Enjoy The Silence

Posted on 4th May 2013

Unfortunately I've been having problems with my outbound mail from my personal mail server. I recently updated the server, and although the mail software was also updated, the problem seems to be regarding resolving IP addresses to the Virgin Media nameservers. I can resolve DNS lookups via my laptop, but the server gets stuck and times out :(

If I don't get it fixed soon, I'll have to look at using Gmail on a more permanent basis, so that I can at least reply to messages again and know they're going to get through. Although I don't mind using Gmail on occasions, storing all my mail with them does make me a little uncomfortable.

So if you haven't heard from me, and have been expecting a response, it's likely that I replied, but it never got through. By all means send me a reminder so I know to send a reply through Gmail to make sure you get the reply.

I've also been quiet on my blog for quite sometime. I have been rather busy with work, family, work, Perl, open source and work, and finding time to write here has been low on my list of things to do. However, I have a few posts coming soon to help redress the balance.

File Under: life

I Am the One You Warned Me Of

Posted on 27th September 2011

To the right you'll see the identity page of my current UK passport. This is an official UK government issued photo identity, despite what any website may think. As you can see quite clearly, the name 'Barbie' does indeed appear as my name on my passport. Other names and numbers have been redacted, but these are considered private and not required to prove my identity except when required to do so by law.

Rules of a website are not law, but complying with their requests, I have submitted this to both Facebook and Google+. As I mentioned last week, Facebook have decided that they no longer consider this to be my legal name, and rejected my passport. As to why is a little confusing as they either don't consider the UK government to be a recognised world power, or don't recognise the passports issued by them. Despite several attempts to get a response, I am now being stone-walled and all attempts to contact them are being ignored.

This week, Google+ decided that they would follow suit and issued a suspension notice. Their link to lodge an appeal fails with an error message, and although the additional information form appeared to submit my passport and additional supporting links, I received no communication (either through my gmail account or my personal email) as to whether it was received. With such poor communication methods to appeal, I am not hopeful that my evidence even got through.

I still question why any social network requires anyone to expose personal information in order to use their site. It isn't required to provide functionality, as I have been using both sites for sometime now (Facebook for over 4 years, and Google+ for about 3-4 months). It isn't a legal requirement, as there is no such restriction for those registering profiles with fake names.

Google+ state that "The Names Policy requires that you use the name that you are commonly referred to in real life in your profile", which I do. Barbie is the name I am commonly known by. Of the several hundred people who follow me or know me offline, few have ever known my full name. In many cases now, if asked many will get my full name wrong. However, they all know me well as Barbie. CEOs, MDs, colleagues, friends and family have known me as Barbie for nearly 30 years. That's at least 15 years before I had a presence online.

Having an unusual name worked in my favour as people remembered me. As a roadie and lighting engineer for bands, I got asked to work gigs because people remembered me. Had I had a "normal" name I doubt I would have been so memorable.

Since Google+ opened up to the general public, it is noticeable how many spammers and scammers have suddenly joined with legitimate looking names and have started hassling users. Some have even got so sick of the spammers they are considering leaving Google+ anyway. It really is a sad state of affairs when Google choose to eject and alienate legitimate users, who can make Google+ the kind of place they want it to be, but welcome spammers and scammers with open arms, who are only likely to give those 750 million Facebook users a reason not to join.

In the case of Google+, what makes this even more gaulling is that Google have previously dealt with me personally as Barbie on several occasions. Firstly to handle sponsorship of YAPC::Europe 2006 in Birmingham, where I was met and thanked personally by the Google representatives for allowing them to be represented at the conference. At several times over the last 5 years or more I have been approached by Google recruiters, asking me consider working for the company. I'll be intrigued to see if they ever contact me again. In addition they use my work. I have heard from a few people that Google use my CPAN code in various projects, and that they use CPAN Testers too.

For a company who seem to have a hard time acknowledging me as a real person, they seem to know me well enough when it suits them!

I'm extremely disappointed with the lack of communication from both Google+ and Facebook too. When it is quite obvious you are dealing with a real person, it should be common courtesy to keep them informed of the processes and the state of their appeal. Instead I get a wall of silence. I'm not hopeful that I will get reinstate with either Social Network site, which will be a shame as I've established quite a presence on Facebook and was starting to on Google+.

I do find it scary that the vast majority of online users are giving away more and more personal details that really should be private. It will get to the point where some are going to find their privacy so exposed that their future is severely restricted and affected by it. A casual remark or photo that is suddenly public may hamper your chances of employment, even if it doesn't truly represent you. Employers use the internet to find out about you before deciding to employing you.

And what about protecting your privacy from those that you don't know but infiltrate your life with unwanted attention? I know of at least one person on Facebook who has to conceal their identity due to a stalker.

