Thursday, June 29, 2006

Politics - I'm a Democratic Anarchist

I suppose that if I were to describe my political beliefs I would say I am a democratic anarchist.

Now that seems to be a bit of a contradiction doesn't it? Let me explain. This refers to the UK but I'm pretty sure it also applies to the US and every other 'democracy':

When I was a child my parents voted Conservative so naturally I began to think I was one too. The trouble was I wasn't quite sure exactly what a Conservative was. I still don't because for the life of me there seems to be little difference now between the three major political parties in the UK where I live.

In the old days Conservatives stood for:
  • Private enterprise
  • Land/Home ownership
  • A strong belief in the right to get rich
  • A strong military
  • Private schools

The Labour party stood for:
  • Nationalised major industry
  • A welfare state
  • Public housing
  • State run schools
  • Powerful unions
  • A strong belief that the rich should pay taxes at a higher rate than the poor
  • Less spending on 'defence' (well that's the word they used but really they meant 'offence')
The Liberal party stood for:
  • Anything they thought could get votes

Now it's all changed. They all seem to want:
  • Anything that will get votes
  • Anything that will prove just how bad the 'other lot' is.
  • The media to dig up scandal about X in the 'other lot'.

If you listen to them in Parliament - well there seems to be little debate - just a slanging match with each side saying how bad the 'other lot' is. Seldom do we hear an MP from one party saying what a good idea the other party has had!

Now I want a political party which represents not the party but me. I'm darn sure that at the moment none of them do that. Not one MP has ever asked me for my views or ever responded if I give them. I know that every few years we have elections but what sort of choice is that? I may like ideas from different parties! If I've needed help from my representative they always seem to be on holiday. I don't need a representative in Parliament - I need one in my local area.

In this era of Information Technology it seems stupidity to send all representatives to a central location at great expense. What's wrong with video conferencing? We wouldn't need massive security or a fortune spent on travelling and maintaining two homes.
Here's what I would like to see:
  • Close down Parliament - it can become a tourist centre. Maybe a good place for comedians to practice in.
  • MPs work at home - in their constituencies and talk to each other by video conferencing.
  • Use the money saved to pay them more! They don't get nearly enough. Let's give them a 1000% pay rise in the hope that the increased money will attract someone to the job that can actually do it.
  • In a few years we can forget paying MPs - just give them a share of the profits of running the country. If they can't run at a profit- they shouldn't be doing the job.
  • Pay for several well qualified assistants to help each MP who can act on their behalf.
  • Scrap the party system - their job is to represent the views of their constituents. Each MP could vote for ministers and Prime minister.
  • Stop criticising others and keep quiet unless you can put forward a better idea.
  • Use Internet to communicate with those who elect you. Actually listen to them! When you need to vote on an issue you should vote as directed by your constituents in an online constituency referendum.
  • Maybe one day we can do without representatives altogether and each do it ourselves.
So that's what I mean by 'democratic anarchist'. It's a true democracy where everyone can take a part in making decisions - if they want to.

As to politicians - well anyone who wants to be one is very probably the least suitable for the job.
Any disappointed anarchists of the 'blow them all up' type should follow this link

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tesco Computers for Schools

Don't get me wrong - as an IT teacher I'm grateful for any support given to schools by industry and I've been taking advantage of Tesco's Computers for Schools scheme for years.

Did you know however of the following?

  • You have to spend over £210,000 at Tesco before a school has enough vouchers to buy just one good quality computer.
  • Vouchers are worth anything from 3.2p to 0.8p each depending on what schools spend them on.
  • It takes 2½ minutes to count, put the right way round and fasten 100 vouchers. That's 9 hours of counting for that computer!
  • You need 12,100 vouchers for the lowest cost computer
  • If you mail vouchers to the school then the stamps you use will be worth more than the vouchers

Now it seems to me that Tesco could save themselves a lot of money printing vouchers and schools a lot of time counting them if people simply associated their local school with their Tesco card and Tesco automatically donated the vouchers electronically. Stores could display what each school has received and parents could check online at to see progress. As it stands this scheme adds yet another time wasting task to overworked teachers.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The writing is on the wall for...

