Friday, 28 May 2021

Take no action, Pray!

I remember as a child having those extremely silly arguments about which character in a movie or TV show was 'better' than another.  Children seem to go through an intensely annoying (from an adults point of view) phase where 'better' is important but the subjects of discussion are largely irrelevant in a real-world context.  Such playground debates are often subject to much hyperbole and exaggeration and can lead to raised voices, hurtful comments and even physical violence.

Ultimately the 'debate' (if it can even be called that) is futile even in the context of the abstract world that is being discussed because the attributes and pros/cons of a given character can be changed at the whim of the movie or TV producers to suit their real-world concerns, e.g. actors leave, TV channels want more advertising, etc.

I would suggest that the real world conflicts of religion and faiths bear many similarities to these playground arguments.  By this I am not actually casting aspersions on the existence of a god or gods or even on the validity of a faith but on the way it's proponents can get worked up into ridiculous debates over who/what is 'better'.  It's the same behaviour; extremes of exaggeration, argument, and in this case, bloody violence and murder can result.  My view is right, you are wrong.  My interpretation is right, you are wrong.

However, in the context of these discussions each side is talking about a god/gods that they supposedly believe, with all of their hearts and minds, exists in reality and is omnipresent, all powerful, created the entire universe and is the ultimate judge over everyone.

Just stop and think about that for a moment.

An entity so powerful it can command the forces in the universe, rip black holes apart, create and destroy matter with a word.

To quote the genie from Aladdin: "phenomenal cosmic power!"

If such an entity wanted the world to be a certain way they are more than capable of making it so without any help or hindrance from any creature on this planet.

Which leads to the title of this post, something I hope every believer in the world will do when faced with a problem that usually results in argument, debate, anger, violence or worse.

Take no action, pray.

Your god needs no help from you.  If you believe that the world is not how it should be then surely simply professing your heart-felt belief in prayer and asking for help in resolving the situation should be enough.

To take some recent examples: you don't believe in gay marriage; don't lobby, don't vote against this, simply pray that god will prevent it from happening.  Baking a cake for a gay wedding: just do the best you can throw yourself into baking the best cake ever and then pray that god can resolve this matter.

Not got that caliphate you wanted: again pray that god simply creates it.  Throw down your guns and bombs and wait for god to grant what you believe he has predestined your people to have.  You have all these Palestinians in your 'promised land', don't bother with the walls, guns and intimidation, just pray for them to be removed.

Gay son, you want him to be "normal"?  Don't bother with gay 'cure' therapy, just tell your son you love him no matter what and then pray for him to be straight.  The same obviously applies for a gay daughter.  Even a child who identifies as trans, see what the medical establishment can do for them and then pray.

Take no action, pray.

I know this sounds like a glib idea and I am being facetious.  Yes it is, and I am.  However, really think about this: if you put your faith in a god that can create the universe (which is pretty big and complicated) then your assistance and help isn't required.  A god that really cares and really wants to change matters can make his/her feelings and wishes known without your interpretation of these nor your efforts.

If you don't agree with the above consider this: how do we tell the difference between a god that isn't directly acting to change things and the non-existence of same?  If it's humans actually trying to change things and putting in all the effort, how can you discern whether they are doing this because it's simply their belief rather than what they say their god wants.

I'd suggest that, without the direct, obvious, and completely clear involvement of a god/gods it is most likely that what people carry out in his/her/it's name is simply what they themselves believe.







Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Risk to human rights after Brexit?

This recent article from the Guardian gave me some cause for thought

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/13/post-brexit-trade-partners-ask-uk-to-lower-human-rights-standards

I'm not entirely sure I believe the excuses from Liam Fox as they seem somewhat to play into the fears from many in the remain camp.  It is possible that there may be a grain of truth in the claims but the reality might be that they weren't entirely significant details in negotiations and those areas may not have been or primary concern.  Blowing the issues out of all proportion might be a good tactic to divert attention away from what seems to be an overall poor performance in terms of negotiating trade deals for a post-Brexit utopia that we seem to have been promised.

