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About that: Cracking down on sites like Ask.fm

A petition landed in my inbox today: “Shut down cyberbullying website, Ask.fm, in memory of Izzy Dix & 12 other teens globally

This is, alas, another misunderstanding of how websites work, but most importantly how social interactions, in general, work. I’m not saying that anyone is at moral fault in these cases; what I am concerned about is that the petition spreads the idea that any one site should be targeted for crackdown. Politicians can jump at this easily, scapegoat easily, and look like progress is being made. This is shortsighted, and ultimately leads us to rest on laurels until the next, identical, scandal arises.

(TLDR:) In brief, it’s not a crackdown on websites we need, but action on a large scale. We must be in control of the message that society projects to young people, the message must be on every wall a young person will see, and the message must be:

If you are a victim of BULLYING, it is never your fault, and you must always SPEAK UP immediately.

Read more for details. Read more

Response to: Foster Care After 18

The Guardian is reporting on new legislation for England where foster children will be allowed to continue to have foster parents until the age of 21, up from 18 previously.

This is not an effective solution to the core problem of dealing with adulthood, and an exposé of comments from some ex foster-children shows this: for those of us who are lucky to have our parents, they remain still our parents, whether we’re four, fourteen or forty. Read more

Response to: Will 2014 be the “year of the Linux Desktop”?

An open poll for opinions on Linux Voice.com asks whether the tired and still popular question “is 20XX going to be the year of the Linux Dsktop” is still relevant.

My take on it is as below – but in brief (TL;DR) it is no longer relevant technologically, it is relevant and in progress from an industrial point of view, and is is most definitely still relevant when it comes to users at home, with no technical skills. The question beyond that is, do we even want non-techies using Linux? Read more

Response to: You and Yours’ Learning Special

You and Yours (BBC Radio 4) is currently doing a Boxing Day Special on learning – I agree with a lot of what is being said, but I feel there’s one thing they skipped over: rather than being task focused in learning, it is important to first know why we’re learning… This is what I wrote to them via their website (though they’re not taking listener input this time around – probably a reduced team):

I am self taught in a number of disciplines. Some of these I started with a basic course before taking the rest on myself (programming, guitar), some I bootstrapped my learning using magazines and online articles (photography, cooking, singing, computer administration). I was, academically, not very proficient… at all.

I find that learning only happens properly when you want to answer a question – even if you start out wanting to learn about an entire field of knowledge (mathematics, nutrition, English, an instrument, the intricacies of opera and ballet…), it comes down really to want to answer a specific practical question you are curious about. Using an Internet search engine helps to find more words to ask about, find other connected ideas, and forums allow discussion – even better if you find people to talk to in real life.

And, as with all learning, questions beget questions and soon you’re learning more than you set out to….

Of nesting Latin grammar in English

Are you That Person – the one who insists “you mean, there are viri going round, not viruses?” Or that “a single piece of data is a datum.” Whooptidoo – you took Latin in First Grade and now you’re an expert.

I find it rather preposterous to make deliberate use of foreign grammatical rules in the middle of an English sentence, not to mention pompous trying to “correct” other peoples’ use by introducing such jarring disjunction.

Latin words in English are loanwords, as from any other language. The English language, as you might already know, has appropriated numerous words from all over the world, but has long treated them as English grammatically.

You never say that you’re going to order two pizze with your friends; nor do you complain about a single pieróg falling off your plate; news reports might talk about “tycoons” even though the original Japanese distinguishes plurality by context (like the word “sheep” in English); and popular parlance has people talking about French chateaus, instead of the châteaux (note that the “x” is silent, such that there is no phonetic difference between the singular and plural forms). Read more

Olympic Committee Upholds Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws

Olympic Committee Upholds Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws

Cycling and Public Transport – no cars!


I’d be happy if the council heavily discouraged ownership and use private vehicles within Edinburgh, whilst at the same time starting a Council-led/funded scheme to facilitate the purchase for everyone of bicycles mounted with electric motors (to encourage even the most reticent).

This should leave only public transport and businesses with vehicles, and everyone else with greener, safer, healthier, less noisy, less obstructive, non-congestive cost-effective private transport. Extra motorization and rear-cars for families (motorized private rickshaws!)

