Garden Of Delight

Posted on 29th December 2008

Back in the Summer, we went on a family holiday to Torquay, as we had done the previous year. The year before we found a nice Indian restaurant, so had planned to revisit it again this year. Except this year I couldn't remember the name of the restaurant, and figuring there might be somewhere a bit closer to the hotel, reached for the internet. Sure enough there was somewhere closer, and certainly within walking distance, however it was a little odd to actually find only one review of all the Indian restaurants in and around Torquay. It was a glowing review mind, and even though it was for a Balti restaurant, we decided to give it a try.

Now for those unfamiliar with Indian restaurants, the Balti dish is very much associated with Birmingham, and despite several disputes as to its origins, most accept that you cannot get a decent Balti outside of Birmingham. Of course that isn't entirely true, but Birmingham has certain perfected the cuisine to such an extent that others don't seem to capture the flavours quite so well. Having said that, I do like a good balti, so was willing to give this restaurant a try.

The Balti Garden is just off the main high street heading away from Torquay harbour and the seafront, and within easy reach of carparks if necessary. It is in competition with a few other restaurants nearby, but the bright and welcoming frontage certainly draws attention to itself. The staff are also very welcoming and friendly, and seemed very used to accommodating children. The menu on offer covered a broad selection of curry dishes, including a healthy selection of Baltis.

I ordered a Lamb Tikka starter and Lamb Tikka Balti, Nicole chose her favourite of Garlic Mushrooms starter and a Sag Paneer & chips for her main. Dan and Ethne are used to curries and usually go for something a bit spicy, but the waiter recommended Chiken Tikka Pasander for them to share. The food was absolutely delicious and we all dug in, pretty much leaving a set of clean plates in front of us. For me the Lamb Tikka was cooked just right to the point of virtually melting in your mouth and the Balti sauce was full of flavour without any over-powering chilli powder added to it. Nicole was very complimentary of her Sag Paneer, although she did think the Birmingham restaurants cooked it slightly differently, as it did have a different texture to it. A very pleasant dish, just different. Dan and Ethne didn't complain, so can only assume the Pasander met with their approval.

I commented to the waiter that we should perhaps have mentioned that we were from Birmingham, as you only get a decent Balti in Brum, although I did add that the Lamb Tikka Balti was one of the best I've had. He laughed and told us that the chefs were originally from Birmingham, so it wasn't too surprising they got it just right. The staff made us feel very welcome thoughout the meal, having a run-in joke with the kids, and were happy to chat and let us take our time with the meal. The restaurant wasn't packed, although it was early evening so I expect their main business would have been later in the evening, but there was a constant stream of customers and it seemed a very popular choice for locals too, which is always a good sign.

We don't know where we will be going on holiday for 2009, but if we do head back to Torquay, I expect to be visiting The Balti Garden again. They even gave us a business card which allows us a 10% discount on our next visit, so it would be a shame to not take advantage of it ;)

Having eaten at The Balti Garden, I now understand why they were the only Indian restaurant in the Torquay area to get a review. It is one of the best Indian restaurants I've ever eaten in throughout the UK, never mind the Torquay area. So if you happen across this review while searching for Indian restaurants in the Torquay area, you would do well to head straight to The Balti Garden and give your taste buds the chance to experience some wonderful culinary delights.

File Under: food / review / torquay

Back In The Day

Posted on 25th December 2008

Last weekend I was sitting watching cartoons with Dan and an episode of Duck Dodgers came on. I wasn't paying attention until they mentioned Dave Mustaine being the saviour of the universe of something!. I'd not been aware of it before, but in the episode "In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Rock", first broadcast back in 2005, Dave and Megadeth are depicted in cartoon form as themselves. The best bit was them playing a live concert featuring the song "Back In The Day" from the "The System Has Failed" album.

After a brief search of the net, I came across this posting from Roadrunner Records, which announces that the full episode is available here. So if you're a Megadeth fan and haven't seen it, now you can :) Although really I should add it's only for hardcore fans and kids only ;)

File Under: music

Suffer The Little Children

Posted on 24th December 2008

Following on from my previous post regarding the Internet Watch Foundation, a fellow Perl programmer, Jacinta Richardson, recently posted on her use.perl blog regarding currently proposed legislation in Australia. To get a bit of background on the subject, read the articles she links to in her post, before reading her reply.