Back in the late 1970s I remember having a huge 8 inch floppy disk drive - much faster than the cassette tapes I was using then for storing my computer programs. I believe they could store 40K of information. They didn't last and we migrated to storage on 5¼ floppies which stored 100Kb and could be inserted no less than 8 different ways in the drive of which just two worked! We had great fun with them and regularly had pleas for help because 'My floppy won't work'. Getting there I found disks stapled, paper clipped, folded to go in a pocket, the wrong way round, covered in fingerprints and disks corrupted by being kept on top of speakers, fastened to the fridge with a magnet and stored under phones which wiped them when the bell rang.

I remember buying my first hard drive - 10MB (I thought I'd never fill a 30Mb one) and 5¼" floppy disks soon got replaced by 3½" ones (3" ones made a brief appearance). 3½" disks were used to load programs onto the system, to transfer files and to create backups. At their peak they cost just 5p each and could store 1.44Mb. They were still prone to fingerprints, dust and magnetic fields though and those shutters proved irresistible to being flicked until they sprung out and got stuck in the disk drive or, if you were really unlucky, pulled out with a bit of force along with the disk drive heads. As to reliability - well I've lost count of the number of times I've heard 'I can't get my file from this floppy disk'. I've seen figures which indicate that there's a 20% failure rate for floppy disks now.

I was once the proud owner of a laserdisc player which played 12" double sided disks. I had two of them, the BBC Domesday project which now can't be read since the disks got scratched and the computer used with the reader is long obselete. Sorry BBC - the 1086 version on paper far outlasted your laservision disks which took just 10 years to become useless! Today I know
of just 1 working copy - in the national archives where one of the original 1086 versions is housed. (Now wouldn't you have thought that making a freely available version on Internet would be an excellent project for the EEC to fund? Update: The BBC did it - see the content at

But then came CD-ROMs and CD-Rs and many floppies got replaced. My first CD-R drive was double speed and could store 650MB! According to the blurb fingerprints dust and scratches wouldn't stop them working. (I wish!) I now find that my early CD-R recordings can't be read. The problem seems to be that the reflective surface used in them is a very thin film of aluminium. Over time the slightly porus surface layer protecting it has allowed this to slowly oxidise to the point where it now contains tiny pinholes and dull spots, destroying the disk. A 'Gold CD-R' where the reflective surface is gold rather than aluminium is just fine however.

Along came DVDs and DVD-Rs and now we could store up to 8GB at a speed that would have amazed us 3 years ago. In the meantime my hard drive in my laptop computer holds 80GB and a slightly bigger one can now hold terabytes of data. As for floppy disks drives- well I have a USB one somewhere. I don't use them since they seem to have gone up in price again, are painfully slow and have a 20% failure rate.

If I want to transfer files today I use a USB memory stick. Mine hold 1 GB and have successfully survived being put through the washing machine. If I need to move bigger files I write a DVD. I can also use the SD card which fits in my digital camera and which is tiny! Both of these however are easy to lose and can become corrupted. My experience is that the less you pay for them the more unreliable they are as long term storage. (Update - my current 2015 laptop has a 2 Tb hard drive)

Today I no longer can read computer software held on cassette tapes, 8½" or 5¼" floppies; my zip drive or tape streamer and I suspect 3½" drives will be obsolete soon. (Update - Yep they're officialy obsolete)

But what of the future? How long will CDs, DVDs and Blue Ray discs last? Not for long I think. Two years ago I predicted their demise. They are just too big and too easily damaged. Holographic DVDs will make a brief appearance but they won't last either. As a long term archive for precious data any form of optical disc is a disaster unless they have a gold reflective layer. It's already obvious what the replacement will be. Look for a credit card sized solid state storage device. Big enough to write the title of a movie on and with no moving parts. They'll get bigger and bigger capacities until hard drives are a thing of the past too. (Already there are a solid state 'hard drives' available but they are still a tad expensive just now)

