Thursday, November 28, 2013

Dilbertness

A few years back I was a contractor at a well-known telecommunications company.  Which happened to be called ntl. No two parts of it were not insane.  I was only there for six months but I could easily write five substantial posts about seriously deranged goings-on.  Not today though, I’ll just pick one.

My immediate boss happened to have a desk next to the window.  However, she wasn’t entitled to a window seat because she wasn’t important enough.  So one day some people came and built a cube around her desk so she couldn’t see outside..

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bulls, don’t do that: Justice done, baddies look unhappy, goodies look happy

In his first Diskworld book, Terry Pratchett wrote about how cameras are hypnotic and that people will act in blithering ways as suggested by anyone wielding one.  The Daly Mail seems to have this down to an art form.  They never miss an opportunity for people who feel wronged to look sad and supposed scofflaws to look happy. They’ve sure as shit got it the wrong way round in this article.

A good thing happened today. A little justice was done.  I’m sorry to link to the DM, but I couldn’t resist the sub-head:

Bulls said they thought that any sex outside marriage was 'a sin'

I’m pleased that they asked some bulls, but these ones seem especially judgemental.  I grew up on farms and I know what bulls get up to. Animal, mineral, vegetable, they’ll do pretty much anything to anything.  I have plenty of stories about having to make repairs after a bull made sweet, sweet love to our garden fence.  And they weren’t gentle. 

Hypocrites. They must be #FtBulls or somethng.

Anyway, the Christian owners of a B&B who turned away a couple for being the same sex as each other have been told not to be so fucking stupid and fined. This case has been going on for ages and trickling through the various layers of courts as these things do. Finally, they’ve run out of courts and the decision is presumably final: they are guilty of discrimination against this couple and that’s that.

Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said:

Homosexuals can enjoy the same freedom and the same relationships as any others. But we should not under-estimate the continuing legacy of those centuries of discrimination, persecution even, which is still going on in many parts of the world.

Well, yes. Like here, for instance. That was the entire point of the case.  I don’t really understand the point of her “but”. But her verdict was certainly right:

Dismissing the appeal, Lady Hale said that the Bulls' decision to deny Mr Preddy and Mr Hall a room was an 'affront to their dignity' and that they should enjoy the right to have a relationship like any other heterosexual couple.

It should be an affront to everyone’s dignity, the Bulls’ included, small-minded, bigoted disgraces that they obviously are.  They want to deny certain people rights which means they think of them as less than people.  Bulls, don’t do that.

It’s good, though, that the Mail thinks it’s important to inform us the the UK Supreme Court is “the UK's highest court”.  I’d never have guessed.

The Bulls’ defence was that they weren’t homophobic. They wouldn’t allow anyone to sleep together under their roof if they weren’t married.  This has to be one of the stupidest defences of all time. They weren’t being accused of homophobia (which isn’t a crime) they were being accused of discrimination, which the entire backbone of their defence rested on. I’m not a lawyer but using the actual charge as the mainstay of your defence seems kind of foolish.

They said:

We are just ordinary Christians who believe in the importance of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

They can believe in the importance of that tiresome phrase all they like. But that wasn’t even the issue here.  The issue was that they wanted to tell gay people they couldn’t be gay near them.  It was discrimination and bullying and the Bulls ought to be ashamed of themselves. But they are not. I hope you have your bigotry bingo cards to hand, you’re going to need them.:

Britain ought to be a country of freedom and tolerance, but it seems religious beliefs must play second fiddle to the new orthodoxy of political correctness. 

Somehow, we have got to find a way of allowing different beliefs to coexist in our society.

But the judges have sidestepped that big issue, and reinforced the notion that gay rights must trump everything else.

I’m not even going to bother. Pick apart this idiocy yourself if you can be bothered.

Christian Institute spokesman Mike Judge said:

What this case shows is that the powers of political correctness have reached all the way to the top of the judicial tree. So much so that even the Supreme Court dare not say anything against gay rights.

Combine that with gay marriage, and it's a recipe for all sorts of threats to people who believe in traditional marriage.

This ruling is another slap in the face to Christians, and shows that the elite institutions are saturated with a liberal mindset which cares little about religious freedom.