Whether human or workers rights are under threat might be a wider issue though.  Consider that some countries, e.g. the US https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_labor_law, have somewhat less generous terms of employment that we currently enjoy under the EU and UK rules.  I'm not sure whether a US company may want to have the same employment rules for staff they employ in the UK, certainly benefits such as maternity leave cost companies money, possibly the US approach would be cheaper https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maternity_leave_in_the_United_States 

Or would it be that UK companies themselves would be calling on a relaxation of employment law such that their costs and obligations would be lessened allowing them to be more competitive in the market place.

In the past I have worked for several companies as a consultant and in most if not all of these I specifically signed away the 48hour working time directive limit as part of agreeing to my contract.  I didn't have to do that but in each case it was a simple practical consideration since work for clients may stretch beyond that time limit.

In fact on one assignment in the US a manager actually planned my work such that I was doing almost 7 days straight (and at the very least had to work the weekend) to meet a deadline.  I didn't complain because the company treated employees very well and I certainly had plenty of perks that made up for that, and I was personally happy to help the client concerned.  However, not everyone is so lucky to have a good company and client to work for, sometimes things aren't as happy and cheery and having employment law which means you can stick to the 48hour/week limit or at least have your employer held to some reasonable obligation of duty of care is a nice safety net to fall back on.

Ultimately business is business, it's about making money, and often for larger companies it's focussed on maximising shareholder profits.  There are numerous examples of companies that have prioritised money above other considerations so no matter how much you want to hope that everyone will play nice and fair the only way to ensure that employees, customers, competitors, the environment, are all protected is to have a good strong legal protections and principles in place and certain rights that we stick to.

How much of the above would our current government be prepared to sacrifice to get trade deals, bearing in mind that we are potentially going to be on our own trying to negotiate with very little leverage.  



Saturday, 2 January 2016

EE screwed up our phone numbers

Well I haven't posted for ages since nothing really to write about but now it's time for a bit of a rant so what better way to vent spleen.

First some background, we have 3 phones:
  • One for my partner, K
  • One for my son
  • One for me
All of these phones are on EE.  K has had her contract for many years (originally as orange then EE).  She has had the same number for all of that time.

I transferred my number to EE and started a 12month contract (SIM only).  At the same time I got a contract for my son for his new phone, also SIM only.  Both of these ended up (when the SIMs were activated) coming out of a single bank account.  I wanted my son's phone to be charged to a separate account.

So, I used the online chat with EE to ask for my son's contract to be billed to the correct, separate, bank account.  They moved both across!  There is no obvious way to fix this situation with the online account management options and since EE themselves didn't seem to be able to get this right we came up with our own solution.

Our plan was to move my billing over to K as her phone was already being billed to the correct account (a joint one in fact).  This seemed perfectly possible as I currently had two phones (my son's and mine) on one EE 'account'.

So K phoned up on 30th December to get things moved over.  We explained what we needed and we both had to provide security details.

This is where things got awkward and a little upsetting.  The idea of a female gay couple didn't seem to register.  Even worse, the EE customer services person kept asking if I was female because she said I sounded like a man.  She mentioned this several times and even asked if this had happened to me before, I said it had but that I was definitely female, or at least I was the "last time I checked".  I asked if she needed to ask any more questions for me to get through the security check and she said no but I still sounded like a man.

I do have a deeper voice.  Some women do.  Some men have higher voices.  While this can be confusing on a phone (which does have limited frequency response so isn't a perfect audio signal at the best of times) the point is not to make a big deal out of it. 

Anyway, K proceeded with sorting things out and we were told it would be completed soon.

After 3hrs, my phone suddenly lost coverage.

K got texts saying "welcome to EE".

When we checked the number on K's phone it was mine!  My phone had no number.

When we checked online to see the status of our accounts - mine had one device, my son's, and K had one, her phone but with my number.

Given that this was NOT what we had asked for AND that it would, in fact, be a breach of contract (my SIM only deal was for 12months, only 3 had elapsed) we were shocked it had even happened without any notice whatsoever.  I certainly haven't had any emails saying "your contract was terminated early".

K phoned up immediately and explained the situation and we were told that it would take 72hrs to resolve!

So, it's possible to break things in 3hrs but fixing takes longer?

So the situation we found ourselves in was as follows

  • I had no number.  No calls, texts, or 3G/4G data on the move
  • K had my number 
  • Since her friends/family had her original number they can't contact her
  • I can't contact anyone* 
(* Since we have iPhones some contact was still possible through iMessage - thanks Apple!)

