it was called A. It doesn’t matter what kind of drive. But floppy drives were expensive and hard drives were very expensive, so in the late 1970s when this stuff was standardized, most machines only had a floppy drive or 2. If you only had 1 drive, which was common, then the OS called it both A and B. This is so that you could copy files from one disk to another; otherwise there would be no way. So, you copied from A: to a the virtual drive B: and the OS prompted you to swap disks as necessary. Floppy drives got cheaper, and it became common to have 2. So, the one you booted from was A, and the second drive was B. So far, so simple. If you were rich and added more floppy drives, you got A, B, C, D etc. and if you were lucky enough to have good firmware that let you boot from any of them, the one you booted off was A and the rest were simply enumerated. It is common to read that "certain drive letters are reserved for floppies". This is wrong. Nothing was reserved for anything. If you had a floppy and a hard disk, then if you booted off the floppy, the floppy drive was A and the hard disk was B. If you booted off the hard disk — and early hard disks were often not bootable — then the hard disk became A and the floppy became B. You didn't need the virtual drive thing any more; to copy from one floppy to another, you copy from floppy to hard disk, then swap floppies, then copy back. However, having drives change letter depending on which you booted from was confusing — again, see the Apricot comment — so later firmware started changing this. So, for instance, in the Amstrad PCW range, the last new CP/M computers made, Amstrad hard-wired the drive letters. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amstrad_PCW The first floppy was A. The second, if you had one, was B. And the rest of the machine's RAM aside from the 64 kB that CP/M used was made into a RAMdisk called drive M: "M" for Memory. The IBM PC hard-wired some letters too. Floppy 1, A. Floppy 2, B, even if not there. Partition 1 on hard disk 1, C. Partition 1 on hard disk 2, D. Partitions 2+ on HD #1, E/F etc. Partitions 2+ on HD #2, G/H etc. This was very common as up to and including MS-DOS 3.3, DOS only supported partitions of up to 32 MB. So, for instance, in 1989 I installed an IBM PS/2 Model 80 with a 330MB hard disk as a server running the DOS-based 3Com 3+Share NOS. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3%2BShare It had hard disk partitions lettered C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L and M. (!) DOS has a setting called LASTDRIVE. This tells it how many drive letters to reserve for assignment. Each takes some memory and you only had 640 kB to use, no matter how much was fitted. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conventional_memory The default value for LASTDRIVE is E. Thus, the rival Novell Netware OS used the first drive after that as the "network drive" with the login command and so on: F. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NetWare So, drive letters are not "reserved". They were originally assigned sequentially starting with the boot drive, and then by hardware ID number, and later by that and partition number, according to a slightly complex scheme that several people have linked to. It is a convention that A was the first floppy and C was the first hard disk, and everything else was assigned at boot time. ### Roger Bell_West #### Connections in Death, J. D. Robb 2019 SF/mystery; fifty-ninth (roughly, or 48th novel) of J. D. Robb's In Death series. Lyle had cleaned up and got out of the gang life, and things were starting to look up for him. So when he's found dead of an overdose, Lieutenant Eve Dallas is already suspicious. ### Mike Hughes #### Remote Workers: Why I think WeWork are missing a trick Some of you will be aware I’m a remote worker. My employer’s corporate HQ is in the US, our EMEA HQ is in London, while I’m nominally on a “work from home” contract, where home is in Manchester. I work with an International team, based all over the world. The lease on our London office expired recently, and the company took the decision to move our EMEA HQ into a dedicated private office space in a WeWork building – I’m assuming folk reading this know what a WeWork is, if you don’t, it’s a serviced office, but just not beige throughout. The upsides to being located in a WeWork are pretty good. Modern offices with up-to-date decor, meeting rooms of various sizes, on-site WeWork staff to handle all the faff such as maintenance, cleaning, etc., for you, including a mail-room function so you never have to wait in for a parcel again, and all the fun things more usually associated with massive tech companies and start-ups, such as espresso machines, table football, free beer in the afternoons, etc. The things you might expect at a Corporate HQ location, but now available to people working in the smaller satellite offices too. So much so that we’ve done that with a number of our smaller regional offices of late. So we do put significant business (for us at