If these Real Name Policies were actually used against every user, with no expections, such that every user had to provide evidence of who they were, it would be a bit extreme, but at least it would be seen as fair. When these policies are only applied to users who have "funny" names, then its discrimination. Sadly with the bulk of users not caring how the minority are affected and the free element to subscriptions, those who are ejected have little or no power to change anything.

Adrian Short posted an interesting article in The Guardian recently, which features an interesting perspective; "If you're not paying for your presence on the web, then you're just a product being used by an organisation bigger than you."

File Under: facebook / google / life / privacy

State Of The Nation

Posted on 19th September 2011

Sadly it seems history does repeat. Four years ago I was blocked from Facebook for having a fake name. However, since then I have changed my name by deed poll. My passport, bank accounts, etc all now have Barbie on official documents. I'm hoping that providing my passport provides the proof needed that Barbie is indeed my real name.

As with my previous post I still have to ask why social networks have to insist on full real names, when these are not used in real life. Certainly in the UK you are not under any obligation to use your full or even first name, even for official documents.

I don't use my surname as that is a family name, and not something that I publicly use. In fact many still don't know my surname. Some may know my old surname, while not knowing my new surname. It shouldn't be for social networks to decide how you are to be publicly exposed. It comes close to a witch-hunt.

There has been a campaign recently called My Name Is Me, which started thanks to an incident with Skud and Google+. It really is a shame that people have to start things like this just to protect their identity.

In Facebook's own Privacy Policy, it states quite clearly "Your privacy is very important to us." Except that's contradicted by them insisting that you use your full name when using their site. If your full name is not publicly known, isn't that a breach of privacy? Now I understand that these are their rules, but I still don't understand why they are needed. I've not seen any reason why publicly outing someone's full name is socially acceptable just to use a service.

Four years ago a developer at Facebook put forward my case to those who make these decisions within Facebook, and after being reinstated I became the only person (as far as I know) to have a single name on Facebook. I hope they agree to reinstating my account again, but sadly I don't feel so hopeful this time around. We shall see.

Seeing as Facebook has become the place to keep in touch with pretty much everyone, and pretty much everyone who has me as a friend only knows me as Barbie, it would be a shame to be forceably excluded from interacting with friends I don't get to talk to regularly around the world.

File Under: facebook / life

Know Your Rights

Posted on 26th May 2011

The changes required as part of the EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, which I discussed last week, come into effect today (26th May 2011). The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) released a press release on their website stating that "Organisations and businesses that run websites aimed at UK consumers are being given 12 months to 'get their houses in order'." However, this statement only serves to confuse the issue more. Does this mean that individuals are not covered by the law (the directive implies they are) or does it mean that the leniency given to businesses does not apply to individuals, and thus the full weight of the law and fines will be imposed immediately. The press release also seems to imply that the new law only applies to businesses providing ecommerce websites, so does that mean other businesses and organisations are exempt?

Or, does it mean that those implementing the law and writing press releases are so eager to get something out, they have forgotten that their peace offering to (some?) businesses still leaves a gaping hole in their policy of adhering to the original directive.

And it gets worse. Reading an article on eWeek, George Thompson, information security director at KPMG, is quoted as saying "The new law inadvertently makes the collection of consent - yet another set of sensitive, customer data - compulsory. Companies need to tighten up their data management policies and make absolutely sure that every new data composition is covered." Which leads me to believe that you can now be fined if you don't ask the user to accept cookies, and can be fined if you don't record details of those who said they don't want cookies! Then I assume you can then be fined again if that data isn't securely stored away to adhere to the Data Protection Act.

Did no-one really sit down and think of the implications of all this?

The Register reports that only 2 countries within the EU have notified the Commision that all the rulings have been passed into law, with the other Member States possibly facing infringement proceedings. With such a weight of resistence, wouldn't it be more wise to review the directive properly so all Member States understand and agree to all the implications?

It's not all doom and gloom though. Another article by Brian Clifton on Measuring Success, looks at Google Analytics, and concludes that "Google Analytics uses 1st party cookies to anonymously and in aggregate report on visits to your website. This is very much at the opposite end of the spectrum to who this law is targeting. For Google Analytics users, complying with the ToS (and not using the other techniques described above), there is no great issue here - you already respect your visitors privacy...!" (also read Brian's car counting analogy in comment 3, as well as other comments). In fact Google's own site about Google Analytics supports Brian's conclusion too.

The BBC have posted on their BBC Internet Blog, explaining how they are going to be changing to comply with the law. To begin with they have updated their list of cookies used across all their services. Interestingly they list Google Analytics as 3rd-party cookies, even though they are not, but I think that comes from the misunderstanding many of us had about GA cookies.

Although the ICO website has tried to lead by example, with a form at the top of their pages requesting you accept cookies, this doesn't suit all websites. This method of capturing consent works fine for those generating dynamic websites from self controlled applications, such as ICO's own ASP.NET application, but what about static websites? What about off-the-shelf packages that haven't any support for this sort of requirement?