Gaining the first popularity

After being led to the Ada Programming Language Wikipedia entry (and being impressed by what it offers and promises – it is designed for fail-safeness and robustness, and as such is used in satellites, military jets and orbital satellites), I wondered, why isn’t the language more popular, like the less effective and more error-prone C and C++ which are used for coding our operating systems, or Java/PHP/Ruby which power our interwebz?

A few forum posts exist about this, and numerous explanations abound, from petty whining (“everybody who tries it it hates it”) to accusatory (“it’s designed by a committee, and like Esperanto, nobody wants to use that”) through conspiracy theory (“it’s in the interests of repair & diagnostic/IDE vendors to make sure crappy languages persist”) and even via circular reasoning (“it’s not gained popularity because other languages are more in demand”). I kid you not.

In all of that, I only once noted one answer which hit a sensible mark: in a time when there wasn’t a prominent single language, due to the closedness of computer systems, hobbyists could only work with what was lying around, and there was no global applicability in any real sense [citation needed…], C came along and offered what nobody else was: a high-level language for low-level computing, a free compiler, and an operating system to use it on, in an ecosystem that promoted (at the time) code sharing. It was this seed traction that led to C being still the most popular language for system programming today.

Other languages have since risen, but the most popular, with the largest communities, still are application-level and web-oriented – not system level. In the midst of this, Ada still retains (bless or curse) its original image as the brainchild of the US Department of Defense’s brainchild, with little push to make it a business-systems or high-availability systems contender.

The onus then is on the existing Ada community to start building tools and libraries for newcomers to use. Newcomers like to feel invited in by pioneers.

“I need feminism because…”

This gallery contains 10 photos.

latentpower: awkwardsituationist: cambridge university students were asked on campus why they needed feminism. here are 60 answers. click the link for over about 600 more. This is amazing I’ve seen some of these, some of them are new to me and have put a couple of things in perspective… I’ll check the full 600 at

Read more

Tough interview questions? Bring it and wing it!

Some interviewers hit hard with their questions, and ask real puzzlers. I was once asked, “How many bicycle tyres do you think are sold in China per year?” Wow. But it’s not to see if you know the Right Answer (most of the time, there is none) – you’re basically being asked to reason the question out loud, or demonstrate a bit of your character.

The Guardian just published a few of Glassdoor’s top 25, and I’m surprised to find that they all have scope for some reasoned entertainment. Below I am going to answer each off pretty much the top of my head (please allow that I am typing, slower than talking, and that might give me time to think a bit more…)

• “If your friend was seriously injured and you had to get him to a hospital, would you speed and go through a red light?” – Asked at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (trainee solicitor candidate)

This one is fairly pragmatic. It asks whether you are willing to make exceptions to rules if a life is in danger. Well. Not really. It reveals whether you think things out before giving an answer. The red light is not just a rule – it’s a safety precaution. Speed through the red light on a busy road, and you’re likely to a) injure more people; b) kill your friend. Then, if you wait at the light, your friend is slowly dying. The crux of the question is another question: why are you driving in the first place? The worst case scenario is that you’re somewhere unknown/hard to get to and you can’t direct the ambulance service easily. Probably in the countryside.

My answer: call the emergencies service, and agree to meet at the nearest crowded place/well known location if needs be. This done, if on the country road there’s a red light and great visibility, and no oncoming vehicles, then maybe at that point I’d expect to be overlooked a transgression for an emergency…

• “Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?” – Asked at BHP Billiton (dry bulk marketer candidate)

I love this one.

A) Ducks can be vicious little buggers. Their necks can reach right round to their backs, and then some; they can fly; they are not afraid of chasing a full-grown human; and they can deal nasty bites. Bring that to horse size and what you’ve got is a flying raptor — the famous intelligent killing machines of the Cretaceous, given wings.

B) Horses are fairly docile by human standards. They’d rather flee than fight. In a stampede, if they see something large, they’ll work around it. I have yet to come across accounts of aggressive horses that aren’t actually defending anything you can’t distance yourself from.

The question essentially then becomes: would you rather face the fastest fabled killing machine known to science, or manage a flock of 100 scared puppy-like animals?