Not convinced? Well here's a start!
* As a genealogist I've watched the demise of storage systems since the 1960s. Paper rots and becomes brittle, parchment is more durable but costs the earth and has a problem with mould.
Even gravestones crumble and become unreadable. Remember 8 track stereo and Betamax video tapes? VHS machines are now hard to find. Computer storage is constantly changing and today's method won't be readable in 10 years. The only long term method seems to be storage on Internet (might not survive a breakdown of society) or perhaps the method still readable since the destruction of Pompeii - graffiti on a wall.


Constantine - Founder of Christianity?

Religion fascinates me; I collect church memberships. I was baptized an Anglican. I was 'saved' at 10 as a Methodist. At 11 I went to a Quaker school and began to think. I was an agnostic at 15, Humanist at 17, an atheist at 20. I got married at 30 (the second time) as a Unitarian. By the time I went to the USA I was an atheist again - an iconoclastic one too. In Canada at 50 I became a member of the Mormon Church and now - well I'm not going to tell you. In between times I've read the 'rest' of the bible that was left out of the standard one, I've read about Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, the works of Confucius, Islam, Wicca, Norse gods, and the religion of ancient Sumeria Oh - and I've also read 'The Biggest Secret' by David Icke. So to start with - here's a few questions and possible answers.

Questions and answers
Q. What does God(s) want of man? Does he really want us to 'worship' him/her/them? Isn't the desire to be worshiped a little too human to be worthy of a god?

A1. This is what the Sumerians had to say about what the gods wanted of Man:

At the beginning of time there were only gods and goddesses on Earth. They had to work the land to grow crops to eat. This was difficult and they worked very hard. Each god and goddess had a job to do. Some dug the fields and planted the crops. Others brought water to the fields in ditches which had to be kept clear of weeds. They had to work very hard and they were not happy. They got together to discuss what could be done to lighten their workload. They went to get advice from Ea (Also known as Enki - god of wisdom), who was wise and clever. Ea suggested that he create creatures to serve them by working the land. Then the gods' and goddesses' lives would be easier. The gods and goddesses thought that Ea's plan was a good solution. Ea collected clay from around his watery home and used it to make humans. He breathed life into the clay figures, but he limited how long they would live. Only the gods and goddesses would live forever. The humans were put to work in the fields. As servants of the gods and goddesses they had to provide them with food and drink for their tables.The humans took water from the rivers and fed the dry and lifeless lands. They dug the soil and planted crops. With hard work the humans brought life to the land, and the gods and goddesses, who had brought life to the humans, were happy...for the moment...

Seems reasonable to me.

A2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (and incidentally the Jews) say:God is our spiritual father - he is literally the father of our soul or divine spark. Like any parent he wants the best for his children. We are put on Earth to learn morality amongst other things before we join him in 'heaven'. The LDS also says: If we make use of the opportunity we can eventually become gods ourselves. (Can you imagine the disastrous actions of an immoral god?) This means he doesn't really want us to worship him but a little respect would be in order.

Q. Is God male?

A. This question seems to assume that there is only one god. Many religions are quite happy to accept both gods and include female gods too. Many primitive cultures worshiped an Earth Mother. The early Christian church took a great deal of care to stamp out such beliefs, seeing it as a greater threat to Christianity than Satan appeared to be. The Mormons are happy to accept a 'heavenly mother' but don't pray to her, worship her or make very public this belief quoting 'people are very quick to take the name of God and Jesus in vain - imagine what they would do to the heavenly mother's'.
Maybe God(s) are neither 'he' nor 'she'. The concept appears unnatural to us but it's possible. For that matter - why stop at two sexes, (which are beneficial in promoting variety of genes), why not have three sexes or even more.