On the other side of the coin, the ICO themselves have discovered that a cookie used to maintain session state is required by their own application. Providing these are anonymous, the directive would seem to imply that these cookies are exempt, as being "strictly necessary" for the runing of the site. Then again, if they did contain identifying data, but the application wouldn't work without it, is that still "strictly necessary"? A first step for most website owners will be to audit their use of cookies, as the BBC have done, but I wonder how many will view them all as strictly necessary?

It generally means this is going to be an ongoing headache for quite sometime, with ever more questions than answers. As some have noted, it is going to take a legal test case before we truly know what is and isn't acceptable. Here's hoping it goes before a judge well versed with how the internet works, and that common sense prevails.

File Under: internet / law / life / website

Close (To The Edit)

Posted on 8th March 2011

On Saturday March 5th 2011, a neighbour of ours, Kate Angel, took part in a sponsored head shave for Cancer Research UK. Her friend Angie was diagnosed with breast cancer last September and with Angie living in Blackpool, Kate felt she needed to do something to help her. Shaving her head to raise money and awareness seemed to be a positive and inspiring way to do it.

Cora Flowers, a professional hairdresser and neighbour, offered to shave Kate's head, and David Le Marchand, "another Dad", worked on the posters and flyers for the event. Having a video camera, Nicole offered my services to record the whole event as "The man across the road".

Having recorded the event, I then spent Saturday and Sunday having fun editing the video. The full edit came to 30 minutes, but I also managed to make a shorter edit at just over 12 minutes for YouTube, featuring the main highlights.

So far the online donations and the money raised on the day has raised nearly £1,500 (and is expected to be more with all the promotion of the videos). If you would like to donate an amount, please visit Kate's JustGiving page, and donate as little or as much as you can to a very worthy cause.

To see the event itself, watch the YouTube video.

File Under: family / health / life / people / rubery

The Funeral Party

Posted on 28th January 2011

There is something fascinating about graveyards. Rather than being creepy or eerie, I find them quite peaceful. It can be interesting reading the headstones to see how long ago people were buried and some of the dedications.

Recently Dan and I visited the Warstone Lane Cemetery in the Jewellery Quarter, and previously we've visited John Bonham's grave near Droitwich and Ian Curtis' remembrance stone in Macclesfield Cemetery. I've always wanted to visit Highgate Cemetery in London and Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris too. I'll confess that its partly to see where famous names are buried, but I'm also intrigued to see some of the not so famous gravestones, tombs and memorials too.

While attending a funeral several years ago in Cheltenham, I happened to be looking at the headstones as we walked along the path to the crematorium. One stopped me in my tracks as I wasn't quite sure whether I was seeing the resting place of the person I thought it was. The headstone was for Brian Jones and the dates on the headstone did seem to match.

For those who are music fans of the 60s, you will probably remember that Brian Jones was once the guitarist in The Rolling Stones, who died in 1969. My later investigations revealed that the grave was indeed the final resting place for the Stones guitarist.

It's surprising what little parts of history you can discover wandering through a graveyard.

File Under: life / people / sightseeing

Empty Spaces

Posted on 19th January 2011

Over the last year or so, my blogging has been a bit haphazard. There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly it has been down to me not having the time to sit and write about what I've been up to. So to rectify that, I'm going to try and post at least once a week about a project I'm working on, or find time to work through an album of photos that I have been amassing and not sorting through for the past 4 or 5 years, and upload them on a more frequent basis.

I have several coding projects currently on the go, several of which are now interconnected by one major project, Labyrinth, of which I'm slowly working through, getting them packaged and released. Releasing Labyrinth has been a long term goal and much of 2010 was spent pulling all the sites that use it together to filter all the fixes into a single codebase. Its been 8 years in the making and was quite a relief to finally make the first Open Source release of the code on 1st January 2011.

Another project that has been put to one side for the moment is my book. As I've mentioned previously I've been writing a book about how to organise a YAPC Conference. That will make it onto GitHub soon, so others can contribute, but I want to work through the feedback I've had so far to update it enough to prepare another draft.

My music life sprang back into action last year with the reformation of Ark or arK as they are now known. I overhauled the Ark Appreciation Pages I created back in 1998, and now have a backlog of photos, videos and reviews from the last few months to get through. It has been incredible to work with the guys again, and having got back in touch with IQ and Paul Menel, thanks to John Jowitt, it also been great to catch up with many old friends.

My family life has also been quite eventful, for all sorts of reasons, though I'll save a couple of the events for future blog posts, so I don't use up all my post in one :)

2011 is currently looking busy, but hopefully I shall keep to my promise and at least blog about it as I go. We shall see!