For myself, working in the filtering industry, I'm well aware of the fact that it is impossible to get filtering 100% accurate all the time. Even our Service Level Agreements (SLAs) don't state that, as it is just too difficult to manage. We get very close, and our filter systems are considered to be the best in the world, but we'll never be 100% perfect. As Jacinita highlights in her reply, the owners of the bad stuff change their domains on a regular basis, swap IP addresses and even server locations to avoid detection. In some cases the server locations are beyond law enforcement agencies as they are in countries that have limited or no resources to shut down these operations.

However, the part that irritates Jacinita and the reason why I find objections to this kind of thing important, is the blindly ignorant "you're either with us or with the terrorists" style of retort from officials or self-appointed puritants for the world. Having children of my own, I would never want them to be subjected to indecent or illegal material on the internet. However, the vast majority of that kind of material is very unlikely to be something you would accidentally stumble across. Putting in aggressive filters to scan absolutely everything all of the time, is rarely going to stop those wishing to find that kind of material, and is likely to block more innocent websites than potentially harmful ones. Using scare tactics and accusing your opposition of advocating child pornography is insensitive and irresponsible, and only serves to make you and your arguments look ignorant.

I would be interested to know what recourse a company or individual has on the Australian government, should they block an innocent website that is hosted outside of Australia? The chances are none, and who would you complain to anyway? If your domain is blocked, you'll never get through!

In her reasoning, Bernadette McMenamin uses examples of countries such as the UK who use filtering. Yes we do, and the self-appointed body that tells us what we can and can't see also makes some stupid mistakes and disrupts internet use for the whole country. For all the protection these self-appointed bodies provide, I would rather see more effort put into shutting down the source operations and protecting the children from being abused in the first place, rather than waiting after the fact for government officials to wave their hands limpy, crying "oh, how could this happen, let's ban the internet for children so they can't see it!".

McMenamin claims that British Telecom block 35,000 attempts per day to illegal material. However, how many of them were to truly illegal material and not "potentially illegal" as was highlighted by The Scorpions/Wikipedia incident? How many requests were made by children accessing the content? How many prosecutions were made from these access attempts? How many of the block domains/URLs were taken down? It's easy to throw numbers around, but without substance they are worthless numbers.

Jacinta picked up on an interesting quote by McMenamin - "[T]hose who are aware [of all the facts] are, in effect, advocating child pornography." So by McMenamin's own admission she must be ignorant of all the facts, otherwise she too would be advocating child pornography. Forrest Gump has a reply for Bernadette McMenamin - "Stupid is as stupid does."

File Under: government / internet / law / rant / security

Pictured Life

Posted on 24th December 2008

Earlier this month there was a rather confusing and worrying blanket "Moral Majority" ban of a page on Wikipedia. The page in question has now been unblocked and the actual image that started it all has also been unblocked, with the Internet Watch Foundation that instigating the block now backing down in the face of overwhelming resistance to their actions.

The image in question is from the original front cover of the 1976 album release "Virgin Killer" by The Scorpions. At the time of its release in 1976, it courted controvesy and although widely available to all in numerous retail outlets across the world, some outlets did insist on selling it only over the counter in a sealed paper bag, and only a few refused to stock it at all. Following feedback from the retail outlets, the band reissued the album with a cover featuring a group shot of the band. However, the original album cover is still widely available in second record stores and on eBay. Following remastered reissues and boxset packages, the CD is once again available with the original artwork. It has also appeared in many books over the years, often cited amongst a list of worst album covers, some of which can found in public libraries.

I don't know the retail figures, but I can imagine that several thousand heavy metal fans in the UK alone have a copy of the original album, or a reissued remastered CD featuring the image in their collections.

