Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Quick Hallowe'en Poem

When I was a boy
I strongly believed
That the witches came out
On All Hallows Eve
And they kidnapped the kids
and tormented the old
and their black cats would wander
the streets, scare the old
The witches on broomsticks
The ghosts in the trees
The black cats would bite
and would scratch and spread flees
and terror befell
those who did not believe
that the witches came out on all hallows eve
but now I am older
I know more of what should
and should not be believed
of what lives in the wood
I know witches can't fly
on a stick made of broom
I know zombies and vampires
will stay in their tombs
But there is one thing that still
with horror you might meet
A spotty young kid that will yell
"Trick or Treat"

Monday, 23 September 2013

Electoral reform

With the onset of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, politics has become more popular than in any time in history. That's not to say that politics hasn't always been popular, but with the onset of social media, information about the governments of the world and the political subjects that they debate has become much more widely available. Online protests are commonplace in the western world and are becoming far more common in countries where the citizens have much more of a need to protest. Politicians and the people they associate with are under the microscope twenty-four-seven. It is for this reason that the ways of the old politicians are starting to become see-through.

There was a time when politicians, when running for office, would be able to be forward only about the issues that they thought would win them votes, only to go back on their promises the second they got into power. Although this practice is still used by many MPs, the Camerons and Millibands of this world, their lies and half truths no longer go unnoticed as there are millions of people with an opinion and an electronic voice with which to express it.

A few weeks ago, Australia elected a new Prime Minister amidst a flurry of faked photo opportunities, and in-house goading, and it was at this time that I started thinking that the political system as it is has surely run its course. I started thinking as to how a modern political system could work in a modern world where everybody is connected online, and I came up with the following.

First and foremost, those very high up in the political structure would be replaced by a team of administration personnel, and analysts from all social, economic and legal fields. The analysts would be required to debate which new laws should be proposed, and which old laws should be revised or simply scrapped. They would themselves be able to propose new laws, but many of the laws would come from public pressure in the same way that online petitions can currently be presented in parliament. However, this group of people would not have the power to actually pass any of these laws, only to propose a vote by the public.

A new law that the analysts are proposing would be made public for anybody to read, and a date on which the public would vote will be set. At this time, the local councils take over. A local debate would be held whereby representatives from each political party would be required to explain the proposed legal changes to the people living in their constituency. Each of the representatives would take it in turns to read their speech and explain what impact the change would have to the people within the constituency. Then, once all of the representatives have had their say, they will be given a right of reply, and allowed to answer any direct questions from members of the public that are in attendance. Once all is said and done, the public in attendance would be given a certain amount of time to ponder the issue, and then to vote not for a specific party, but a simple yes or no based on the information that has been provided to them during the debate. There would also be the option to cast a vote of revision whereby the law would be reproposed with amendments suggested by the public.

As an example, let's say that the analysts propose the legalisation of class A drugs countrywide. Some of the topics up for debate may include the health cost of making drugs widely available, the tax levy on the drugs and what that would bring to the economy, and the lower crime rate expected if the drugs were made legal. If 90% of the public were to vote no, then the law would not be passed, and the drugs would stay illegal. If 70% of the public were to vote yes, the law would be passed, and drugs would be decriminalised. If the vote were as close as 60-40, then the law would go back to the analysts as a reproposal as the country cannot decide for definite either way.

Key to this would be that only those in attendance of the debates would be able to vote on any given law as they are deemed to be the only ones with all of the facts. For national debates, the debates could be held online, but would require some advanced security to make sure there is no fiddling of the figures and people are really who they say they are when they login.

Once all of the votes have been counted, the analyst/administration team would pass the law or not, depending on the outcome of the vote.

What do you think? Democracy in action, or the ramblings of a political idiot? Leave your comments below

Friday, 6 September 2013

A great way to stop junk mail

The other day, upon returning home from work, my girlfriend opened our mail box to find several items laying in wait for us. As a change to the usual bills and bank statements which usually fill our mail box, many of these items appeared to be religious material.

Now, our mailbox has a sticker on its face which clearly states that no junk mail (which I consider unaddressed religious materials to be) should be delivered to our address. Slightly perplexed as to how the material was still getting through, I decided to write an email to Australia Post to find out if there is anything further that we can do to stop receiving the unaddressed items. Their response, the reason for this post, was brilliant and genuinely put a smile on my face despite the ludicrousness of their suggestion.