And then he said:

Parliament needs to reform the law to allow a more reasonable approach which balances competing rights.

There are no competing rights. By definition we’re all (within some shared context such as citizenship of the same nation) supposed to have the same rights. That is what a right is. There are no competing rights, just people who decide that others shouldn’t be allowed the same rights they are because they are not proper people.

And it turns out those people are wrong, legally now, as well as in EVERY SINGLE OTHER SENSE.

So, good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Attention whore

Stats reveal I’m getting even more attention from the pit since I was suspended from Twitter.

Nobody came here before that, what do you slymes make of that? You fucking idiots.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

She was never told why she was hauled away

Because of my frivolous suspension from Twitter at the hands of a bullying idiot, I’m unable to widely distribute news of this horribleness:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/11/she-was-never-told-why-she-was-hauled-away/

I hope he’s proud.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

PZ points it out: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/11/20/transgender-day-of-remembrance/

Unfair

I can’t believe Sylvia Browne died while I’m suspended from Twitter. It’s like a kind of torture. I’m pretty sure she did it on purpose.  Surely it’s a human right to have the freedom to have a fucking field day about a psychic who even predicted her own death incorrectly?

Browne was the most beastly and horrible (and expensive) of all those awful psychics.  Unfortunately, she left a legacy.  Her son miraculously inherited her magic and will continue to spirit the money out of grieving and vulnerable people’s pockets.

Well, change is bad, I guess, so at least we have this small mercy.

Today in local news

Father appeals for return of stolen ferrets.

I really need to move somewhere else.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

splugh

My followers and followings on Twitter seem to have been removed with the suspension of my account. Do you think I’ll get them back if my account is reinstated?

Sad

I’m no longer a twitizen. I’ve lost some friends.Or Twends, possibly. No, fuck it, friends. I’ve lost contact with friends because people wanted to prove a point about how women should shut up.

Twitsorm

My Twitter account has been suspended. As far as I can remember, I didn’t violate any of the rules. The people who reported me though – and bragged about it – they violate the rules all the time. They’ve threatened me, they’ve lied about me, they’ve accused me of rape, rape apology apologising for rape apology and non-specific abuse of women. I haven’t done any of those things.

I guess some people are offended by descriptions of my cat’s activities and my pointing out certain types of injustice, ignorance and fucktanglery. The Slymepit will be running short of cookies issued to the people who complained about me.

I expect it will blow over. I’ve done nothing wrong and perhaps my account will be reinstated. But I’m sick of it. I’m sick of bullying. I’m sick of being the target of abuse when all I’m trying to do is help people who are abused.

Yeah, boo fucking hoo, but I get to complain sometimes.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oh THE DAILY MAIL

OK, a trigger warning: I’m linking to the Daily Mail.  Sorry.

Nikki Sinclaire is an MEP who happens to be transexual.  Nobody seems to particularly care either way that she’s trans.  Nobody except the Daily Mail, obviously, who calls her “sex-change politician”. You’re probably thinking that the only reason there’s a story in the DM about her at all is because she’s trans.  If she opened a supermarket, there’d be an article about Trans Woman Opens Supermarket.  But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. You’d be underestimating the DM. 

Because the article is about how she’s not only trans but lesbian and was turned into a lesbian by being raped.  Seriously. This is their headline:

Sex-change politician says she became lesbian after being raped four years after she became a woman

Note the not-especially cunning use of the word ‘after’ to imply some sort of causality that doesn’t exist.  She’d already realised that she was attracted to women and had a sexual relationship with a woman before she was raped.  She appears to have said that the attack (understandably) made her “very anti-men” but the DM does everything it possibly can to imply that she became lesbian because she was raped.  Because that’s what happens.  Lesbians hate men, you see.  They had a bad experience with a man and decided to become lesbians as a result. It’s not at all that they just happen to be attracted to women.  I guess this also implies that lesbians can be ‘cured’, doesn’t it? They just need a good fucking, right?

Distasteful as this undertone - wait, did I say undertone? It’s clearly an overtone – is, the Mail has more horribleness to offer.  The devil is in the details.  The weirdly irrelevant details that the article trots out.