So the decision to ban the image ONLY on wikipedia now (some 32 years after the original image was widely available) seems absolutely idiotic. At first the main page regarding the album was blocked, and appartently it is the first time the IWF has banned a complete work of text. Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard and Sarah Robertson from the IWF were interviewed on BBC Radio 4 as I was driving into work on the day the block was instigated and it was very evident that the woman representing the IWF was rather ignorant of the situation, trying to focus on the fact that they had shown it to the police who had said it was "potentially illegal". Blaming the police, who are NOT judge and jury regarding obscene material is rather irresponsible at best, and only serves to highlight their lack of process in ensuring that if an image is considered illegal, a botched attempt at banning is the best of their abilities.

Wikipedia themselves issued a statement that reads "Due to censorship by the UK self-regulatory agency the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), most UK residents can no longer edit the volunteer-written encyclopedia, nor can they access an article in it describing a 32-year-old album by German rock group the Scorpions." In addition Wikimedia Foundation's General Counsel, Mike Godwin, is also quoted as saying "We have no reason to believe the article, or the image contained in the article, has been held to be illegal in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world."

So although the image was deemed "potentially illegal" by the UK police the IWF spoke to, for the past 32 years no country has ever passed a judgement and condemed the image as illegal. It might be inappropriate, but not illegal.

And so to a bigger question. Why Wikipedia? In fact why ONLY Wikipedia? The image was wide spread across the internet, in places such as Google's image cache, on various retail sites, including Amazon, The Scorpions own website and countless others. Could it be that Wikipedia is unlikely to be in a position to sue them for blocking their site? I can well imagine that Amazon and any other major retailer would have drafted in lawyers within seconds and be issuing writs for comercial damages. Not something the IWF would be equipped to deal with, particularly since they are an independent self-appointed body, without official government backing.

Following on from that last point, the perhaps more important question is if this body is self-appointed, without government backing, who is reviewing the practices of the Internet Watch Foundation? While in many instances they may well be protecting us from illegal images, without proper regulation and governance, instances like the blocking of Wikipedia will happen again.

The scary thing in all of this is that possessing the album has never been considered illegal, and indeed would have been very difficult to prosecute now 32 years later, but the IWF seem to believe that that doesn't matter and effectively attempted to criminalise a potentially significant portion of the UK population. Should they have that power? In my opinion no, as it should be the police and the courts who govern what is actually illegal.

Because of the fact that most ISPs in the UK currently sign up to the IWF block lists, this incident was felt instantly across the UK for anyone contributing to Wikipedia. Having now blown such a big hole in their metaphorical foot, I suspect the IWF may well be a little more careful about what they block and maybe, just maybe, they might even provide better justification for blocking images and pages in the future. However, it still worries me that they can potentially criminalise a publicly available image by dubious means and make criminals out of the population, without having any jurisdiction to do so. It's not big brother we have to worry about any more it's the nanny state. Tipper Gore still has a lot to answer for.

File Under: government / internet / law / music / rant / security

That's Not My Name

Posted on 23rd December 2008

Since Dan was born I've always called him DanDan. Just recently he asked Nicole, "Why does Daddy still call me DanDan?" Apparently now that he's all done grown up, he's not too happy with being called DanDan any more. So for from now it'll be Dan or Daniel :)

File Under: dandan / family

Into The Lungs Of Hell

Posted on 22nd December 2008

The past month or so has mostly been filled with illness of one sort or another. I'm currently still suffering with a lingering dose of catarrh, which is annoying the hell out of me, as the mucus keeps sliding down my windpipe and then I'm coughing it all up again. Nasty. A couple of weeks ago I was wiped out by the virus that seems to be spreading like wildfire across the UK. Most people seem to have come down with something in the past month at least.

Hopefully I'll be able to get rid of this catarrh before Christmas. It's been really annoying of late as my Dad has been in hospital to have his kidney removed, and either the kids, Nicole or myself have been too ill to risk visiting him while he's recouperating. Thankfully he got the all clear at the end of last week, so he just needs to take it easy and recover from the surgery and he should be back on his feet again soon. The kids have sent pictures and cards to help him get well, but it isn't quite the same as being able to see him in person.

All being well, we should make it over after Christmas.

File Under: family

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