Subject: Unaddressed mail
Dear Sir or Madam
I would like to make an enquiry about how to stop junk mail at my address. I have a "No Junk Mail" notice on my letterbox, but I still get unaddressed mail from certain organisations including religious organisations.
Any information on how to stop this junk mail would be much appreciated
Thank you

Subject: Re: Unaddressed mail
Dear Darren
Thank you for taking the time to contact us about the delivery of unwanted mail at your address.
By placing a "No Junk Mail" or "Addressed Mail Only" sign or sticker on your letter box indicates that you don't wish to receive catalogues and other unaddressed mail items. Our postal delivery officers are instructed not to deliver unaddressed mail to letterboxes with this signage.
Material deemed to be political, educational, religious or charitable is exempt from "No Junk Mail" signed letter boxes according to standards developed by the Australian Catalogue Association.
To avoid receiving such items in future, you would need to remove your letter box from the property, however this means that your mail cannot be delivered by Australia Post and instead returned to its senders.
I hope that this information has clarified the matter and been of some assistance. Please let me know if you have any further questions. I'm sorry that I haven't been able to help you further.
Australia Post Online Services Consultant

Yes, well I suppose getting rid of my letterbox would stop unwanted mail!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Technology is not always a time saver

I know that I probably shouldn't say this as a computer programmer, but sometimes computers infuriate me, and I long for the simpler times from my youth. instead of making life easier, it just feels like the job of the computer is to add unnecessary discomfort to those things which used to be so much easier.

As an example, I compare my old music listening habits to the debacle that happened this morning.
A long time ago, when I was much younger than I am today (because, they tell me, that's how the aging process works) I would get up in the morning and decide that there was a specific album that I wanted to listen to that day. I would rush over to my cassette real, grab the album from the alphabetised holder, put the tape into my Walkman (actually it wasn't a Walkman, it was a cheap knock off from one of those Japanese companies that nobody's ever heard of like Tech Tac Toe or something), strap on the headphones and I was good to go.

Compare that to this mornings effort of setting up my iPod. First, I had to get my laptop out. Having a UK laptop but living in Australia meant that I also had to find one of the few adapter cables that I have in the house. Adapter found, and cable plugged in, the laptop start booting. It's a Windows 7 laptop, seemingly designed to allow me to make a cup of tea in the time it takes to boot, but I've had my full already this morning. I walked over to my router and switched on the hard drive that's attached to it that stores all of the music and movies that we have.

When I returned to my laptop, there was a popup message informing me that the once brilliant but now spamtastic Real Player wanted me to read some advertisements. Short of time, I cleared the message, making a mental note to switch off Internet access on that application later.

Next, I needed to setup the network drive so I could find the music that I wanted on my hard drive. I don't keep the connection stored as I don't leave the hard drive on all the time, and it doesn't take more than five seconds to set up. Usually! However, in the time it had taken for my laptop to boot up, the hard drive had got bored and decided to go into standby. As yet, I have not figured out why the hard drive does this when it is connected to the modem. Nor have I figured out how to wake it up through the router. The only way I have figured out to bring it back to life is to walk over to the router, and unplug then replug the hard drive.

Finally, I have access, to the hard drive. Now to open iTunes. I clicked the button to start the programme and after about 15 seconds or so of my laptop whirring away, the screen flickered and iTunes appeared. A few seconds later, a popup appeared saying that iTunes needed to update (even though I updated it less than a week ago!). No way, I don't have time. Cancel. Yes, I'm sure. Yes, you can remind me later. Leave me alone, damnit!
Finally, it's time to plug in the iPod. Now where's that cable? I plugged the iPod in, let iTunes detect it and now I am ready to start copying the music over. This should just be a drag and drop onto the iPod area of the iTunes window. I start dragging, but once I get to dropping the music into iTunes, the program begins to hang, leaving me with a slightly grey screen and a tooltip next to where my mouse used to be that says "link". From experience, I know it is best to just leave the mouse where it is for at least a few seconds, otherwise the original folder window will reappear, the drop will happen, and the copied music will be duplicated into the original folder.

Eventually, iTunes woke up, and started copying the music over to the hard drive. By this time, I was really running out of time, having spent the best part of half an hour trying to copy the music.