So, from a 'safety' usefulness point of view, K was still technically able to call if she needed assistance but I can't.  Obviously this is one of the reasons people have mobile phones - if you are late, breakdown, or need to contact people.

All in all not ideal.

Fast forward 48hrs and K phoned up to check progress as we'd heard nothing.  She was told that it would be 72hrs to fix.  When she said "we were told that 48hrs ago" EE responded "24hrs from now".

Given this is a rant you can guess things aren't fixed yet.

K just phoned again and apparently it's 72 "working hours".  This is a little confusing, what is counted as "working" time.  Does that mean any week day?  OR does it mean actual 9-5 hours.  So, 8 of those per day so 9 week days? 

To be clear, K did check when we were given the initial estimate of 72hrs and the second one of 24 that these were just elapsed time.  They said they were.

So, we were given incorrect information when we phoned on the first two occasions.  We were misled and given false hope that things would be fixed.

We have no been told that the issues will be completely resolved by midnight on Wednesday.  So we will have been without our correct phone service for over a week.  K is still being charged for her phone.  I'm not sure if I am for mine as no contract/device appears to exist.

Apparently K's number as gone into a 'hibernation' pool for 6months.  This is where all numbers go once they are discarded.  Presumably this is to allow time for any calls to old numbers to be 'bounced' and then for them to be recycled.  Retrieving a number from this pool is apparently the time-consuming part.

K asked if I could just be given a temporary number and/or if she could and my number restored.  Apparently that is not possible.

The best the manager on the other end of the line could offer is to pay £10 onto our bill to cover a PAYG SIM that we could go and pick up from the EE shop!

This is all very confusing; normally activating a phone is done within a matter of hours, maximum 24hrs for even transferring an existing number between networks.  Why couldn't EE just make up for their mistake and assign K or I a temporary number?  Surely that is what happens to SIMs all the time and it's automated/quick.  No, apparently they couldn't do that.

At this point, to add insult to injury the manager on the phone was referring to K's partner as 'male' again.  K had already explained to the first call handler that we had an upsetting experience on the previous call.  You'd think a manager could get this right.  K corrected him.

Now, I appreciate that mobile phone call centres are probably manic places, and we certainly don't hold the individuals we have talked to responsible for the mistakes.  Things do go wrong, mistakes do happen and those at fault need to put them right (or more often than not, someone else in another department needs to sort out the mess).

EE has failed to do this in a timely fashion.  They have misled us about the timescale to resolve the issue, they have failed to adequately make-up or apologise for their error.  They have also compounded matters by having issues with the way they deal with their customers regarding gender and sexuality to the point that their call handlers make comments that are upsetting and show a distinct lack of education and awareness.

In short, this is absolutely terrible customer service.  We will be making a formal complaint in writing to EE.  I would not in any way recommend their service given this utter mess (in part caused by their woeful online account management).

K's contract comes to an end in March, mine around September.  We'll both we seriously considering other options.  I'd already looked at Three and found the features of their plans (unlimited data, minutes, texts, inclusive roaming etc) to be far better than EE.  Coverage isn't as good but we might just be able to live with that.

Okay, it's maybe no big deal for EE to lose a few contracts.  In fact, we pretty much feel that this comes across in their customer service.


Monday, 19 January 2015

The Pope missed the point

The Pope, the leader of a Church with over 1Billion followers, is reported to have said that there are limits to freedom of expression.  He states that

"You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit."

On an individual level I agree with this up to a point, it would certainly be unfair to deliberately insult someone's faith in an aggressive manner.  And certainly penalising someone for what they believe or inciting others towards vicious attacks (verbal or otherwise) based on those beliefs is frankly not sporting.

There are plenty of things that we believe (e.g. I believe I'm not bad at dancing ... I secretly suspect this is not the case) that others may find silly.  Common decency demands that we play nice otherwise things descend into a free-for-all where everyone is exposed as silly and upset at others for pointing that out.

However, to quote Brian Cox (scientist and ex Pop Star):

"The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it. The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!"

I agree completely with that quote but given what I said above it's probably sensible to temper things with something like the golden rule.

