Archive for the ‘whingeing’ Category

From yesterday’s Obscurer, a story:

A senior union source told The Observer that it was clear Alexander had jumped the gun as the Treasury attempted to show it was taking a hard line on the burgeoning pensions bill.

“Danny Alexander has been reined in by the Cabinet Office,” said a union source. “What he did was inflammatory and showed no sense of the seriousness of these issues for people’s lives.”

Did the senior union source really? Probably he said the bit that was directly quoted, but I doubt anyone senior in a union would talk about a burgeoning public-sector pensions bill. Because there is no such thing. No. There is no crisis.

They're lying to you

It is not, in fact, burgeoning. It is shrinking. Wilting. It falls year on year for the next forty odd years in the worst case scenario. This is not the work of subversive Bolshevik infiltrators, either, but of the government’s own actuaries.

From today’s Grauniad, here’s Lord “Not the Judge” Hutton himself.

“It’s an uncomfortable truth, but I’m afraid it’s the reality, that the world is changing around us and people are living for much longer, and we have not been paying for those extra years of pensions – the taxpayer has. Strikes won’t make this problem go away, we have to act now. If we don’t act now, it’s our kids who are going to pick up the tab, and it’s not right.”

Well, the problem is going away. Strikes or no strikes.

What bit of this chart don't you get, fucko?

Hutton can’t plead ignorance. It’s in his own report. Iain Duncan Smith commissioned it but he’s not read it either:

He is expected to say: “We’re heading towards an unprecedented burden being placed on the next generation who will have to pay for their parents’ retirement on top of paying for the national debt. It’s not fair. This bill will address the realities of our increasing longevity by sharing the costs between the generations. We will stand by the 2018 and 2020 timetable.”

It’s precedented alright – the precedent is now. It goes down from now on if we do nothing. Doing nothing fixes the problem.

Jesus wept - how many times do I have to say this?

Now, I don’t expect very much from the pundit-wanker types like Patrick “Unseasonably Mild” Wintour or Toby “Toby” Helm. They’re beyond help. But Allegra Stratton is usually worth reading in the Grauniad because she’s a reporter rather than a pundit wanker political editor. However, even she didn’t find it worthwhile to read the report or even just to look at a couple of blogs, or if she did she didn’t think it newsworthy that this whole row is being sold to the public on false pretences, in total and absolute denial of the facts.

In the opinion of the people whose business it is to pay them, public sector pensions will cost less every year from here on in.

Surely, if you’re writing a story about a labour-management dispute over pensions, it’s incumbent on you to say something about the state of the pension scheme involved? It’s as if the Islington Gazette covered Friday night stabbings without mentioning the location, the motive, or even that a knife was used. But national press journalism seems to inject people with some sort of morally fattening and neutralising hormone. And this is the Guardian!

Shall we take it to the bridge? Yeah? Yeah!

There are reasons, of course.

Pensions: the public sector is in denial, from Saturday’s Money supplement. Oddly there isn’t a Poverty supplement.

Ian Naismith, head of pensions market development for Scottish Widows, said although more people were saving adequate amounts towards retirement in the public sector, and the changes will still leave them with reasonable pensions, those in the private sector who are saving towards retirement are contributing a bigger proportion of their earnings — 9.7% compared to 9.3%.

Well, they oughter as they probably don’t get any employer contributions.

Sadly, the Grauniad‘s hack doesn’t mention them at all at any point and you have to rely on one Ken Chu, an NHS sysadmin, who gets randomly voxpopped to raise this issue. But the paper has bigger fish to fry. Scottish Widows’ “head of pensions market development” – yes, really – has to get his sales-driven “research” in the media somehow. No doubt the nice lady from SW will be striding along the beach in next week’s glossy for a sizable payment.

To finish, and repeat:

Public pensions as a percentage of GDP will fall every year for the next forty years.

There is no crisis and everyone in the newspapers is lying to you, personally, quite deliberately.


So OpenSUSE11.4 was out this week. As the Jedi said here:

gah! suse is never totally easy

Indeed. I thought I’d do an online upgrade, so I scheduled this to happen when I was in the office and therefore had a fast Internet link available. I applied all the remaining 11.3 updates, configured the three additional repos, did a “zypper ref” and then a “zypper dup”, paged through the Flash player licence, and watched it report 500 odd MB of packages to grab. Much churning later, it started to miss packages, which I installed manually. Eventually, it finished, and I ran “zypper verify” to check it out. This reported that vim-data was missing, so I installed it, and went for a reboot.

