Tuesday, 24 November 2009


A marketing genius at Microsoft has hired the only UK girl-group everyone thinks was better in a previous iteration to promote Windows 7. Well thought-out, that man.

(Also, I pity the fool whose job it is to read the submissions to the competition: "Win a private gig with the Sugababes! Enter your perfect gig ideas now..." - didn't someone just get sued for that sort of thing by Girls Aloud?)

Monday, 9 November 2009

Stephen Fry vs Catholics

From the recent Intelligence Squared debate, here's Stephen Fry on the Catholic Church:

(skip to 2m30 to avoid Ann Widdecombe)

He starts out in such a measured and nice way that when he begins to round on the church for all its ills it really is magnificent to watch and considerably better than Christopher Hitchens' blustery attempt. Fry really is an excellent lecturer.
According to PoliticsHome, Evan Harris has written to Alan Johnson accusing him of a litany of errors.

Bless him (in an entirely rationalist manner) for this.

I think it's pretty shameful that the Home Secretary is allowed to wander into Parliament and basically lie about everything in order to get his way. Harris's comprehensive demolition of Johnson's comments probably won't change anything at all, but it does demonstrate how morally bankrupt the arse-end of Nu Labour's ministerial picks have become.

This is one of those days on which I find politics deeply depressing rather than exciting.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Hurray! The Lib Dems website has finally got an accent colour! Now everything is not just varying shades of piss-yellow.

This is a massive improvement.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

On the ACMD

According to this Times leader and elsewhere:

The classification of drugs involves many issues besides its harmfulness — the social context is important.

But the ACMD's job is explicitly to consider social implications of drug use. That's why of the 28 members listed here:
- 6 are police or probation officers or judges
- 8 lead drug charities or work in social work
- 7 are medical doctors or vetinarians (one vet and one dentist!)
- 6 are what we might normally call "scientists" (3 psych and 3 chemists)
- 1 is a school inspector

(The 3 resignees are 2 pharmacologists and 1 medical doctor iirc).

As you can see, the council is already made up of several members whose job is to investigate the social effects of substance (ab/mis)use. To claim otherwise is to either not do your homework or be deliberately misleading.

Dispiritingly, I presume that the media simply can't be bothered to check their facts properly.

Monday, 2 November 2009

If you're as angry about Alan Johnson's sacking of Prof David Nutt from the ACMD as I am, you could do a lot worse than signing this petition and passing it on.

You might think that these petitions rarely go places, but there's a chance to catch the popular zeitgeist here if thousands and thousands of people pile on.

It's really important that scientists are able to express their reasoned scientific opinion in public even if they do work for the government, and attempting to gag them in this way is unacceptable. Stand up for rational debate in this country! Sign the petition!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Nice to see Daniel Davies sticking to his principles.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Apropos of JB's comments on the QT thing, I have to say that the continued disingenuousness of the entire political class on immigration makes me very angry.

Specifically this whole nonsense about a "points based" immigration system that everyone wants to make tougher than everyone else. 95% of immigrants to the UK don't have to qualify on points because they live in the EU and one of the things we have decided in the EU is that all citizens can work in all countries in the EU. You might not like that, you might disagree with that as a policy, but that the source of the vast majority of immigration into the UK and a points system simply won't make any difference whatsoever to it.


Thursday, 22 October 2009

Baking Fridays - Thursday Edition

First in an occasional series. Probably very occasional!

Today I tried out this recipe for baking no-knead bread. I have to say, I was very skeptical, partly because it's an American recipe, and the last time I went to the States, the shops there seemed to have no clue even what grain to make bread out of. Rice bread? Potato bread? Maize bread? What?

I was also skeptical because it seemed altogether too easy. Make a bunch of dough, put it in the fridge, cut bits off when you need to? Seems a lot easier than mixing, kneading, proving, kneading, proving again...

Also, since my breadmaker died I've been struggling to get my breads to rise properly, despite giving the allotted time to repeated kneading and proving.

So, I gave it a go.