Q. If there is really a god how can he allow so much suffering in the world?

A. You are forgetting the scale of eternity. Suffering while on Earth, no matter how bad it seems to us now, is only a pinprick to eternity. Think about the pain of childbirth and how quickly it is forgotten. If nothing else pain on Earth gives an immortal soul something to talk about during eternity. Whilst this view seems to give the 'bad guys' carte blanche to inflict pain they do so at their peril since they are dismally failing the opportunity they have to become moral beings.

Biblical Plagiarism
Bible Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Ancient Sumerian creation: Ea (Enki) collected clay from around his watery home and used it to make humans. He breathed life into the clay figures, but he limited how long they would live. Only the gods and goddesses would live forever.

He was born on December 25th to a virgin mother; He was called a saviour, the only begotten son, and died to save humanity; he was crucified on a Friday - "Black Friday" and his blood was spilled to redeem the Earth; he suffered death with nails and stakes; he was the Father and Son combined in an earthly body; he was put in a tomb but three days later his body was gone and he was resurrected as the most high God; his body was symbolised as bread and eaten by those who worshiped him. Does this sound familiar? Jesus? No - it's a description of Attis a God worshipped in what is now Turkey about 1000 years BC.

Curius that bit about three days. The bible makes no explanation of why it was necessary. It's very similar to the zoroastrian believe that after death, the urvan (soul) is allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. The soul is then judged by a troika Mithra, Sraosha and Rashnu. If the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to hell. Zoroastrianism pre-dates Christianity by 1000 years and believes in a single God. It was founded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia which at the time followed an aboriginal polytheistic religion. Zoroastrians also believe in a 'Savior' born of a virgin birth.

The biblical story of Noah and the flood is an almost exact copy of part of the Epic of Gilgamesh which was written over a thousand years before the old testiment 'Noah' version was.

The Original Christianity?
There's little doubt now that modern Christianity has it's roots in the time of Emperor Constantine of Rome (272-373 AD). Before that there were a number of variations of which we'll look at two here. The two variants of Christianity being that of the Essenes supported by James, brother of Jesus and the Romanized variant of Paul. The Dead Sea Scrolls show that there was some acrimony between these two variants. James didn't like Paul deifying his brother and adopting pagan stories about him. Paul felt that this was quite acceptable and necessary for the faith to grow.

I was fascinated when I first heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls and looked forward to their translation and publication. I waited and waited - long enough for conspiracies to grow around them. Eventually over a decade later they were published and I began to doubt that the bible as we know it was quite authentic. I started to put my thoughts together on this but in the meantime read Daniel Brown's Da Vinci Code. For a work of fiction it's obvious that he too has done a great deal of research and has chosen to present it in a fictional form. It's a great read and I recommend it to anyone and look forward to the forthcoming film. Once the film comes out in May 2006 I wouldn't be surprised to see the issue raised in the public awareness.1 Just remember it's fiction based upon sound historical facts.
This would be a good place to comment on the court case about the Da Vinci Code being the plagarised version of the non-fiction 'Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' but ... Let me devote a separate page to it.
1 Well I've seen the film but have to admit I was disappointed. I don't think it will rate as much and is unlikely to win Oscars. My advice - watch it if you want but buy the book in preference.

The 'Good Old Days'

I'm now old enough to remember the 'good old days' but were they really good? Here's a collection of my memories from these times.

I spent the first eight years of my life living in Newcastle on Tyne. We then moved to a small farm in the Pennines. I remember:
  • Gas street lights. Newcastle may have been the first city in the world to have converted a street of gas lights to electricity (1881) but my street 'Julian Avenue' was still lit by gas when the picture, right, was taken in 1953. I remember a man with a long pole coming round every night and morning to switch them on and off. They were replaced before
    1957 with electric lamps.