File Under: life

Church Of Noise

Posted on 15th September 2010

So the Pope is coming to Birmingham this Sunday, much to the annoyance and irritation of many local residents as well many nationally. He'll be giving a mass in Cofton Park, which is a short walk from where I live. Being so close, the local council has classed us in a restricted area. As a consequence this weekend we'll be prisoners in our own home unless we can prove where we live. We are not allowed visitors, unless we visit them first and give them proof that they are coming to see us.

The restricted area covers quite a large area of Rubery, Rednal, Cofton and Longbridge, and many local businesses are going to suffer. The 2 big pubs, The Old Hare And Hounds and The Oak, the Lai Ling Thai restaurant and the Old Rose And Crown hotel will all being affected, as people travel from outside the area to frequent them on a weekend. I suspect they will either be closed all weekend, or they'll be defiant and local residents will all go out to make a point.

From 6pm on Saturday until 8pm on Sunday we have been told expect severe disruption as roads are closed around the park and restricted access is put in place. Coaches carrying 70,000 people will then descend on Cofton Park from early Sunday morning at around 3am until the mass at 10am. Where these several thousand coaches are going to park is anyone's guess. The mass itself will be heard around the local area thanks to a very large PA system that is being erected. I wonder how many lawsuits local residents will be filing against the Catholic Church if even a whisper is heard through it before 8am on Sunday morning. Technically the pope could even be served with an ASBO.

Cofton Park itself was closed off for public use from last weekend, and won't opened again until a week after the visit. It's supposed to be a public park, and it's being closed for 3 weeks. So much for William Walter Hinde's will bequeathing the park "to be kept for ever as an open space for the benefit of the people of Birmingham."

As we're living in a restricted area, if we leave it, even just to go to the high street shops in Rubery or across the Bristol Road to Great Park for an evening out, unless we carry proof of address, we will not be allowed back in. Even if we're on foot! Apparently the area will be (excessively) policed to ensure no one is there that shouldn't be, so I'm assuming that stop and search will be in full effect, with civil liberties through out the window.

On top of all this we have to pay for it. The church are allegedly covering £9m-£10m for the cost of the visit to the UK, while the tax payer is expected to pay over £12m. A large portion of the population are not catholic, and have no interest in his visit, but local residents are told to pay for the privilege. As you might guess many local residents are not impressed. To make matters worse he's a pope that has a huge dark cloud looming over him because of various child abuse scandals he has been involved in covering up. I'm told he's probably the most unliked pope there has ever been.

So why do the non-catholics have to pay anything? As far as I'm concerned, if he wants to come here, the Catholic Church should foot the complete bill. And in addition should pay compensation to the local councils, which should be put towards community projects, that will benefit everyone in the area, not just a select few.

Several months ago a local councillor or MP, appeared on local news saying something along the lines that the visit would benefit local people with jobs and the like. Others make even bolder statements. Not sure how this can benefit local people, as all the ground crew, police and other support staff are being drafted in, and local businesses are going to severely disrupted. Even the trinket and tshirt sellers aren't from the local area.

And speaking of trinket sellers, how is it that the Catholic Church can rake in profits from sales of their cheap tat, and not expect to cover the remaining costs of the visit? Looking at the pictures it really is cheap tat, except being charged out at over inflated prices. Has the Catholic Church plummeted so low as to be nothing more than Del Boy and Rodney Trotter in the guise of official merchandise?

I remember visiting Lourdes in the South of France over 20 years ago. The initial impression that struck me then was how tacky the place was with all the cheap street sellers, and even the official sellers. The grotto site itself was actually quite peaceful, and although I wasn't caught up with the religious overtones, was relieved to find the grotto devoid of merchandise sellers. The town of Lourdes itself was quite nice, and I did enjoy visiting the Château fort de Lourdes by cable car on the outskirts of the town. In many ways it's a shame that the religious nature of the town over shadows other aspects of the town that are just as worthy of a visit.

It's crossed my mind whether after the visit we'll see parts of the turf from Cofton Park ripped up and sold on eBay, with the heading "The Pope stood here!". The Catholic Church has already plummeted the depths, so I wouldn't be surprised.

Just how much inconvenience and disruption can one man cause, particular when only a small minority from the area actually want him there!

I, like others I suspect, will be awkward just for the sake of being awkward this weekend and see how much hassle it causes to prevent me from entering my own home. I'm guessing the police and officials will just get fed up with residents and let them through anyway. We shall see.

File Under: birmingham / brum / coftonpark / life / longbridge

Living By Numbers

Posted on 13th September 2010

Maisha, now with OAuth support.

A project I started back last year is Maisha, a command line client to interface to social micro-blogging networks, such as Twitter. On 31st August this year, Twitter depreciated the Basic Authention method of allowing applications to login users with a simple username and password combination. In its place they now use OAuth. (See also the blog post by Marc Mims - author of Net-Twitter).