least) in WeWork’s direction. Because I had access to our old London office, that meant I became a member of the WeWork building we moved into in London. This means in WeWork’s eyes, our London EMEA HQ office is my “home” location. I have 24×7 access there. I need to come and go from there for face-to-face meetings and the like, so that makes sense. All well and good. But you’ll remember, I live in Manchester. As it happens, there are two (soon to be three) WeWork locations in Manchester. I can spend 1 credit (a credit is how WeWork account for additional services, such as booking meeting rooms, and use of non-“home” workspaces) from the company WeWork account to book a “workspace” in one of the Manchester locations for the day, and sometimes I’ll do that, so I don’t go berserk working from home and staring at the same four walls all the time. Yes, outside! People! Conversation! Change of scenery! Free coffee! Free beer! Air-conditioning on sweltering days! Sounds great that I can use my company WeWork membership to get access to the more local facility and get out of the house, doesn’t it? I’ve been trying this for a couple of months, I’ve found there are some downsides: • The “workspace” you get for your WeWork credit is basically a form of guest access to that building’s communal areas. These are areas with the kitchen, barista, coffee machines, foosball tables, ping-pong, background music, and beer. • So, unlike the amenity of your home location – proper desk, proper work chair – for your credit you get access to some sofas, high tops, and if you’re lucky (because it’s location dependent) some desks intended for short term use (i.e. tables and non-adjustable hard chairs). The good spots – with the more comfortable chairs and power outlets – are a) often more “cafe style” and b) coveted, tending to go really quickly. • Also, because you’re in the communal area, you’re basically using the same space that the building’s resident members use for coffee breaks, to eat their lunch, chat, and have informal meetings which means it can get loud. • Finally, because you’re not a regular user, you’re basically left feeling a bit like this rando that’s invading the other peoples’ space. You don’t really feel like you belong. Bluntly, working as a visitor in a WeWork other than your company’s own location is actually not a great work environment if you need to concentrate, or intend on spending any length of time there. It’s fine for short-term getting online, grabbing a coffee, checking emails, and maybe the odd informal meeting or chit-chat, or just a change of scenery – basically the things you might otherwise do in a coffee shop. The other problem is that unlike one’s “home” location, your credit only buys you access while the WeWork location is staffed – 9-6pm. It’s also an “automatic lock-in” – very much like the cult Channel 4 gameshow The Crystal Maze, but far less entertaining when you nip out to the loo and your keycard is automatically deactivated. You’re on one side of the door, while all your stuff is on the other, and now you’re looking for someone to let you back in. This becomes a challenge when you’re working across multiple timezones where conference calls running into the evening – especially in that 4-7pm sweet-spot where the time isn’t hugely anti-social in California, Boston, and the UK – aren’t unusual. Work days just don’t routinely finish at 5.30pm anymore! Now this is where I believe WeWork – as a huge global co-working organisation, with offices all over the place – ought to understand this better, and are missing a trick with remote workers such as myself: people who do need access to their organisation’s corporate office, but at the same time may have a WeWork closer to their home location that they might like to use once or twice a week, and somewhere they feel they have a connection with. Indeed, WeWork consider their “Global Network” as one of their upselling points, but the way it’s organised at the moment, each individual location feels like a separate “franchise” of WeWork. My opinion is this is where the Global Network falls down. What would I propose they offer people such as myself? • The ability to nominate a “secondary location” – this would be your choice of WeWork closest to your home, space permitting – at which you have 24×7 walk-in privileges, other benefits as though it’s your home location, and access to the communal areas (effectively this is an “add-on” Hot Desk membership at the chosen secondary location). • The ability to book a “proper” desk in an open plan area or small (1/2 person) office at your nominated secondary location on a day-to-day basis using credits – effectively the same as you can book workspaces or meeting rooms now, except it’s at an actual desk, with an actual work chair. Yes, I propose that WeWork deliberately hold back a handful of small offices and open plan desks in each location, and set them aside for upgraded hot-desking. How many credits would a desk cost? The cost of a UK WeWork credit is £20 (I know it’s$25 in the US).