Oh dear, the new distro apparently didn’t know what an ext4 filesystem was. And although I could still start 11.3 from the boot menu, KDE wasn’t working. So, back at home, I downloaded the ISO image (2 hours 20 odd minutes at home), burned a disc, and prepared for a clean install, which failed with a message about running out of processes in this runlevel. You guessed it, dodgy install media. Wiped and downloaded again. I check the MD5 hash. It’s a miss. I start the download again and go out. I come back to find the laptop has rebooted and has got to the failure point in 11.4. How? What? I restart in Windows and discover that 678 of 695MB has been fetched before something happened. It dawns on me that Microsoft has force-rebooted the bastard through Windows Update although I set it to do nothing of the sort. I’m getting seriously pissed off now. I download it again, from a different mirror ( rather than Kent Uni More hours. I check the MD5 hash. What do you know, it’s wrong. And it’s the same hash as last time. As an experiment, I burn it anyway, boot it, and run the media check utility.

Which fails at 63%, block 226192, in exactly the same location as the first time around. Riight, it looks like Novell has pushed a crappy image out to all the damn mirrors. Well, I can still get a Linux shell in 11.3, so I run it up, hook an ethernet cable to the linksys box, run dhclient, and repeat the command-line distro upgrade. Although Zypper still thinks all the dependencies are in place, when I tell it to “zypper dup”, it still manages to find 258 package changes left to do from the original upgrade. It takes an age, but eventually, completes, and it’s shutdown -r now time. And everything now works, right down to hibernated browser tabs.

Except for Python packages, of course. Pythonistas tend to dote on easy_install, but I’m still annoyed that I have to update this stuff out of sync with my linux environment, especially as it lives in my root partition. Would it be so hard to put everything in PyPi into an RPM repository and never worry about it ever again? This is actually an important lesson about the mobile app stores, and the original app store itself, Firefox extensions. Freedom goes with structure.

Lessons from this: once an upgrade shows any signs of weirdness, abort it and start again. And don’t expect online upgrade to work first time – this happened to me with a past OpenSUSE upgrade, come to think of it, but I clearly learned nothing.

OK, so I did two things – I upgraded to OpenSUSE 11.2/KDE 4.3, which is great, and I’ve installed SQUIN, the semantic Web query server, on my laptop in order to work on WhoseKidAreYou. The concept of SQUIN is that it provides a SPARQL end point to do queries over the various, interlinked sets of data that conform to the Linked Data standard.

So, I should be able to pull data from the FOAF db, from DBpedia, and all sorts of other stuff in the same query statement. Cool. And you’ve got to hand it to them, as well, the install is almost comically easy. But, as with SPARQL in general, there are things I’m not getting. The idea of Linked Data is that you should be able to follow links from a record retrieved from one DB into another related one – for example, if the DBpedia record for somebody contains FOAF information, the query client should note the link, recurse along it into FOAF, and get you any information that matches your query that’s in FOAF as well as DBpedia.

You’d think that the main problem would be constraining the search and filtering the results. Essentially, I’m trying to replicate the behaviour of a cynical and intelligent person searching the Web for the authors of everything they read, and it’s obvious that someone doing that uses most of their brain effort to sieve the search results. Similarly, if you’re writing a SQL query to pull data out of a classical relational database, your biggest concern is usually how to filter, reduce, group, aggregate, summarise, or limit the volume of data that comes back.

But I find the difficult bit with SPARQL is maximising the volume of data that comes back. It’s incredibly easy to get nothing at all for quite trivial queries. Another thing is that if one of the variables in the query doesn’t match, none of them do, and the query will return nothing. You can use the OPTIONAL keyword, but as far as I can see, you need to OPTIONAL each and every statement. The syntax is annoyingly “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike SQL” and it’s oddly difficult to get a data variable, rather than a URI, into your query.

Also, I find the Linked Data element of this a little hard to visualise. Presumably, if you want to query across datasets, you need to use prefixed namespaces that are common to them all. I think, but I’m not sure, that you can mix multiple prefixed namespaces.