On the face of it, OAuth seemed a bit confusing, and even the documentation is devoid of decent diagrams to explain it properly. Once I did get it, it was surprising to discover just how easy the concept and implementation is. For the most part Marc Mims has implemented all the necessary work within Net-Twitter, so Maisha only needed to add the code to provide the right URL for authorisation, and allow the user to enter the PIN# that then allows the application to use the Twitter API.

The big advantage to OAuth is that you don't need to save your password in plain text for an application. Once you enter the authorisation PIN#, the token is then saved, and reused each time you start up Maisha to access your Twitter feed.

As Identi.ca also implements an Open Source version of Twitter, they have also implemented OAuth in their interface. However, there is a slight modification to Net::Twitter needed, so I will wait for Marc to implement that before releasing the next version of Maisha.

So if you have been using Maisha and have been frustrated that you can no longer access Twitter, you now only need to upgrade to App-Maisha-0.14 and all should work again (once you've entered the PIN# of course).

If you are using Maisha, and have any feedback or wishlist suggestions please let me know.

File Under: life / opensource / perl / technology

Behind The Mask

Posted on 23rd August 2009

Last week it was noted that Why The Lucky Stiff had disappeared from the internet. There have been several thoughts regarding his disappearance, and some very strong reactions too. It strikes as very odd that rather than concern for someone, several have resorted to anger and made matters worse by now digging deeper into his personal life.

While I don't know _why, and I'm not part of the Ruby community, I have been aware of him and even read his Poignant Guide some time ago. He came across as a very creative and interesting character and I'm sure he was a credit to the Ruby community. He appears to have written alot of interesting code and been very good at promoting Ruby, both online and at conferences. So to me it seems strange to read some the "investigation" work going to try and understand why he has disappeared.

Some have suggested something serious has happened, and perhaps he had implemented a Dead Man's Switch, while others have summised that with having his birth name "outed" publicly recently, he just felt the intrusion into his personal life was too much. Whatever has happened I think it's sad that there seems to be lots of negative reaction to the situation. Of all the comments and articles I've read, only John Resig's Eulogy to _why seems to be in anyway a thought provoking hope that all is well the person.

Several people believe that he has taken it as a personal insult that someone has decided to research his birth name, and then publish it publicly. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but it did make me think about how people treat those of us with an unusual online identity, that we happen to use in person too. One person struck as rather insensitive, as he acknowledged that after discovering something about _why's personal life, _why had asked him to keep it private. With the current wave of discussion, that person saw fit to announce it to the world, so they could show a bit of one-up-manship.

In all the time I've known of him, I've only ever known _why by his pen name, and like many others have never felt the need to know his birth name. In the Perl community there are three prominent characters to use an unusual identity both online and in person. chromatic, Abigail and myself. While I've been told the birth names of chromatic and Abigail, I've long since forgotten them as to me their pen names are who they what to be identified as. For myself, I've never gone to great lengths to hide my name, but my pen name is how I prefer to be known. My birth name is for my family (although even some of them refer to me as Barbie) and the tax man.

Once I sent a mail from a work account that included my birth name, to a friend in the Perl community. I received a reply asking if I could send from my personal account in future, as seeing my birth name had confused the hell out of the recipient and took a little while to suddenly realise it was me :) Another friend on discovering my birth name by way of a slip up online, felt the need to alert me, so that i could hide it. It seems some people actually quite like me having an unusual identity.

My pen name actually came about back in 1983, long before I ever got to use the internet, and was extremely useful when I was a Roadie. People remember an unusual name, and I know for a fact that I got asked to crew several gigs because tour managers and the like remembered me by name. I'd like to think it was also that I did a good job too, but that first impression of being introduced as Barbie was rarely forgotten. In all that time I was a roadie (1984-2005), no-one ever really put any effort to discovering my birth name. Some asked, but many more have been more interested in how I got to be named Barbie. Occasionally I've explained that it is my birth name and that my parents were rather eccentric. Amusingly some have even believed that.

However, Barbie is very much my public identity, and that's something that I'd rather keep. It has some very positive benefits for me, as it has helped me to get several jobs, and has often been a good introduction for some. My private life is not something I write about a lot, mostly because it's private. I talk about Dan, Ethne and Nicole from time to time as they are part of who I am, though others guard even that part of their life very carefully. In _why's case, this was something that he didn't seem to want to promote, at least not in the context of his _why persona. Respecting someone's privacy should be an obvious thing for any human to understand, though sadly there are some that feel that no-one has a right to a private life.

Does discovering someone's birth name really make any difference to how you see that person? The only reason I can see for anyone making something like that public, against the wishes of the individual, is to begin a character assassination. As I see it, _why may well have therefore taken steps to ensure that if people cannot respect his privacy, then why should he respect what they think about all he has given them. To some it is a tantrum, to me is purely about having had enough with the world that the persona of Why The Luck Stiff touched, and wanting to walk away completely and utterly, leaving no trace that it ever existed.

As I say at the beginning, I don't know the reasons for the disappearance, but I do hope that the person behind the persona is okay.