  • I remember being allowed out after dark at night to get Fish (3d/1.25p) and chips (1d/0.4p). No worries then about children being abducted or traffic.

  • I remember some children going to school in bare feet at my primary school.

  • I remember shaved heads painted with a purple dye to kill ringworm.

  • I remember smog so thick you could not see across the street. Everyone burnt coal to heat their house and in damp conditions the smoke combined with mist to make killer smog. My grandmother, who suffered from bronchitis, dreaded it.

  • I remember at two recovering from measles - it nearly killed me and left me unable to walk and bothered by bright lights. I remember learning to walk again by steadying myself against the wall.

  • I remember going with my sister to get her pram (that's her in the picture above) and, to strengthen my legs, my tricycle. My trike had a handle attached so that Mum could push when my legs got tired.

  • I remember we were the first in our street to get a television and being shooed outside to play while my father and friends watched Aston Villa beat Manchester in the 1957 Cup Final.

  • Kids programs at the time were all on BBC - it was the only channel. Highlights of my day were 'Watch with Mother' featuring Bill and Ben, and Andy Pandy. I thought they were boring but still watched them. Another kids program was Muffin the Mule (which nowardays sounds more like some weird sexual perversion!). I remember too regularly seeing a card saying 'Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible'. Between programs there was music and an 'Interlude' card. My Aunt bought a television too but her's had only a ten inch screen and was used with a huge magnifying glass in front of it.

  • I remember moving with my parents to our new home, a small farm in the wilds of Northumberland. Our new house had no electricity and no flush toilet either!

  • I remember going to bed with an oil lamp, 'stone' hot water bottles which made an awful thud if they got kicked out of bed, chamber pots under the bed and the sight of our useless TV in the sitting room.

  • I remember an earth closet outside in a small whitewashed and very drafty building.

  • I remember a bathtub built under a workbench in the kitchen. Our water supply came from a ditch above our house. In wet weather the bath water being brown with silt and worms being washed into the bath on occasion.

  • I remember snow in a BIG way. Our farm was high up in the Pennines and in winter we would always have a stock of tinned food available in case we got snowed in. 1963 was the worst.

  • June snow
  • In 1963s winter I remember getting tangled up in the telephone wires as I walked to the local village. They and the telephone posts were buried in snow drifts that were 22ft deep when they were cut out.
    1963 snowdrift
    That year there was still snow around in June.

  • I remember the first snow blower being imported from Switzerland by the council. They flew it in to Newcastle, took it by low loader to Allendale and then drove it towards an incredible 44 ft deep drift across the road to Carrshield. 200 yards from the drift it broke down and they had to cut the road open the old way.

  • I remember being irritated to see the spelling of our local village in OS maps being 'Carr Shield' instead of 'Carrshield'. Guess what - they still have it wrong and so too have Multimap and Google!

  • I remember greenhouses being flattened by those snow blowers until the council erected 'Snowblower - blow left' signs. I also remember how slippery the rut was that their steel guide wheel left in the snow.

  • I remember silence, on a quiet night you could hear the river in the valley bottom, the wind in the trees and sheep bleating on the fells. Some nights the loudest noise was the sound of your own breathing.

  • I remember that a busy road meant two cars per hour.

  • I remember walking home from a neigbours house having forgotten my torch. No streetlights, no moon and a cloudy sky meant total darkness. I walked until I hit the grass verge then changed course slightly until I hit the verge at the other side. Passing the graveyard was creepy. There must have been some light since I could just see the white marble gravestones.

  • I remember being sent away to boarding school because I passed the 11+ exam and was the worlds worst traveler. Travel sickness tablets made me sick - my parents didn't believe that until one day our journey was delayed and I threw up without ever getting in the car.

  • As a kid with poor social skills, a hatred of sport and a love of books, bullying played a major part in my school life. I still remember the names of my tormentors and look forward to hearing that they have been run over slowly by a road roller.

