Freesteel Blog » Whipping

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 at 11:55 am - - Whipping 1 Comment »


The Green Party Spring Conference was held in St Georges Hall at the weekend. I didn’t take any photos except for this one of Jean Lambert MEP.

International governance is a serious issue with major consequences. It doesn’t help that the British public enjoy electing clowns from UKIP and the BNP to these positions where they don’t even pretend to do any work. Politics is not a sports show, like the football league. This stuff matters. And it is logical.

This morning there were two politicians debating on the radio news program: LibDem MP Martin Horwood and UKIP Leader Nigel Farage squabbling about immigration, and tripping over themselves to praise the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty being secretly negotiated between the EU and the US. Horwood asserted, without any evidence, that this deal would “eventually help to create millions of British jobs”, while Farage said that if we were out of Europe we could sign this deal much faster than allowing Europe to do it.

Farage argues for Britain to get out of Europe on the basis that it gives us greater national sovereignty and control over our own laws — something which is flatly undermined by these trade deals whose sole purpose is to establish the supremacy of corporate rights over people’s rights, and where there will be no Parliament to over-see its operation.
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Thursday, December 19th, 2013 at 12:29 pm - - Whipping

kilk4

It was getting rather full of electronic accretions that kept me awake at night. The server disks had been moved four years ago with everything left intact. It would have been easier to have renewed it another year, but I decided that it’s best to do this sort of spring cleaning when things were quiet.

Back when you had to buy computing resources by the barrel, you had to throw a big on-going party to use up all the resources. But nowadays you can buy it by the glass, which means each project can go into a separate container, which makes each one cleaner and easier to retire. It’s a nightmare when they are all in the same box and start depending on each other in unpredictable ways. The apache httpconfig file in there was a disaster area.

So many projects get started. And so many lie around half finished.

Here’s the Eulogy.

@symroe: @frabcus you’re killing seagrass??
@frabcus: Eulogy #1: Ah http://seagrass.goatchurch.org.uk/ it was nice sysadmining you all these last 8 years.
@frabcus: Eulogy #2: You did so much – in the early days running codeabode (a version control hosting thing with @rufuspollock) and
@frabcus: Eulogy #3: and parlparse (powers @theyworkforyou, @publicwhip) while it looked like @dodspeople might support it, and so many years since
@symroe: @frabcus just logged in to seagrass (for the last time), and found a copy of ‘MP fight!’ in my home directory!
@frabcus: Eulogy #4: For a while you were popular: with caving software and blogs and SaveParliament and Think Twice conference
@philipjohn: @frabcus Yay Save Parliament #memories
@frabcus: Eulogy #5: Changing the world around you with the move of ethereal bits in the electric dark of a new information age
@frabcus: Eulogy #6: Later you were the first place to have direct links to United Nations documents (UNDemocracy) and crowd-sourced election leaflets
@frabcus: Eulogy #7: All the while, tirelessly helping millions find out how their MPs voted, with PublicWhip and its @theyworkforyou feeding API
@symroe: @frabcus you missed out the first scraperwiki on seagrass!
@frabcus: Eulogy #8: Your hardware changed, you moved to Manchester. Yet stil your heart was the same, your systems Debian stable, your RAID monitored
@frabcus: Eulogy #9: In your twilight years all gradually left. Abstraction, commodification, the cloud in the real sense of IaaS. And your services
@kindofwater: @frabcus Thought about how we now just delete servers in the cloud. They have no personality. Total immateriality.
@kindofwater: @frabcus When I used to work at the University of Kent we turned off an ancient Sun server with similar ceremony.
@frabcus: Eulogy #10: Gradually left early adopter – either dieing, or entering mainstream to grown up servers.
@frabcus: Eulogy #11: And now finally, your paymaster sees no point in your bills. The energy of controlling you dispersed. You must go.
@frabcus: Eulogy #12: Put down like an old cat, when really you are at the prime of life. Your vhosts gradually erased, email directed from you.
@frabcus: Eulogy #13: The clock ticking on the last DNS entry pointing to your port.
@londonlime: @frabcus this one made me well up! :(
@frabcus: Eulogy #14: Ah seagrass, times were good. To the server afterlife – reformatted and reincarnated, like an @Mythic_Beasts you will rise again
@Floppy: @frabcus I’m humbled to be part of that story. It was truly a hero among servers. #seagrass

Monday, December 16th, 2013 at 11:53 am - - Whipping

More important than charity work (aka filling in for the failures of political governance), there’s volunteer work for the electoral system. For some reason society believes that the business of placing options on the ballot sheet and publicizing what they mean is not something that needs to be done systematically and professionally, like, say, collecting the garbage.