File Under: internet / life / people / web

From the Time You Say Goodbye

Posted on 31st March 2009

Today was my last day at MessageLabs/Symantec. After 6 years it was sad to say goodbye to a lot of people, as it has been an absolute pleasure working with such a great group of people. There are some people I'm going to really miss, but thankfully several of them I will be able to catch up with at various Perl events throughout the year.

I've worked on some intresting projects and learnt a lot about SMTP, email and networking during my time with MessageLabs. In fact it's been so interesting it has been worth the morning and evening drive along the M5 for every working day in the last 6 years! But now it's time to move on.

My future challenges currently involve working on all the Open Source and Perl (obviously) projects that I haven't had time for over the past year, taking some time out, relishing NOT having to travel along the M5 every morning and evening, and planning my international speaking tour (okay there are currently only 4 dates throughout the year, but it sounds good ;)) 

I'm not planning to rush into anything, and instead want to take the time to find the right job for me, and to find the right company that can make good use of me. There are a few possibilities that have already been mentioned to me, so I'm hopeful that I won't be looking for too long.

In the meantime, expect several updates to CPAN, CPAN Testers, Maisha, among many other projects I haven't time to work on properly for the past year or so. I shall not be idle :)

File Under: life

New Sensation

Posted on 5th March 2009

In the UK, Walkers Crips are perhaps the strongest brand of crisps on the market. They're also the most inivitive too. Every so often they try a different flavour out, and while most rarely see the light of day again, some do stick around. A more recent one is the Marmite crisps, which having proved so successful are now made by Marmite themselves. Last year Walkers Crisps ran a competition to find some new flavours. Out of the hundreds of entries they picked 6 and have now mass produced them to let the public vote on their favourites.

Walkers have been quite clever about this as they packaged them into two 6-bag bundles, with three flavours in each. It means rather than trying to find the flavours individually in your local corner shop, you can grab a couple of extra 6-bag bundles and try them all out twice.

The six flavours are:

  • Fish & Chips
  • Crispy Duck & Hoisin
  • Cajun Squirrel
  • Builder's Breakfast
  • Onion Bhaji
  • Chilli & Chocolate

The mix could be seen as 2 traditional British dishes, 2 international dishes and 2 just plain weird. Now of the latter, Chilli & Chocolate isn't that unusual, as I've seen and eaten Chilli flavoured chocolate bars before, but Cajun Squirrel! Never having tried squirrel I can't comment on it's accuracy, but I can't really see it being a lasting flavour beyond it's novelty value.

I've now tried them all, and after some consideration I would have to rate them as:

  1. Onion Bhaji
  2. Crispy Duck & Hoisin
  3. Builder's Breakfast

Of the rest I wouldn't be particularly interested in trying again. Cajun Squirrel tastes like Roast Chicken, Fish & Chips tastes like Salt & Vinegar and while Chilli & Chocolate does taste exactly as it says, having first thought the chocolate bars were an interesting idea, I will most definitely not be voting for them.

It'll be interesting to see which flavour wins, and perhaps more importantly how long it lasts as a popular flavour. I think the 2 international dishes are likely to hold out longer than the others, as they both have a distinct flavour of their own, plus we Brits have a strong liking for Indian and Chinese cuisine. Still, whichever wins, I'm sure it'll be overshadowed by the next big Walkers Crisp marketing campaign :)

File Under: food / life

Open Your Eyes

Posted on 3rd March 2009

Thanks to a twitter post by Simon Phipps this morning, I read with interest a blog post by Patrick Finch, entitled Mozilla and Cybermentors. Mozilla are getting actively involved with the UK charity BeatBullying and their CyberMentors programme.

It's unlikely that anyone growing up hasn't suffered some form of bullying. It comes in all shapes and forms, and while for some of it may be minor or only last a short time, for some it can have devasating effects. A colleague recently took his own life, because the traumatic and abuse he suffered through primary and secondary school, even over ten years later, was still something that affected his life and personality, and was something he felt he could no longer cope with. I personally was first bullied by my 3rd year junior teacher. Yes you read that right a teacher, and I was just 9. It isn't just children that can be cruel and spiteful, adults can too. While I would dearly love to name the teacher in question, I have no proof beyond my word, and even now feel powerless to do anything about it, much as I did back then. Many children who suffer from bullying feel exactly the same way. Even if they told, who would listen and who would even believe them?

As Patrick points out in his post, many young people are growing up never knowing how we used to keep in contact with our friends, without using the internet or mobile phones. We play out so much of our lives online, that it shouldn't be a surprise that a recent Harvard University task force concluded that one of the biggest risks to children on the internet, isn't from sexual predators, but from bullies. The difference between the school yard bulling and cyber-bullying, is that the former is pretty much contain within a small sphere and often there are adults and peers who can deal with it and stop it. On the internet anyone can hide behind their relative anonymity and victimise just about anyone they choose. As it isn't within school grounds, teachers are often unable or ill-equiped to deal with it.