• “How many ways can you get a needle out of a haystack?” – Asked at Macquarie bank (senior Java developer candidate)

A perennial favourite and one that I answer thus:

Do you wish to keep the haystack in the form of a haystack? If you do, you’ll find it very difficult. Even just sifting through the haystack upsets it some, but if you can get past it being dismantled, sift, sift and sift again.

If not:

1) Why not try spreading it over a pool? The hay floats, the needle drops, use a strong magnet to get it out.

2) If you don’t even care about the integrity of the haystack…. trial by literal fire. Sifting becomes much, much easier.

Eventually, the answer becomes: two. Dismantle the haystack, or remove the haystack completely.

• “What makes you happy about work on a Friday evening?” – Asked at Tesco (international deployment manager candidate)

This is a more serious question. From my own experience, Friday evenings (read: after hours) at work are not usually my idea of a fun time, however when I know I have a solution to a problem, or I can see what steps need to be taken to resolve it, or I can guarantee that with a bit of brute-force man-hours the job will be done and dusted and 100% complete, then you can bet your bottom dollar that, provided I have enough tea and noodles, I’m there all night.

In the end I would look at the question as, under what circumstances would you face a Friday evening at the office with energy?

• “Why is 99% not good enough?” – Asked at Parcelforce Worldwide (delivery and collection manager candidate)

This one looks on the face of it as a measure of commitment. “I always want to deliver 100% or it’s not worth it” kind of thing. I’d beware of saying anything anywhere remotely associated with that line. What if it’s certain that there will be problems along the way? What if it’s uncertain the rest of your organisation will be behind you? If you don’t deliver 100%, what will you do, how will you take it? And what if you achieve far less than 99%?

99% is not good enough if that’s where you set the bar up front. 100% is your target. “Good enough” here to me implies that that is a goal. “If we only deliver the basic features but leave out the bells and whistles we’re fine” kind of attitude. This kind of approach wins no prizes.

To put emphasis on this, I would actually put this forward: if a project is handed over to you, and it is clear you can’t make 100% because of whatever business reasons (as they happen in the real world) what do you do?

If it is impossible to reach the original 100%, and you must be very, very clear on why, then it is your onus to bring this out to stakeholders immediately and renegotiate a new 100%.

There are doubtless thousands of variations on this topic, and it could probably fill a PhD report. Single out some key ideas, and let your thoughts run with it.

My answer is: because it means you didn’t deliver what you truly could.

• “In a fight between a lion and a tiger, who would win and why?” – Asked at Capco (associate consultant candidate)

We’ll assume no knowledge of the combat abilities of a lion and a tiger in the wild, nor how or why they got there. We’ll assume they have to fight, no other choice. A pit or something. Which one wins?

Well, to be honest, I think a majority would agree that there’s a 50-50 chance of either one winning. But that’s too short an answer.

Let’s perhaps talk about Apple and Microsoft (I’m a techie, but use analogies from your own field at will). Each has assets, each has advantages, each has disadvantages, each has aspirations, plans, markets, user bases, loyalties and so on and so forth. What is true is that they are pretty much maintained at a nice little status quo where Apple has a very powerful niche whilst Microsoft is powerfully serving the masses. Linux has joined the fray, but that’s like adding a leopard to our big cat combat — agile but not powerful.

Or without diverting the conversation, just state plainly that each has their own abilities and that perhaps in certain conditions, one is better favoured than the other, and may gain an advantage. Concluding form the start that there is an evident winner is a disadvantage.

Then, if you have good knowledge of big cats, here’s your chance. May the gods help you.

• “How would you explain Facebook to your Grandma?” – Asked at Huddle (sales executive candidate)

Imagine the town square, and everyone sets up a stall, with all their photos and home videos on display, voicing their opinions at the top of their lungs, or boasting how great their lives are.

Imagine the town square where Mrs Jones discusses with Mrs Smith the subject of Mr Brown’s favourite pair of trousers — through megaphones.

Imagine then a salesman roaming this town square, where everything is said out in the open, hawking his wares to anyone he overhears talking about something he can sell to them.

Imagine James Bond’s colleagues gathered around, looking and sounding like everyone else, but taping everything and sending it all back to HQ.

That’s what Facebook is like. With the exception that people love it, as if they were living a Monty Python sketch in real life.