For example, the Mail thinks it’s important to stress that Ms Sinclaire’s gender reassignment was carried out on the NHS. Why is that detail important, exactly? What does it have to do with the story? Absolutely nothing at all.

And this is just plain weird:

After the attack, which she said left her feeling vulnerable despite being brought up in the capital

Um…. What? It’s surprising when people brought up in London feel vulnerable after being raped?

Then there’s this:

she went with a nurse friend to a hospital in Dartford, Kent, where DNA samples were taken and medics photographed her bruised body.

Am I being oversensitive here or is this a desperate attempt to make the process appear somehow salacious?  What is the purpose of mentioning the photographs or her ‘bruised body’? Isn’t the point that she reported the rape? 

Miss Sinclaire said that she had begun to feel attracted to women shortly before the attack, and had her first sexual experience with a woman with a lesbian she met playing pool in Liverpool.

Again, why is it important that she met a sex partner while playing pool?  It’s an astonishingly pointless detail, why did the Mail find it necessary to include it?

[She] has a long-term female partner who shuns publicity

Does she? Does she ‘shun’ publicity?  That phrase looks calculated to make it seem like she has something to be ashamed of.  I can’t help but wonder what shunning she’s done.  I’ve no idea. But I wouldn’t exactly be surprised if she was accosted on the street by an ignorant reporter and didn’t want to say anything.  What a bitch, eh? But I’m just angrily speculating.

Angry? Did I say I was angry?  When I wrote that I hadn’t read the comments. Holy Cocksucking Christ, the comments. Don’t look at them unless you haven’t had your fix of rage and disgust yet.  You’re going to be close to overdose as it is.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Found story

About a year ago I started to write a story for children.  I didn’t finish it though because I was busy and it wasn’t very good.  I found it on my disk the other day when I was looking for something else so here it is. What the hell. Hopefully I’ll finish it one day and no one will read the finished article either.

­­The woman who stole the stars

There was a little girl, once, who grew up to be the woman who stole the stars. She probably didn’t mean to, at first. Who would? But she’s the reason there aren’t any stars any more and she was an agent of chaos who ended up forgetting what chaos is and why she wanted to steal the stars in the first place. It’s a strange story and much the stranger for being true.

The woman began as a tiny thing, something you could hardly believe had a person inside it: a baby. We know better now, but in those days we thought that babies were stupid and didn’t know anything. This was forgivable: babies hardly ever made any discoveries in those days and their wars – which have always been an indicator of advanced civilisation – were mostly waged on the basis of things that are comforting to bite. It was a more innocent time. For all of that, babies were wiser in those days. They didn’t wear suits back then. Instead, they wore nappies so that they could poo and wee in situ while going about their daily business. It was an elegant arrangement and historians have long associated the fall of humanity – and the eventual stealing of the stars – with the abandonment of nappies as standard and stylish wear. They might be right for all I know, but that would be an exception. Historians are hardly ever right. They deliberately forget and erase from history many inconvenient things. Historians will tell you that there have never been any stars. They’ll tell you that historical babies knew no cosmic secrets and never, ever invented any such thing as the Star Hammer.

The Star Hammer is the dark, spikey shape that crosses the moon every nineteen-and-a-bit days. We call it The Stammer now and we’ve forgotten why it was made and what it did. I think – people like me think – that we forgot about it because all the historians are babies and the babies don’t want us to remember what their kind did.

People like me? There aren’t many of us left, now. We’re the people who know the truth about history. We’re custodians of knowledge and the keepers and tellers of stories. Back when telling stories was allowed, we were called sciencers and our stories were all about how the world worked. We had a trick – a method – of knowing whether our stories were true. Or at least whether they were provisionally true, which meant that they fit with what we knew about the world at the time, but might turn out to be wrong later on if we found out more. For example, the sciencers once thought that the world was made out of things that were a bit like springs. The springs were there so that things could interact with each other. When you push something, it pushes you back. When you walk around on the grass, something is pushing you down and stopping you flying up into the air. The sciencers thought this was done by something a bit like springs. It made sense at the time. But later on, some sciencers realised that there weren’t really any invisible springs. The world, they realised, didn’t really work as if there were springs everywhere causing everything to work. They crossed out that story and that’s how we know now that everything works by something that’s a bit like elastic.