So here we are at 6am on the morning of Thursday 5 December collecting our batches of get out the vote leaflets from the Green Party candidate who has been working this city council Riverside Ward for years.

Here’s the leaflet:

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Saturday, November 16th, 2013 at 11:50 am - - Machining, Whipping

A lot’s been going on in the world. It’s out of my hands. I don’t know anything or have any influence over it, so what I say shouldn’t matter. Very sensitive. Yadda yadda. Got to watch out because it’s publicly listed companies and there’s shares and high-stakes gambling and all that money stuff.

Funnily enough, private non-listed companies that do not have any jittery share-holders or regulations to worry about are even more extremely secretive about their businesses. I wonder if they bother to invent positive and vaguely plausible excuses for their secrecy when there is apparently no commercial reason for it.

Secrecy is actually about power in all frames. This is the week that the TPP trade agreement got leaked. The text outlines a vast expansion of no-strings-attached corporate monopolies (aka “Intellectual Property”) in all sectors of the economy — policies that have been soundly and democratically rejected in the past. There’s no reason to keep that stuff secret, except in order to facilitate a plan to ram it through into law in an instant as a shock to the system in an opportune moment.

Not sure why I’m talking about that. I wanted to talk about food.

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Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 at 6:02 pm - - Whipping

We hit the culture night last Friday on our approximately annual working visit to Copenhagen. With only a program in Danish to guide us, it was a bit hit and miss. Mostly miss. One thing that was a hit was an exhibit in a back room of the design museum where we said hello to lots of different materials.

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Thursday, July 18th, 2013 at 12:04 pm - - Whipping

The project for bringing forward the final date of human extinction remains on track.

We seem to be doing pretty well with our global engineering project to move as much as we can of the deeply buried fossil carbon into the atmosphere as quickly as possible.

But how are we doing with that other threat to the species: nuclear annihilation? Last night there was a Parliamentary debate. I am happy to report that Great Britain intends to maintain its responsibility for ensuring that this continues to be a potential outcome.
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Thursday, May 9th, 2013 at 1:57 pm - - FOI

In their new executive-summary-style webpages, the UK Government sets out its case that it is fulfilling its side of the deal that allows them to remain a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty wherein they promised to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
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Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 at 12:37 am - - Whipping 1 Comment »

I remember the old days of awesomely crap government IT projects procured for billions of pounds that always failed after going three times over budget, then got covered up along with their contractually obligated fail-safe profits for the corrupt IT consultants — who then repeated the process having successfully claimed that anyone who said it could be done any other way was beardy hippy whom you should take no notice of. Funny how the stereotype of a computer expert was usually a beardy hippy.

I once blogged about this conversation from the Select Committee on Public Administration in 2005.

Mr Liddell-Grainger: The Government set up a project called True North… Does anybody know what it did? The Cabinet Office gave the okay to £83 million to set up a project called True North, which was to paper sleeve a deal with Government. It has gone somewhat wrong. The only reason we came across it was because the company sued the Government for £24 million, saying that they were plonkers and they did not know what they were doing… Do you think it is farcical that we have got to the stage where you cannot get papers, we cannot get papers? The Government are covering up projects that have gone wrong to the tune of £83 million —- and that has been a snip compared to some of the things they have messed up. Are we just getting to the stage where this whole thing is becoming a farce?

…It does not seem to work. You have portals everywhere; you have websites; you can go in one way, another way. How on earth we are going to have an ID card system that is going to work, if the Government itself at the highest level cannot even get a project right?

…Who should be in charge of this? Do you know what the total assets of the Cabinet Office’s computer resources are? £122 million. That is more than the asset value of all the buildings they have in Whitehall, believe it or not. We cannot find out what they are. Do you have any bright ideas? Why has the Cabinet Office got £122 million worth of computer assets? They wrote off £52 million last year in depreciation. Either there is an awful lot going on that you do not know about and I do not know about and we do not know about, or one heck of a mess has happened and we are not sure whether it has or has not.