Regarding SQUIN itself, I’m also suspicious that the queries return very, very fast; there’s not enough time for it to be doing any recursing that involves multiple network round trips. Here’s an example:

PREFIX foaf:
PREFIX dbproperty:
PREFIX dbresource:
SELECT ?influenced ?page ?knows ?knowspage
?name dbproperty:Name dbresource:Martin_Amis .
?influenced dbproperty:influencedBy ?name .
?page foaf:page ?influenced .
?knows foaf:knows ?influenced .
?knowspage foaf:page ?knows .

This should declare the query variables in the SELECT clause, get the value of the Person/Name property of the DBpedia article Martin_Amis, bind it to ?name, then get all the values of the Person/influencedBy property that match ?name, bind them to ?influenced, and then the FOAF:Page values that match ?influenced. We’re then, going to query FOAF for the FOAF:Knows values for each of the influenced, and their home pages.

As that’s uncertain as to whether they have them, it’s an OPTIONAL clause, as is the one that gets the foaf:pages in the first place. DBpedia’s SNORQL interface chokes on the reference to Martin Amis (who wouldn’t). SQUIN considers it valid SPARQL, but produces no results whatsoever. If you browse over here, you’ll find that all the values involved are present and as described; and, indeed, the first influencedBy has a foaf:page attribute. In general, semantic web things seem to be good at failing to return data they actually have under the attributes they have for it.

What is it that I’m missing? Is there a huge tarball of data I need to load in SQUIN? Surely the point of Linked Data and semantics is that you don’t have to scrape the Web and snarf it all into a big database, but rather treat data on Web sites as if it were in a database?

Shorter Tim, Energy Edition:

Commodity prices always come down in the end; except when I really want the price of steel to stay at 2007 levels because it harms the economics of wind power. Further, supply of manufactured goods always responds to price signals except when I have a bizarre ideological opposition to some particular technology. And nuclear power is magically proof against the price of materials, the cost of labour, the rate of interest, and the planning process.

Tim – nuclear power stations are made from reinforced concrete. What is reinforced concrete reinforced WITH? Perhaps this is why he doesn’t go on about his metals trading business so much these days.

Actually, the article he’s drivelling about is fairly sensible and much more optimistic than either Timmeh’s deranged take on it or the Obscurer‘s headline; it is here. Basically, the worldwide boom in wind power is putting the industry under capacity constraints; like, say, the semiconductor industry in the PC boom. They can sell’em for almost any price as fast as they come off the line, and they’ve built up a huge order book. Of course, what will eventually happen is that the wind turbine makers will expand and probably eventually end up flooding the market in a few years’ time. This will, however, definitively not happen with nuclear, because a nuclear power station is essentially a working definition of one-off job production; it’s a hell of a lot easier to make something cheap when you’re making thousands of it on a production line.

Further problems mostly centre on the planning process; both for turbines and for grid interconnection.

Of course, in Timmehworld this shouldn’t be happening, because wind power is a bizarre plot organised by British socialists, which no-one else in the world would possibly use. But Tim lives in Portugal, one of the world’s biggest and fastest wind developers; and as far as I know, the hens haven’t stopped laying, the skies have not darkened, and the rain has not become chubby there. This doesn’t change the essential issue, though; his problem is that it’s gay electricity.

This arse-awful gaggle of crap by Simon “Craven” Heffer has already been effectively fisked by Dave Osler among others, but I reckon there’s still some unexploited stupidity in there to be had. It’s actually even worse than this one.

Basically, this article is an example of what Islamists would call takfiri thinking; takfiris are an especially crazy and extreme version of Wahhabist jihadi, who believe that the millions of other Muslims around them aren’t really Muslims, and therefore are even worse than the crusader scum, the Jewish parasites, Shia apostates, etc etc. From this they conclude that they’ve all got to go. Now, if you need someone to drive a car packed with explosives into a police station, they’re your boys; but unfortunately for you, they also have a tendency to turn on all your friends as well. This is roughly what happened in north-central Iraq over the last few years – the NOIA groups, like the 1920 Revolution Brigade, started out by being delighted at the steady supply of Saudi idiots with bags of money and a hankering to blow up, but found the buggers started to take over, chopping off heads and trying to decree weird laws.