As such, the Cybermentors aims to be a way for youngsters experiencing bullying online to tell someone about it. Mozilla are offering to support 10 members of the Mozilla community to be trained as Cybermentors, who can then spend at least 2 hours a week for 4 months, helping children to cope and deal with any bullying issues. All credit to Mozilla for supporting this, and hopefully other companies will also be willing to help fund training for individuals to act as mentors.

A few years ago the GetSafeOnline campaign was initiated to help make parents and youngsters aware of the potential dangers on the internet. Identifying ways to protect themselves from viruses, phishing scams and spam, as well as unwanted websites, chatrooms and the like. While this programme is different in that it's targeting a very specific danger, it is still all about keeping the internet safe for everyone. I personally value efforts such as this, rather than the sometimes heavy-handed and misguided attempts by governments and self-appointed puritans of the internet to protect children from percieved threats.

I really hope BeatBullying and the Cybermentors programme gets a lot of internet and media exposure, as the more children are aware of it, the more chance they have of coping with it and not suffering mental anguish for the whole of their (possibly short) adult life. If you're a member of the Mozilla community, and think you can spare the time, please read Patrick's blog post and get in touch with him.

File Under: internet / life / school / security / web

It's My Life

Posted on 4th February 2009

The twitter phenomenon has grown rather well over the past few months. I have started to use it more in the last month, and I note that a number of people I'm friends and acquaintences with have also been using it quite a lot. Which is nice, as although some use it to just tell everyone what they are doing now, others use it as a blogging tool to have a quick rant, or ask followers a question. Occasional conversations and idle banter make it quite a fun way to keep in touch with firends and people you like to talk to, plus there are the useful links to news items, etc. that people post.

Every one of my followers I either know personally, or have had contact with them online several times prior to twitter. Of the people I follow (discounting project/news feeds), only Stephen Fry and Henry Rollins I don't know personally. Seeing as they are well known personalities they expect to have a lot of followers, Stephen has recently reached over 100,000 followers. But I'm not a celebrity or well known personality, yet I'm starting to get twitter requests from people who I have never met, or know anything about. That's not to say that they are random people, as those are usually easy to spot and can be ignored, but are followers of and/or followed by other people I know. I have my twitterings protected as I really don't like the idea of people I don't know, randomly trying to follow everything I say. Not that I have anything necessarily personal to say, but to me I feel my whitterings have a limited personal appeal and are really only of interest to those that actually know me.

With that said, you could argue that I am well known in the Perl community, and indeed I am. But from that perspective people are really only interested in my projects, most specifically CPAN Testers. However, those projects I blog about elsewhere, and are not a regular part of my tweets. It feels awkward to actively block people from my twitter feed, so I usually leave them in the queue, hoping that I eventually meet them, or have someone else mention them, so I can get a reference as to who they are.

I wonder how others feel about random people listening in on their musings? Does it feel like an intrusion or do you feel you are reaching people with what's going on in your life. Do you use it as a way for others to keep tabs on what project you're working on, or do you like the idea of people being interested in you?

Twitter has certainly been a strange success. It's kind of like a global IRC, with a channel that you create. It's reached outside of the geeks that started to use it, and with the success of Facebook and the status updates, people who would never have thought to put their lives on the internet are now doing so. At the moment, outside of Japan, they have no revenue model, so it will be intriguing to see how long that can last, and whether any future changes turn off the new adopters of the service. I'm sure we'll hear a tweet or two about it when it does.

File Under: internet / life / people / web

I Can See For Miles

Posted on 1st September 2008

Idiocy At Work, #1 in a possible series.

In July 2008 I received a letter from my opticians (Dollond & Aitchison), which I've only just got around to reading, and basically proclaims I am breaking the law for doing nothing! Apparently it regards a bit of new legislation that I've never heard of and which they fail to back up with any reference to the actual legislation. The actual quote is:

"Legislation designed to protect the health of your eyes means you are required to have a regular check to ensure that we can continue to supply you with contact lenses."

Further into the letter they also say:

"You must act before 21/07/2008 otherwise we cannot supply you with any more lenses."

So now I'm a criminal and blacklisted by D&A from them ever supplying me any contacts lenses ever again! WTF! How to drive away business in a nutshell. I have tried to phone their office, but keep getting an answer phone, so will have to wait to attempt to follow this up. However, I cannot believe a company would be so stupid as to commit commercial suicide by selling their customers this kind of rubbish.

There is no law that I am aware of that has ever been drawn up, that now means several million people in the UK are now criminals for never had their eyes checked in the last year. Or is it just contact lens wearers? On top of that, that any previous supplier to that (now branded) criminal is now banned for life from ever supplying contact lenses to that criminal. Now I am willing to be educated, so I'll pursue this as I don't believe that the message they are selling is the correct one. If it is then this country is in an even bigger quagmire than I thought, and if it isn't then I'd like to know why they think it's a good sales initiative to use scare tactics to frighten their customers into getting a contact lens check.