Most co-working spots I know of that offer an “occasional user” membership (i.e. aimed at 5 days a month, but not religiously policed, could be 8-10 half-days) will charge around £100-120+vat a month, but for that you do get a proper desk with a proper chair, and you’re not working out of a sofa or from a high-top in a corridor all day.

At WeWork, the closest thing that gets you a proper desk is a Dedicated Desk plan, and those currently run to £330/month in Manchester, they are more expensive in other locations. If you assume 22 days per average work month, it’s £15/day. (Or 261 work days in 2019, so 330×12/261 = 15.17)

So let’s say that 0.5 credit will get a “secondary member” a proper desk in the open plan office area for the day. Remember, your organisation is already paying WeWork a small fortune back at “home base”, so why shouldn’t they get a good deal in the other branches?

What about a private office? In Manchester these start from £460/month, depending on which building.

I’d suggest private offices are offered from 1 credit per seat for the day in cheaper buildings and maybe 2 credits for the busier and more expensive cities and buildings with higher demand.

I know I could technically book a small meeting room, but again these aren’t intended for you to get dug-in for a full day’s work. They are designed around being comfortable for relatively short periods of time, and encourage turnover so other WeWork members can use them. Plus, using them during peak hours chews through credits.

So that’s where I think WeWork are dropping the ball the most, at least for annoying people like me with non-conventional work locations and patterns.

I’ve not even gone into detail here about their online systems and app, through which you do have access to their “Global Network”. Despite the growth of WeWork, it’s still centred around the assumption that you’re really only interested in and attached to one building (and therefore one WeWork “community”) at a time – which enhances the feeling of being a bit of a rando if you’re in a WeWork other than your “home”, or if you change to follow your “secondary” location means you become disconnected from your Company’s main base.

As ever, please leave a comment, or tweet me with your thoughts: Are you a remote or nomadic worker that occasionally needs a good bolt-hole? Are you disappointed by the WeWork “global” offering? Are you aware of some “secret menu” of WeWork membership that does exist and will actually do what I’m looking for?

## February 26, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Final Girls

2015 horror comedy, dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson, Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman: IMDb / allmovie. Max misses her mother Amanda, who died in a car crash having never transcended her role in Camp Bloodbath, a schlock horror film of the 1980s. After an anniversary screening goes wrong, Max and some friends find themselves living, and dying, in the world of that film.

## February 25, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Dudley Bug Ball 2019

I often heard about this RPG convention when it was running some years ago, but it stopped before I got round to attending. The organisers have started it again, so I went along to find out more.

## February 24, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### 3-gatsu no Lion season 1

2016-2017 seinen manga adaptation in 22 episodes: AniDB, vt "March Comes in Like a Lion". Kiriyama Rei is a young professional shōgi player, but is profoundly lonely.

## February 23, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Clarkesworld 149, February 2019

Clarkesworld is a monthly on-line magazine edited by Neil Clarke.

## February 22, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 18 February 2019

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

## February 21, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Apex 116, January 2019

Apex is a monthly on-line magazine edited by Jason Sizemore among others.

## February 20, 2019

### Zoe O'Connell

#### On TIG: A letter to Vince Cable

Following his comments earlier today, I’ve just fired off the letter below to Vince Cable. I think it speaks for itself.

Dear Vince,

I would like to express my concern regarding comments made by you today regarding possible alliances with The Independent Group, especially comments made this afternoon on the BBC that the group “shares many of our values”.

The very first line of their values talks about the first duty of government being “to do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security”, a clear dog-whistle anti-civil-liberties and anti-immigration statement.

Its members now includes people such as Joan Ryan, (Founding director of “Labour No to AV” and one of ministers responsible for ID cards) Chuka Umunna, (Staunch opponent of free movement) Mike Gapes (Pro-Iraq war, even post-Chilcot) and Gavin Shuker who has, at best, questionable views on LGBT equality.

These are publicly expressed views of those MPs, not merely a few votes where they have been whipped to follow the party line despite personal reservations.

There are indeed some members of TIG who appear to share our values. That includes Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston, who might not just make great allies but might well be at home within our party. And I would certainly encourage working with other MPs on an issue-by-issue basis, for example, to revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit.

However, neither a suggestion they “share our values” as a group nor any national alliance with TIG as a whole at the ballot box will further the cause of liberalism in this country.