Always unorthodox, I couldn't be bothered with just doing the plain master recipe, so I used wholemeal flour and added about 1/6th cup of maple syrup. I was wary, actually, that the recipe given in the link above doesn't include any sugar, so wanted to make sure that there was some in there even if there wasn't supposed to be. Finally, I did half the regular recipe, since this was a trial.

Finding 1 - I needed to add more water than the recipe gives in order to get a wet, 'shaggy' dough. About 1/4 extra cup.

You're supposed to give it at least 2 hours to prove at room temperature - I gave it exactly 2 hours in the airing cupboard, since winter is drawing in. The dough about trebled in size over this time, I'd say.

Finding 2 - it's difficult to get out of the bowl when so slimy. I covered one palm in flour and deposited the dough into that hand then covered the other before proceeding. I tried to take a grapefruit-sized portion but it was really too squishy to hold such a size. I made two smaller 'balls' that sagged quite flat in my hand.

It was hard to shape the dough as the instructions said - I couldn't really get any purchase on the dough to pull the top down, but once I got it right, I knew I'd got it.

I forgot to cut the tops, and only left it 20 minutes on the side (my partner was getting hungry!).

Finding 3 - 15 minutes in the oven at 230C was plenty - any more and there would have been serious burning. I generally find this true for all recipes in my oven, that I need to knock 20-30% off cooking times to get a non-black result. Yours may vary.

Finding 4 - it really works. The bread had a good open texture to it and a good crust, although it did not rise very much at all from the pre-oven size; maybe 50%. I ended up with two roundels about 6 inches across and 2 inches high at the tallest.

Tune in next week when I'll tell you how the dough in the fridge worked out. Maybe.

Monday, 12 October 2009

I've started watching Bones* recently, which is quite good fun (give it a few episodes). In one episode, Bones's publishers give her a Mercedes SLK as a present, to which I thought "she must be doing them really very well to earn a $100,000 car".

Lo and behold, though, you can get an SLK with a not-unreasonable number of miles on Autotrader for £12000 or less - I was seriously considering if I sell my current car (a lovely little 206CC, thanks) and get another good contract before Christmas, that I could get one, at a bit of a stretch.

Then I saw that Gordon Brown is being forced to repay more than £12000 in expenses. So it appears he's fiddled the public out of more than the price of a (2nd-hand!) luxury sportscar!

I can't really quite justify it... can I...?

(* affiliate link - season 1)

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Fafblog on the Taliban:

Q: Is the Taliban a threat?
A: Of course. The Taliban is an ongoing threat to our ongoing mission to eliminate the Taliban.
Q: And if we fail to eliminate the Taliban?
A: We cannot fail to eliminate the Taliban, as long as the Taliban continues to provide safe havens and training grounds for the Taliban.
Q: And the Taliban, of course, offers aid and comfort to the ever-dangerous Taliban.
A: Such is the deadly circle of terror.

Fafblog on Afghanistan:

Q: Is Afghanistan a threat?
A: Of course not! We are not at war with the proud and freedom-loving people of Afghanistan. We simply happen to be killing the proud and freedom-loving people of Afghanistan on a regular basis.
Q: But we deeply regret killing them, each and every time we kill them.
A: And each and every time we plan to kill them, and each and every time we're in the middle of killing them, and each and every time we plan to kill them again.
Q: And every time we go to kill them, we of course take every possible precaution we can possibly take to avoid killing them, except of course for not actually killing them.

Read the rest. Fafblog is awesome.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

You may have read in the Daily Mail about the girl who died not long after being given the HPV vaccine. The usual scaremongering ensued. However, it is now clear that Natalie Morton did NOT die due to the HPV vaccine.

Even if she had, she would be the less-than-one-complication-in-a-million that the vaccine is estimated to cause; no medical intervention is perfectly safe and a complete immunization campaign in the UK will inevitably lead to some girls dying due to an adverse reaction against the vaccine. However, the risk of not being vaccinated is considerably larger.

Here are some numbers:

Number of girls vaccinated in 10 years: 3.5 million (approx)
Deaths due to vaccination: 1 in 10 years
Lives estimated saved: 4000 in 10 years

Risk of dying due to vaccination: 0.00028 in 1000
Chance of vaccination saving your life: 1.15 in 1000

Take the vaccine, if you're the age for it. If you have kids of the right age, make sure they're vaccinated.