  • I remember and still have the newspaper clipping of Yuri Gagarin's space trip.

  • I remember a girl from Liverpool at my school, Penny, raving about a group called 'The Beatles'. We all said they were rubbish. Later Penny went to a Beatles party and was given a cigarette by Paul. She kept it on her dressing table until the day her father found it and smoked it. She didn't speak to him for nearly three months.

  • I remember being impressed by the Cuban crisis and the civil rights movement in the USA and thinking that Kennedy was a dead man if he pursued it. I was in the lower school common room playing table tennis when I heard he had been assassinated. Having been to Texas I still wonder why he was in an open topped car rather than a sealed air conditioned one.

Da Vinci Code and all that

In 2003, author Daniel Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code' was published
and rapidly rose through the book charts to become a best seller.

The plot revolves around the theory that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene
and had children by her whose decendants still survive, protected by
a secret organisation, the Priory of Sion.

In Febuary 2006 Daniel Brown and his publishers were taken to court
by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of the
non fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Baigent and Leigh
claim that Brown has plagarised their work.

Brown freely acknowleges that he has based his novel on their book's

He even quotes the name and authors as a reference book found on the
bookshelf of Sir Leigh Teabing, a character in Brown's book. Even
the name Leigh Teabing seems to be made up of Richard Leigh and an anagram
of Baigent. An earlier character in the Da Vinci Code has the surname
Saunière, a name which features prominently in Holy Blood and
Holy Grail. Brown states that his book however is fiction based on facts
- and facts cannot be protected by copyright.

What do Baignet and Leigh hope to gain by taking Brown to court? If
they win they could prevent further infringement of their copyright and
could bar Random House, the publisher, from continuing to publish Brown's
novel. They could also affect the British release of a star-studded
film version of the story. But hold on a second - Random House? That's
the name of the publisher of Holy Blood and Holy Grail!

Now it could just be my suspicious mind but so far in the case Leigh
and Baigent's seem to be going out of their way to persue an unwinnable
case. It's already been accepted in law that facts can't be copyrighted.
In fact the only way for the case to be valid is for the authors of Holy
Blood and Holy Grail to admit that their book is fiction rather than
fact - which would make their book worthless. While they do this the
lawyers for Brown and the Publisher seem to be doing everything they
can to do to prolong the case, by making clearly false statements.
One newspaper reported that the lawyers for the publisher said that the
Priory of Sion did not feature in Brown's novel. Maybe he hasn't read
it yet!

The judge has put a hold on the case while he reads both books. Something
I'm sure he will find enjoyable and thought provoking since both books
are well worth reading. Maybe he won't notice the Observer comment printed
on the dustcover of Holy Blood and Holy Grail "A marvelous theme for
a novel".

If you go to your local bookstore, you'll probably find them
next to each other. I have the illustrated versions of both and the publishers
have clearly made them to compliment each other. They are even very similar
in size. Holy
Blood and Holy Grail was first published in 1982. It was popular then
but it's sales slackened off over the years. Since the publication of
the Da Vinci Code however it's been re-issued and after the start of
the court proceedings it's climbed to number 4 in the best seller lists.

Now it seems to me that the publication of The Da Vinci Code has not
harmed the authors Baigent and Leigh one jot. In fact it's made them
a lot of sales they wouldn't otherwise have got. As to the court case
- it's probably a cheaper way of advertising than comercials on TV. Win
or lose they'll make money from it but let's hope they lose since:

  1. If they win then their book must be fiction. I like their book and
    wouldn't want it admitted as worthless.

  2. If they win without it being fiction it will have a profound effect
    on authors. As one expert on copyright put it 'This case...
    could open a floodgate of litigation for people who have had their
    ideas, as they see it, stolen by more successful people.


Seems the Court agreed with me. Baignet and Leigh lost their case although
they said they would appeal. The film was released on time and... I wouldn't
expect it to win any Oscars. Buy the book - it's better.