But the point is that the sciencers were made to forget how to tell whether stories are true and their powers were reduced. All they – we – can do now is tell the few stories we remember and for the reasons you already know, we hardly ever dare do even that.

The woman who stole the stars is a story. A story is an account of real or fictional people and the things they did. We’re not allowed to tell stories these days, but lots of people do it anyway. Well, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? That’s what drove you to find the cave and the citadel and my office. You want to know about the woman who stole the stars.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My phone doesn’t work hard enough

I don’t ring anyone up or answer when people ring me, because I’m a misanthrope.  But my phone does a lot of other things such as email and social media and that’s why I have one.  But I don’t feel like it’s working hard enough for me.

I do a few other things with my phone, too. I’ve written about them before.  They involve using rat nests of hairy string to turn NFC tags into contextual switches.  That is, bumping a tag does different things depending on the context it gleans from the phone’s sensors.  For example, a tag might do different things in different locations.  Or at different times.  Or if it’s dark.  With the right software you can do some cool things.

Example:

I have an NFC tag by my bed.  When I bump the tag at night, it puts the phone into blocking mode so it doesn’t beep or flash when notifications arise.  When I bump it after my alarm has gone off, it turns off blocking mode.  When I bump it in between, it starts the torch app so I can navigate around in the dark.

The next stage is to set the torch to turn off when I’m in a room that’s light enough: I’ve got downstairs without waking my wife up and turned on the light.

Example:

When I bump a wrist tag while I’m at an airport, my phone goes into flight mode.  Then when I’m at an airport and at low altitude, flight mode turns off automatically.  When I bump the tag for a second time, my clock is set to local time.

Example:

This one isn’t interesting in itself, but there’s some different coolness involved.  I have a tag fixed inside a pocket of my jacket (you’ll be surprised to learn that I have a geeky jacket with a million pockets. One is a pocket in a pocket with velcro which seems designed to hold an emergency coin or something. There’s an NFC tag in there).  When I put my phone in that pocket, it connects to my bluetooth headphones and sets the volume to the right level. Wearable computing! Ish.

But I still think my phone isn’t doing enough for me.  One of the many apps I plan to write when I have time is one that’s aware of all the many, many sensors on my phone and the many things it can do.  It will let me define contexts dpending on the output from sensors and other things such as time, whether a particular email or text has arrived, what devices are connected, what networks it can see etc. and define rules that trigger actions depending on that context.  As I say, I’m doing some of this already using existing software and hairy string, but I want to go a lot further.

Maybe I want my phone to know when I’m walking (it has sensors for that!) and it’s dark and I’m in a dangerous place and tell someone where I am.  Or maybe if those conditions are true and I bump an NFC tag, I want it to call 999.

Maybe I want my phone to know when I’m walking from work to the statin and tell me when the next train is and whether it’s delayed. Maybe it could recommend that I get a taxi (it could check the traffic reports on that route or just make inferences based on the time of day),

Maybe I want to bump a tag when I’m standing outside a pub and have my phone tell me which of my friends are inside (and maybe how long they’ve been there…)  Perhaps I want to bump the same tag outside a restaurant and have my phone show me the menu.  Or outside a shop and have it tell me when it closes.

And of course, I want all this information delivered to a Google Glass or a similar sort of device.

That’s what I want my phone to be doing for me.  I don’t understand people who say they just want their phone to make calls. Frankly, I could do without the actual phoning part of phones altogether.

I’ll be writing some apps like this next year when I’ve finished my current work.  If anyone wants to test them, they can.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

When policies don’t work

I sometimes explain to people that I’m a computer scientist and so have – flying in the face of public opinion – very broadly transferrable skills.  The ability to make useful abstractions, systematic diagnoses and to understand complicated things as a whole, as parts and as the sum of parts are examples of basic training in CS. By-products of such training – if it’s done well – are critical thinking and sensitivity to when things don’t seem quite right.  Valuable. But there are side-effects too.We always have to worry about The Way Things Are Done.