(Fight the scaremongering. Pass this on.)

Monday, 5 October 2009

Mark Reckons asks for Lib Dems' opinions on inheritance tax. Here are mine.

Firstly, as numerous people have pointed out, it seems to be riddled with exemptions and thus quite easy to avoid. The rate is so high at 40% that for people with a lot of wealth to pass on, there's a huge incentive for gaming the system. Indeed, my own parents have given me some money to invest for a house deposit so that it won't be caught up in inheritance tax later (though it's very doubtful that their assets will total enough to even hit the IHT threshold).

A really great argument I read for an inheritance tax was in Redesigning Distribution* - in order to fund a 'stakeholder grant' of the equivalent of a university education for every adult as they turn 18.

However, I think that the boat has sailed on linking IHT to a new good outcome, so it seems to me that the same effect - taxing wealth which is doing little - could be accomplished with a land value tax, which could be rolled up over several years past age 65, say, to be paid on transferral. Of course, that wouldn't tax non-land assets, but the problem with 'wealth', it seems to me, is that it's pretty easy to hide or move to evade taxation.

(* affiliate link -- but this is a really good book if you're interested in basic income and it introduced me to the notion of stakeholder grants)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Electric Day Motions

Many are suggesting that EDMs need to be reformed rather than scrapped.

I have nothing to say on the cost or efficacy of EDMs as they stand beyond James Graham's view. However I do worry that, if badly done, electronicizing (?) EDMs would effectively neuter them. Part of the point of digitizing (that's better) things is that they become cheaper, easier to use and easier to maintain. If setting up an EDM became easier than it already is, then it is inevitable that there would be more of them, and more of them would be signed by more MPs.

Therefore, in order to be seen as worthwhile, an EDM would have to attract a considerably larger number of signatures than they do at the moment, which means that more MPs would spend more of their time ticking boxes and signing them.

Eventually, I envisage a situation in which there are 10x more EDMs, each with 10x more signatures, with MPs spending exactly the same amount of their time signing them, and the Commons spending the same amount of money maintaining the new, larger database.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but I hope you see my point.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


None of us want the UK government to use intelligence gained by torture, do we?

Support Craig Murray's quest to have his evidence heard by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights:


It'll take you two minutes to write one email, and another two minutes to forward the link to all your friends.

Monday, 23 February 2009


Got an email from the lib dems suggesting that I go digg something. What does anyone think about this? It seems like going and voting things up on aggregators is going to be a new form of spam (spag, anyone?) because loads of special-interest groups are going to try it on - and special-interest bodies are going to have a lot of mindless clickers, whereas the rest of everyone has less of a stake in ruthlessly voting things down. This could lead to the ruin of aggregators by diluting their usefulness. At the very least it seems that the aggregator sites will have to fight back against spag, provoking another arms race.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, 19 February 2009


GOVERNMENT LYING ABOUT DRUGS SCANDAL. Except that it's not a scandal, is it, because bleating tabloid journos would rather a) be able to write ARMY BUSTS HUGE DRUG RING rather than ARMY ACTION COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME or b) report on the agonizingly slow death of Jade Goody. Girls Aloud are playing her wedding, don't you know?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

free xbox controller as mouse software

If you are looking for some free software so that you can use your xbox controller as a mouse in windows, you could do worse than ControlMK. It is a bit fiddly, but it's free and it does the job. Saved me from the agony of the dodgy trackball on my cheapo wireless keyboard.

I'm mostly writing this post to give the guy a better search ranking, because when I was looking myself I came across a bunch of apps that wanted to charge money for the privilege of doing this fairly simple task - in fact, I was pretty gobsmacked that the Microsoft driver didn't allow you to use the xbox controller as a mouse in the first place.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Horse Bang

Compare and contrast. Oh, wait - artist with mental vision and no clear idea how to fix the engineering problems given heaps of money. They're both the same.

Watch this space for the first person to be killed in the UK by a giant steel horse cock, coming (so to speak) in 2012. At the earliest.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

George Monbiot is often a smug tool. Today he is a king.