However, what the Pope got wrong is in the underlying assumption that faiths as a whole are in some way beyond criticism and ridicule.  I personally prefer to use the word 'faith' for an individual's belief and 'religion' for the collection of ideas, rules, and dogma.  I don't believe the Pope was making that distinction.

While individuals may have 'silly' beliefs, what religions hold true can be, as we've seen, downright dangerous.  And this is where Brain Cox view is particularly pertinent.  While most of us will keep our beliefs to ourselves, the point at which those beliefs break the golden rule is where the line is drawn.

The Pope's example of this scenario is (from the BBC article) the following:

"  'If my good friend Doctor Gasparri [who organises the Pope's trips] speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched,' he said, throwing a pretend punch at the doctor, who was standing beside him. " 

No.

Definitely not.

You're advocating violence against someone for the words they use.  It's a VERY short step from there to saying that insulting a religious figure should result in the kind of extreme violence seen recently.

First of all the scenarios are entirely different.  As far as I am aware the Pope's mother has led a blameless life and would not be deserving of any criticism.  So the correct response to anyone saying anything bad about her is to ignore or even ridicule them for the unsupportable comments.

You don't go and beat them up.

Someone verbally attacking the Pope for his views (which is essentially what I am doing) should NOT be physically attacked.  I'm attempting to give a reasoned argument.  I believe I am supporting this with logical points.  Feel free to point out any errors.

Someone verbally attacking, and even attacking the Catholic church and religion, based on taking apart aspects of dogma which are logically ridiculous should be completely free to do so.  There are many people who would see that as provocative and insulting.  That is their opinion and they are welcome to defend their views verbally also.

Ultimately any consensus should be reached on valid, logical, and supportable (with evidence) arguments.  No violence is required for any of that.

And in none of this does any one person or groups beliefs get special treatment.  You cannot derive a superior or protected position in an argument just because *you* believe that should be the case.

So the correct response to someone criticising your religion is to ignore them, possibly even ridicule them in a clever and humourous way.  That generally wins more arguments than beating someone up.  Generally people like clever comebacks and will side with someone being attacked and defending themselves with style.

Resorting to any kind of violence (are you listening to this your Pope-ness) generally loses the argument quite rapidly.  For example, I read that Charlie Hebdo had a circulation of only 60,000 before the attacks and was viewed by many as racists and marginal.  They supposedly printed 6,000,000 copies of the latest run and sold out at that.

This is probably not a victory for reason however you look at it, just an escalation of one group metaphorically punching another for saying something bad about their equally metaphorical Mother.

Given the Pope's stupid comments above it's clear that being the leader of over a billion followers does not in any way make you wise.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

List of torrent sites ...

... courtesy of the UK Courts!







If you search on Google for anything like "torrents" and happen to click on one of the links that are blocked the above is what you'll get.  I presume this page will increase as more sites are blocked by UK Court Orders.

The ISP I am currently using is BT, I believe that they, and other major players in the market, e.g. Virgin, TalkTalk, Sky, are all following the blocking list above.

I guess there may be similar blocking in place in the US.

However, I'm pretty sure the blocking list isn't in place in *every* country - many are against censorship of any kind.  So, assuming you can find a proxy in a more 'liberal' country then you can happily use the above list as a nice starting point to find those torrents.

I think this raises two important points:

1) Did someone *really* think this through?  Irrespective of the arguments for/against this kind of blocking, was it wise to publicise the list?  Or is this actually a requirement for this kind of blocking?  I hope it's the latter since there absolutely SHOULD be transparency in such matters.  In fact, if this is the route we're going down then it should be impossible to block a site without such a block being made public - it would allow accidental blacklisting to be avoided/contested.

2) There was an article this morning on the BBC about GMail being blocked in China.  This is not entirely the same argument since pirated copies of films, music, and games are, at least in the UK, currently illegal, GMail, social media sites, and other communications are not.  However, it's also been argued that alot of the torrent sites are simply search engines, they themselves do not host any content.  Google will return torrent results, though these are starting to be removed from search results.  Do we really want tampering with search results?  Are alternatives available without such tampering, e.g. DuckDuckGo which supposedly doesn't filter.