The post On TIG: A letter to Vince Cable appeared first on Complicity.

### Roger Bell_West

#### Human Punishment

Human Punishment is a social deduction game designed by Stefan Godot.

## February 19, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Gladstone Bag, Charlotte MacLeod

1990 cozy American detective fiction; ninth of MacLeod's novels of Boston Brahmin Sarah Kelling and art investigator Max Bittersohn. Sarah's Aunt Emma steps in for an ailing friend to play hostess on a private island off the Maine coast, to a party of treasure-hunters who may also harbour criminals.

## February 18, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### Raven Black, Anne Cleeves

2006 mystery; first in Cleeves' Shetland Island series. In a village near Lerwick, two schoolgirls visit the local mad old man, on a bet. Five days later, one of them is dead. The old man was blamed, though not convicted, when a young girl vanished eight years ago and was never found, so everyone assumes he's done it again; Inspector Jimmy Perez tries to move beyond the automatic assumption of guilt and find out what's really happened this time.

## February 17, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### How I saved 2.2 terabytes by disabling compression

As part of the procedure for making sure a large set of work-related data remains intact and recoverable, I keep backups at home.

## February 16, 2019

### Jonathan Dowland

I'm a fan of the concept of Literate Programming (I explored it a little in my Undergraduate Dissertation a long time ago) which can be briefly (if inadequately) summarised as follows: the normal convention for computer code is by default the text within a source file is considered to be code; comments (or, human-oriented documentation) are exceptional and must be demarked in some way (such as via a special symbol). Literate Programming (amongst other things) inverts this. By default, the text in a source file is treated as comments and ignored by the compiler, code must be specially delimited.

Haskell has built-in support for this scheme: by naming your source code files .lhs, you can make use of one of two conventions for demarking source code: either prefix each source code line with a chevron (called Bird-style, after Richard Bird), or wrap code sections in a pair of delimiters \begin{code} and \end{code} (TeX-style, because it facilitates embedding Haskell into a TeX-formatted document).

For various convoluted reasons I wanted to embed Haskell into an AsciiDoc-formatted document and I couldn't use Bird-style literate Haskell, which would be my preference. The AsciiDoc delimiter for a section of code is a line of dash symbols, which can be interleaved with the TeX-style delimiters:

------------
\begin{code}
next a = if a == maxBound then minBound else succ a
\end{code}
------------


Unfortunately the Tex-style delimiters show up in the output once the AsciiDoc is processed. Luckily, we can swap the order of the AsciiDoc and Literate-Haskell delimiters, because the AsciiDoc ones are treated as a source-code comment by Haskell and ignored. This moves the visible TeX-style delimiters out of the code block, which is a minor improvement:

\begin{code}
------------
next a = if a == maxBound then minBound else succ a
------------
\end{code}


We can disguise the delimiters outside of the code block further by defining an empty AsciiDoc macro called "code". Macros are marked up with surrounding braces, leaving just stray \begin and \end tokens in the text. Towards the top of the AsciiDoc file, in the pre-amble:

= Document title
Document author
:code:


This could probably be further improved by some AsciiDoc markup to change the style of the text outside of the code block immediately prior to the \begin token (perhaps make the font 0pt or the text colour the same as the background colour) but this is legible enough for me, for now.

The resulting file can be fed to an AsciiDoc processor (like asciidoctor, or intepreted by GitHub's built-in AsciiDoc formatter) and to a Haskell compiler. Unfortunately GitHub insists on a .adoc extension to interpret the file as AsciiDoc; GHC insists on a .lhs extension to interpret it as Literate Haskell (who said extensions were semantically meaningless these days…). So I commit the file as .adoc for GitHub's benefit and maintain a local symlink with a .lhs extension for my own.