So they very sensibly sold them to the Americans. Now, the word “takfiri” means something like “excommunicationist” or maybe “denouncer”; one who wants to purify the community by drumming out everyone who doesn’t agree with him as traitors. So what can we make of something like this?

For the Government to take stakes in our leading banks in order to re-capitalise them is not quite the sovietisation of Britain, but it is a pretty good start. Given the instinctively socialistic leanings of our Prime Minister, it may well have been a move he undertook calmly and, quite possibly, with a little excitement.

The sovietisation of Britain? Christ. It wasn’t so long ago that this would have been equivalent to an accusation of treason, and I suspect in Heffer’s mind it still is. Did you see what I just did, by the way? I used an argument based entirely on my own claims about someone else’s private thoughts. Quite possibly with a little excitement. Does it get any better?

By the 1970s the inevitable endgame of socialism was being played out: unions battling with government over rates of pay, prices and incomes policies, food subsidies, the three-day week, the winter of discontent. The state had to create jobs because there was precious little incentive for the private sector to do so. Investment was scarce. The state was everywhere.

The maxim of the American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand came close to fulfilment before the denouement of Old Labour on May 3 1979: that the difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time.

Oh. You just accused half the political spectrum of being as bad as Nazis or Stalinists. So no, it doesn’t get any better. The whole point of Heffer’s Tory Takfir is clearly visible here – it’s to shift as much of the domain of legitimate debate over the line into the illegitimate, to excommunicate as many people to his left as possible, to demonise and menace and denounce. And, as always, we’re asked to look for the secret enemy among us – Heffer takes care to include all previous Conservative governments in the general smear.

I’m not going to bother with the substance, such as it is; it’s merely a selection of more or less dishonest strawmen and scare-stories. Britain between 1945 and 1979 was a poverty-stricken desert where the dead went unburied, evil socialists caused national bankruptcy in 1976 (but the finances being so dire as to give the IMF a veto on UK foreign policy in 1956 was apparently peachy), the 70s energy crisis was all Harold Wilson’s fault but the 80s oil bust was entirely Thatcher’s own work, and this comment has already summed it up very well:

Well, at least one thing is back to normal. Mr. Heffer has reverted to his usual excellent form after his brief lapse into constructive thought yesterday.

Not a word about the merits or demerits of the bailout versus *not* bailing out the banks. Goodness no, that would require judgement. Let alone any recommendations along the lines of “Liberty” and “Anti-Statism”. That would require intelligence, insight, and courage.

No, I know a better strategy (Mr. Heffer knows it too by the way). Simply fill a few pages with gripes and moans while pointing out the (glaringly obvious) disadvantages of bailing out the banks, and no-one will ever be able to fault you. You were merely commenting on government action and voicing sensible caution.

If, on the other hand you wrote something substantive you could be faulted the day after tomorrow. Can’t have that, right? Better safe than sorry.

But what, you ask, did I expect? The man’s an idiotic blowhard, an egregious right-wing hack, a factual counterindicator of Kevin Hassett proportions. Here’s the point, though – the politics of denunciation and excommunication is everywhere (even here) at the moment, and Heffer is in it up to his neck, and ignoring it just lets them grab hilltops.

Windows Vista is Buggy

OK, so I’ve got a WinVista laptop – and it’s dire, at least the OS is. As well as lots of annoying crapware features well described here, it’s also got some really annoying bugs. For example, I quite regularly encounter an error condition in which the WLAN client goes out of kilter, failing to complete DHCP registration and get a routable IP address. Then, after some cursing, it fails to detect the network at all. The best idea I can think is to shut down the Intel wireless LAN client and start it up again; but when I try to disable it through Windows Device Manager, the Management Console application hangs, using 80-90 per cent of CPU (how? this thing has 2×1.8GHz processors! its thrashing is so awful that it’s pulling 2.88GHz of processing power!). It has to be killed through the task manager, and the computer rebooted; but the shutdown process then hangs for ages, too.

I’ve got a copy of Mandriva Métisse Linux on the D: drive; dare I install it? All that holds me back is concern regarding the drive partitioning process – I have two Windows drives, both actually partitions of equal size on a 120GB hard disk. I’d quite like to install the Linux build in D: and dual-boot, but I’m not at all sure how to map the Windows and Unix file systems – I understand that the two are very different, but not how to get around this.