At last, I have the music on the iPod, and can head out to work. The irony is that, by this time, I had no desire to listen to the nice, quiet music that I had copied over anymore. I was now in the mood for something a little more angry, which I already have on there!

Technology exists to simplify our lives. I can't help thinking that sometimes it doesn't work!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas Gives You Wings

It's that time of year again, the silly season! The office I am currently working in has a competition every year for the department with the best Christmas decorations and this year, one of the departments has gone all out and created something truly brilliant. Each year, there is a theme to the decorations. This year, the powers that be have decided that the decorations should be original, and make good use of recycled materials.

Being developers, a few of the people in the office have a craving for a certain caffeine based product (after all, a developer is simply a machine that turns caffeine into code!), and over the course of the year have managed to keep all of their discarded cans of Red Bull. Once the competition was announced, they decided that they could make use of the cans (which were, at the time, erected as a tower in the corner of the office) by using them as the theme for the Christmas decorations. The results, it has to be said, are astounding!

Underneath the Christmas tree, there is a Red Bull train. The thing I love most about this is that the guys have used the ring pulls from the cans as a track around the tree. The cotton wool as smoke is a nice touch too!

The area in it's full glory. Notice that the Christmas hat that Glenn is wearing is also "decorated" with a Red Bull can

Red bull cans as Christmas tree decorations

Not quite enough cans to spell "Christmas"!

Red Bull as a Christmas present

Merry Christmas, everybody

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A quick post on Lance Armstrong

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading with some interest about Lance Armstrongs ever accelerating fall from grace. Outside of the Olympics, I don't really follow cycling that much, but I have been interested more in the medias coverage of the allegations, and the effects it has had on any organisation that Lance Armstrong has ever worked with.

Now, it seems to me that, although difficult to discern if you go by the media coverage, Lance Armstrong has not actually been found guilty of anything. It is fair to say that he is not contesting the latest findings, but he has never said he is guilty of anything, in fact, he maintains his innocence.

Lance Armstrong has been, for many years now, one of the most tested men in sport. He has had allegation after allegation thrown at him in what he refers to as "an unconstitutional witch hunt". Up to now, none of the allegations have ever stuck, the cases have always been withdrawn or successfully contested. With these latest allegations, Armstrong has simply decided to not fight, saying "There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough.'" This, in itself, is not an admission of guilt, more a plea to let him get on with the rest of his life. This is what the press and seemingly countless organisations have drawn on and have used as an excuse to metaphorically burn him at the stake.

Compare this to the treatment given to Michael Jackson. Michael has been accused many times of child abuse, but nothing has ever been proved. The reason many of the cases were never proved is not that Jackson contested the cases. Instead, many of his accusers were paid off in out of court settlements for undisclosed amounts of money. Jacksons paying off of his accusers speaks much louder than Armstrongs unwillingness to contest, and yet Jackson is still believed innocent by many people (not me, I have to admit!)

It's a funny world we live in! And I use that word quite wrongly!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A very quick recipe

Just got home from the gym and need something quick and simple for dinner? I picked up a great recipe the other day that was suggested to Chris Addison by Rebecca Front and repeated during an interview on the BBC Radio 4 programme Chain Reaction. It's very simple, and should only take about ten minutes (depending on how well done you want the pasta)

Olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Fresh basil
Parmesan (optional)

Cook the spaghetti
While the spaghetti is cooking, juice the lemon.
Mix the lemon juice with olive oil in roughly the quantities used for a vinaigrette (three parts oil to one part lemon) using a hand whisk or a food mixer if you have one
Once the pasta is cooked, drain it, then pop it back in the pan and pour the lemon and oil mix onto it. Stir it a little and then drain it again.
Put the pasta on a plate, and sprinkle with the roughly chopped basil
Crack some black pepper over the top and, optionally, throw a handful of Parmesan on there.

Additional Tips
To get more juice out of the lemon, roll it under hand on the kitchen counter. Put enough pressure on it to slightly squeeze it, but not break the skin. Pop it in the microwave for around ten to fifteen seconds. Roll it on the counter again and then juice it (courtesy of my girlfriend)

When cooking spaghetti, add some oil to the water and then, when adding the spaghetti, put it through the oil. This will stop the spaghetti becoming too sticky

Have you tried this recipe? Have any more great ideas for quick meals? Let me know in the comments section below