Finally, I am not interested in including some of the Haskell code in my document that I need to include in the file in order for it to work as Haskell source. This can be achieved by changing from the code delimiter to AsciiDoc comment delimeters on the outside:

////////////
\begin{code}
utilityFunction = "necessary but not interesting for the document"
\end{code}
////////////


You can see an example of a combined AsciiDoc-Haskell file here (which is otherwise a work in progress):

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Machine's Child, Kage Baker

2006 science fiction, seventh of The Company series. Alec Checkerfield forges ahead with his plan to rescue the Botanist Mendoza and take on the might of Dr Zeus and the Company. But he's not entirely himself, because his two past lives are sharing residence of his mind and body…

## February 15, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

2014 Australian zombie horror, dir. Kiah Roache-Turner, Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradley: IMDb / allmovie. vt Wyrmwood. After a night of shooting stars, most people seem to have turned into zombies; Barry sets out to rescue his sister Brooke. But the military seem to know more than they're saying. vt Wyrmwood.

## February 14, 2019

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Last Good Man, Linda Nagata

2017 military SF. In the near future, pilots have been made obsolete by a wide variety of drones, but there's still plenty of employment for soldiers as private military companies fill the gaps left by failing states. Former pilot True Brighton works for one of the "good" PMCs, but information picked up on a mission suggests that there's more to the death of her son than she'd thought…

## February 13, 2019

### Jonathan Dowland

#### My first FOSDEM

FOSDEM 2019 was my first FOSDEM. My work reason to attend was to meet many of my new team-mates from the Red Hat OpenJDK team, as well as people from the wider OpenJDK community, and learn a bit about what people are up to. I spent most of the first day entirely in the Free Java room, which was consistently over-full. On Monday I attended an OpenJDK Committer's meeting hosted by Oracle (despite not — yet — being an OpenJDK source contributor… soon!)

A sides from work and Java, I thought this would be a great opportunity to catch up with various friends from the Debian community. I didn't do quite as well as I hoped! By coincidence, I sat on a train next to Ben Hutchings On Friday, I tried to meet up with Steve McIntyre and others (I spotted at least Neil Williams and half a dozen others) for dinner, but alas the restaurant had (literally) nothing on the menu for vegetarians, so I waved and said hello for a mere 5 minutes before moving on.

On Saturday I bumped into Thomas Goirand (who sports a fantastic Debian Swirl umbrella) with whom I was not yet acquainted. I'm fairly sure I saw Mark Brown from across a room but didn't manage to say hello. I also managed a brief hello with Nattie Hutchings who was volunteering at one of the FOSDEM booths. I missed all the talks given by Debian people, including Karen Sandler, Molly De Blanc, irl, Steinar, Samuel Thibault.

Sunday was a little more successful: I did manage to shake Enrico's hand briefly in the queue for tea, and chat with Paul Sladen for all of 5 minutes. I think I bumped into Karen after FOSDEM in the street near my hotel whilst our respective groups searched for somewhere to eat dinner, but I didn't introduce myself. Finally I met Matthias Klose on Monday.

Quite apart from Debian people, I also failed to meet some Red Hat colleagues and fellow PhD students from Newcastle University who were in attendance, as well as several people from other social networks to which I'd hoped to say hello.

FOSDEM is a gigantic, unique conference, and there are definitely some more successful strategies for getting the most out of it. If I were to go again, I'd be more relaxed about seeing the talks I wanted to in real-time (although I didn't have unrealistic expectations about that for this one); I'd collect more freebie stickers (not for me, but for my daughter!); and I'd try much harder to pre-arrange social get-togethers with friends from various F/OSS communities for the "corridor track" as well as dinners and such around the edges. Things that worked: my tea flask was very handy, and using a lightweight messenger bag instead of my normal backpack made getting in and out of places much easier; things that didn't: I expected it to be much colder than it turned out to be, and wore my warmest jumper, which meant I was hot a lot of the time and had to stuff it (+bulky winter gloves and hat) into aformentioned messenger bag; bringing my own stash of tea bags and a large chocolate tear-and-share brioche for the hotel; in general I over-packed, although that wasn't a problem for the conference itself, just travelling to/from Brussels. I did manage to use the hotel swimming pool once, but it was generally a trade-off between swim or sleep for another 30 minutes.

I've written nothing at all about the talks themselves, yet, perhaps I'll do so in another post.

### Roger Bell_West

#### The Dark Times 4

The Dark Times, edited by Lee Williams, is a fanzine that follows on from Demonground and Protodimension in dealing with "the horror-conspiracy-weirdness gaming genres", beginning with Dark Conspiracy and drifting into nearby areas.