Personally I'm not a fan of censorship and I don't like the idea of the blacklist/blocking approach because I think it has many technical and philosophical weaknesses.  I know there is definitely content out there that is illegal and unpleasant but I suspect the people accessing that are already using methods to circumvent the above blocking.  So censorship like the above list really comes down to big media companies throwing lots of money around.

So, as I've always said, why can't they throw that money at making decent online distribution services that are easy to use, fair, and provide greater benefit and features to the customers.  This happened with music on the whole - iTunes, Amazon, et al distribute music without DRM restrictions in place and seem to make plenty money doing so.  It's now more attractive to use those services for music (albeit for some hard-to-find or ridiculously over-priced items) rather than resort to torrents.

Do the same for video - stick that back catalog of old movies (80s, 90s, etc) and charge $1 a download rather than trying to sell old DVDs which cost money to ship, store, shift.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Satellite Broadband

I am incredibly lucky to live in a nice rural area, while it's lacking sometimes in some amenities it is, frankly, absolutely beautiful! Oh, and certainly much cheaper than trying to live in a city (which is another one of the reasons we ended up here).

Anyway, despite the estate being relatively new it appears that our internet connection is delivered via a damp piece of string and the maximum that ADSL 2 can give us is about 4.5Mb/sec. BT have started offering FTTC but even that only gets to 13Mb/sec according to the availability checker.

So we've had to go with keeping the rubbishy ADSL line for now (which is also on our landline) and getting Satellite Broadband as both a backup and for speed when needed - both of these really are to support my working/contracting from home where it's vital that I can connect to the office over VPN

Delivery

Actually arrived within a couple of days of the order! Big box with modem and TRIA and even bigger box with a white/cream Tooway satellite dish assembly.  This is a BIG dish and rather heavy too.  You could probably set it all up yourself but it's a fair weight to take up a height to fasten onto your wall so best to pay for someone to do that!

Fitting

Getting a professional fitting service meant that we had everything installed about a week after the order and it took about 2hrs to complete including running the cable to the sitting room and gettting it through the wall - same kind of procedure to having Sky TV installed.

Modem

The really important thing about the modem is that it is pretty basic.  No configurable DHCP, no wireless, and no easy configuration to allow it to have a static IP address or play nice with the rest of your setup in anyway whatsoever.  I can understand that the main 'cleverness' is in the satellite gadgetry but really the companies that make these things need some serious UX help

To insulate my carefully setup network from the modem I bought a TP-Link TL-R460 which is a neat little router that has a WAN port that can talk to modems over ethernet (it gets an IP address for this network via DHCP - yes, the SurfBeam2 Satellite Modem does have DHCP but it's not configurable) and then has a LAN network that 'looks' more like a normal router.

Usage

Primarily I'm using ADSL for now with the Satellite as backup.  Eventually I'm going to use some sort of crude load-balancing or sharing of usage of the two links.  The ADSL though slow is still quite responsive.  The satellite has ping times around 700ms - 2000ms depending on site (I think the satellite ping time is around 600ms).  That said it does still seem reasonably responsive.

I found the performance of the link to be extremely slow during the first week.  The bandwidth was slower than the ADSL connection.  After about a week of light usage/testing the performance started to get close to the promised 20Mb/sec download and 2Mb/sec upload.  I need to carry out more tests though.

Overall

Definitely I need to make more use of the satellite to get a feel for performance and usefulness but for now it seems like it would be perfectly usable in an emergency and could also be handy for off-peak downloads/uploads.  Despite the dish looking a bit of an eyesore it's at least hidden at the side of the house and isn't in the way.

I would also have to admit to a tiny glow of geekiness in that I'm using the internet over a satellite link!  It's pretty cool that traffic can be sent direct from a dish on the house, up to a satellite, bounced back down to earth and then on to it's destination.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

And now for something completely different ...

Thankfully I have many cultured and amazing friends on FaceBook, Twitter, etc such that things like the video below I get to see/hear/experience when I would likely not be priviledged enough to have my relatively tiny mind expanded if left to it's own devices.



I have no idea how to categorise this music nor the vocabulary to describe or critique it.  All I can say is the video was fabulously enjoyable to watch and I look forward to learning more.



John Dowland | Now, O Now | Lute Song by Les Canards Chantants

Please, please, please, give this a watch and like/share/retweet