Mr Collins: Again, it is hard to get information. There is usually quite prolific documentation in the early stages of the project about its benefits but they do not publish result implementations. There are some examples. The DWP is probably one of the biggest. They announced to Parliament that their modernisation/computerisation of benefits would cost, I think, £713 million and would save 20,000 jobs, but at the last count it was £2.6 billion and the number of staff involved had increased. There is a magistrates’ court system called Libra, which was announced as being a £140 million project. At the last count that was £390 million. But it is hard to get information on costs, because they revise contracts.

So, what’s going on now in this same Cabinet Office?

Well, the money finally ran out, and the expensive do-nothing consultants could no longer be afforded, leaving no option but to hire the programmers directly and take on board their profit-reducing rationalizations related to actually getting stuff done.

And now there is code, visible, being produced, that you can see does something.

The URLs are all pretty cool. That’s the front doormat of any website. Go check out their blog and be amazed.

Here’s my favourite bit:

What we learned

…We also learnt about the benefits of agile software development – starting small, getting user feedback early and iterating fast based on evidence of real need.

To give a small example of a possible many: before the beta several of us thought a WYSIWYG text editing interface would be essential for departments to format their content. But by building working software and unleashing it early we discovered that editors quickly came to like the simplicity of markdown and, a year on, more than a hundred people around Whitehall are happily using it. Developing something more complex would have been a waste of time.

I’ve often had arguments with dogmatists who think that programmers and users are separate classes of people whom it is desirable to prevent comingling. However, this last statement cannot be true. Nobody develops complex WYSIWYG editors any more when there are enough of them out there that you can install for free. Someone must have been far-sighted enough to keep that type of rot out.

The real reason to shun WYSIWYG editors in favour of markdown technology (like the kind you find in Wikipedia) is that (a) they obstruct touch typing and other performance improvements that come with practice, and (b) they are fundamentally incompatible with end user computing, which is where the real enhancements are going to take place.

is twofold: (a) Their human performance is slow

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 at 12:08 am - - Whipping 2 Comments »

Somehow fate has led me to spend the night of the 2012 USA election in some crappy hotel on in the centre of Birmingham airport, rather than at an all night election party (not that I could find any). The £1 I just spent at the desk for a spare toothbrush was the best thing all day. I was drafted to be on the ScraperWiki stand at the EHI trade show today and tomorrow where I can witness the closed-source profitably defective UK health IT industry in its full self-sustaining glory, and be denied the free lunch because I only have an exhibitor’s pass. Humph! I’m not coming here again.

So the election is going to be close. Between the Bradley effect and the stolen votes (a corruption for they have worked so hard on for so many years) it can still credibly be won by Romney, who shouldn’t be scoring more than 10% if people voted according to their actual self-interests. You have to look on the bright side: eventually they will cut taxes so far they will be forced to rationalize the size of their military. Nothing else is going to do it — and war is the institution we invented taxes for.

Here is a scan of an absentee ballot, just to show what kind of choice is available to New Jerseyans.

I’ll wake up in the morning at some point, spend another day baffled, get home in time to play octopush, and fit in some real work after that

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 at 11:55 am - - Whipping

The UK universities are currently tearing themselves apart with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in a dog-eat-dog competition for positional prestige and percentage share of the fixed-sum cash grant. The process involves submitting the names of selected academics and their four choice papers to panels of professors for the purpose of ranking excellence and impact. The impact of a paper was to be objectively measured by counting the number of other papers that cited the chosen paper.

Now, no wise person would have embarked upon the mission to design such a process without immediate and first line reference to the well-known Goodhart’s Law:

Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes [eg distributing money].

The law has two consequences: (1) The outcome will, over a brief time interval, cease to measure what it is intended to measure, and (2) the process of collapse can result in a great deal of collateral damage.

What sort of damage? Distortions of the scientific process. Numerous and unnecessary citations between publications that are often gratuitous. Many minimal scrappy papers rather than fewer complete and well-rounded ones when the numbers count. The submission of papers to inappropriate journals of higher ranking instead of to the specialist publications where they belong.

All of this activity drains people’s precious time and degrades the quality of the output.

And beyond this there is the more corrosive moral damage, the internal institutional jockeying for positions among the researchers who are selected by their superiors to have their names put forward. Those not in the list can be discarded, sidelined, harassed and generally disposed of as though their presence is of no material consequence to the outcome score.

Luckily, the REF2014 website has all the background paperwork, consultations and pilot studies necessary to piece the story together, and see to what extent the professorial class — the smartest guys in the land and on whom we depend upon to chart the course of the human race — considered the basic parameters of the human condition when they designed a process that applied to their institutions. God help us.

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