To be continued....

If anyone out there in webland is aware of the appropriate legislation and can point me at an online version, I'd be very grateful. If anyone from D&A reads this, then feel free to contact me to explain why you think threatening your customers is a good sales tactic.

File Under: health / law / life

Between The Wheels

Posted on 8th June 2008

A friend of mine, Arnaud, has been planning the trip of a lifetime for a couple of years. Earlier this year he began his sabbatical from work and prepared for his trek from France to China. Although based in Cheltenham, UK, he first headed over to France to stay with his parents and make final preparations for the trip. However, there have been a few issues regards getting into China, so at the moment he's unsure of whether he have to fly in, or will be able to ride in.

He has a website, Frog On A Bike, which he has been updating on a regular basis, with tales of his journey and plenty of photos and even a few videos of his trek. He's currently in Russia, heading for Astrakhan and Kazakhstan. Considering it's only been 6 weeks since he hit the road on 21st April for his World Tour, he's travelled a very impressive distance. It's been great reading of his travels, and looks to be a journey I would have loved to have done. Although, I think I would have had to drive rather than ride. I'm not that fit these days :)

The funniest sight he's seen so far has to be the Fake Police Car. I'm just hoping the UK police don't get ideas and start putting these around the country.

File Under: friends / life / sightseeing

I Feel The Earth Move

Posted on 27th February 2008

Last night, just before at about 1AM, an earthquake hit the UK. At the time, Nicole woke me up and was a little worried that something had happened to the house, as she heard the wardrobe bumping against the wall. Unfortunately, possibly because I was tired, I didn't hear or see anything. After checking on the kids and checking outside, everything seemed fine and we went back to sleep. This morning on the news we discovered that there had been an earthquake just south of Hull, that had been felt in London, Newcastle and across the midlands.

Last time there was such a major earthquake in the UK, the other side of Dudley (about 15 miles from my house) in September 2002, I was out of the country, having just attended YAPC::Europe in Munich, so only got to hear about. This time around I was half-asleep and too tired to notice. Not that I want to experience the full effects of a devastating earthquake, but next time I hope I'm a bit more with it!

File Under: birmingham / life

Other Voices

Posted on 4th January 2008

Back at the beginning of last month I got an interesting email. It came from an internal recruiter with The Mozilla Corporation. She was acting on behalf of David Ascher and was looking to recruit for a number of roles for the newly formed company MailCo. For those not aware of recent developments with Mozilla, MailCo has been setup as a subsidiary of The Mozilla Corporation to directly manage, develop and promote the Thunderbird mail client. The role that they had contacted me regarding was that of QA Community Lead.

From the aspect of being involved with QA activities I can understand why I would be considered, I can also understand that my Perl community profile could be seen as holding me in good standing for a raise in profile, and I can also appreciate that my years at MessageLabs put me in a good position to be accepted as having a fair knowledge of email and the associated protocols. But I still had to ask ... "why me?"

I don't see myself as a high profile player and I haven't previously been involved with any Mozilla related development, so it struck me a little unusual that they would want to get an outsider for the role. Following the initial email, I did a bit of research and tried to get a better understanding of what was expected of the role and what would be expected of me personally. After a telephone conversion I got the impression that the role would be very interesting and would probably have interested me from the QA perspective, as well as having the potential for me to attend a few more conferences around the world. But in the back of my mind was still the fact that I would still be taking on an immense task in getting to know the community and to inspire and lead it. As it turns out they also decided that getting someone already known within the Mozilla community would be better for them, and I think I would have to agree. Especially seeing as they are only planning to work with a small team and need everyone to be able to hit the ground running. However, it was extremely nice to be considered and has made me think a lot about how I am perceived outside of the Perl community.

File Under: community / job / life


Posted on 19th November 2007

It's snowing!

It's snowing!

Early this morning, just before going to bed, we happened to look out into the back garden and noticed a rather large abundance of white. It had been trying to snow earlier in the day, but it hadn't been settling. After it had gone dark it would seem the snow had fallen a little more heavily. I tried taking some photos through the kitchen window, using a night setting, but I think it would have been better had I been outside. Seeing as I was too tired to go out (it was 2am) and it was far too cold, I had to make do. Hopefully this won't be the last snow, as I'd like to get some with Ethne playing in the snow :)

File Under: birmingham / brum / life / photography / rubery / weather

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Posted on 6th October 2007

I can't quite believe that September is over already! 4 family birthdays, including my own, loads to do at work and plenty of personal projects and I still have yet to fully clear out my home office so that Ethne can have her own bedroom. I've still tons to do for this month, but there is an end in sight. Well until next month anyway :)

File Under: life

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