Here’s a footling example that I enjoyed a little bit. It was our group meeting today and we were reminded  that the rules for expense claims now state that you can claim one alcoholic drink with a meal. You can’t claim more than one and you can’t claim even one unless there’s a meal.

The CS response to this is that it had better be a fucking big drink (I’m thinking those giant ornamental glasses they sometimes have behind bars to advertise some drink or other) and that if you want a drink on expenses but aren’t hungry, you should order a meal and not eat it, just so you can claim the drink on expenses. The taxpayer takes the hit for a meal and a drink instead of just the drink. Food is wasted. The world gets a bit poorer.

But there’s an even worse problem. I’ve been subject to it, although not recently. When you’re a young research fellow or PhD student at a conference and you go out for a meal with a bunch of important professors, your boss will invariably take the bill, ask you to pay it and claim it back.  But of course that only works if the profs are operating according to the same rules. Chances are they’re not and students certainly sometimes get saddled with bills they can’t claim back.

The lesson is this: if you’re going to write a policy, you need a computer scientist. Lawyers and administrators can’t seem to do it.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Touching cloth. I mean base. Probably

I’m ridiculously busy at the moment. I have a million things to write in exactly no time. You probably think I’m exaggerating.  But the world turns, generating annoyance I have to complain about.  Here’s a quick digest:
1. “Up to”. Adverts, don’t do that.  It’s almost always entirely meaningless.  I saw an advert for teeth earlier. I don’t know whether they were selling teeth or products that do something to people’s teeth but they had someone in a white coat who was described as a dentist. She said that “up to one in two people” might get gum disease at some point. So the absolute upper limit (according to the advert, which provided no evidence at all) of people who might (or presumably might not) get gum disease is exactly 1/2.  Even if the number is accurate, it’s not a useful statistic. “Up to” is one of those phrases designed to be just complicated enough that people don’t think about it.  It sounds good in either direction. Up to 1/2 of people (might) have gum disease, OH NOES! Up to 87% of people say homeopathic biscuits cured their gout. AWESOME! It sounds kind of official and kind of scientific but a) it’s not and b) it doesn’t say the slightest thing about whether the product actually does what it says.  I hate “up to”. If there’s an actual proper study, quote the results. If not, stop selling products that claim to solve the problem you’ve probably made up out of whole cloth anyway.
2. ‘Clinical studies’ for stupid shit: 78% of 214 people said the product made them look 37 years younger. I don’t know what the advertising rules are for this sort of thing, but for fucks sake: they always ask such a tiny number of people and the percentage of people who agree is always surprisingly low.  Call me Old Mr Cynical, but perhaps more thorough research has shown that people don’t trust studies that are too conclusive: maybe 90-odd percent seems unrealistic. But it doesn’t matter because the claim is obviously meaningless unless we know about how the studies were carried out.  It’s well known that some companies – some cosmetic companies, for example – survey their staff rather than members of the public as they suggest.  This would explain why 214 people were surveyed instead of ten times that.  There’s also nothing to suggest that they didn’t cherry-pick the survey.  Perhaps they chose the 214 people from a larger survey who cumulatively gave the required figure of 78% in agreement because that’s what research indicated was the most credible figure. Wouldn’t be hard to arrange, would it?
3. “Wiki says…..” Which wiki? Do you live in 2004? There are countless wikis. How difficult is it to specify which wiki?  If you tell me to look something up on ‘wiki’, you should know by now what I’m going to do.
4. Cruelty. By definition, there’s no excuse for cruelty. Don’t do that. You don’t have to be all that nice, I’m not. But there’s no need at all to be cruel. Don’t be cruel.
When I was a kid in a Church of England school, I was taught that while the ten commandments are all very well, they can all be boiled down to “love god” because if you loved god you wouldn’t do any of those bad things.
By the same token, I think we could probably replace a shitload of commandments with “don’t be cruel”.Not being cruel requires action: it’s cruel to allow people and animals and possibly plants and fungi to suffer if you can prevent it.
So don’t be cruel. And if you make adverts for a living, you’re automatically being cruel to me.