Monday, 27 June 2011

Reith Lectures on-line

Series of annual radio lectures on significant contemporary issues, delivered by leading figures from the relevant fields

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Stunning pictures of Saturn's moon Helene from Cassini...

first the link to El Reg and then a picture directly from Nasa:

 More images from Cassini available here and the Wikipedia article on Helene has some too.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Syria and American Politics

Interesting article by Adam Curtis of the BBC about the recent (1947-) history of Syria and the involvement of the Americans and others..


Adam Curtis | 18:00 UK time, Thursday, 16 June 2011

What is happening in Syria feels like one of the last gasps of the age of the military dictators. An old way of running the world is still desperately trying to cling to power, but the underlying feeling in the west is that somehow Assad's archaic and cruel military rule will inevitably collapse and Syrians will move forward into a democratic age.

That may, or may not, happen, but what is extraordinary is that we have been here before. Between 1947 and 1949 an odd group of idealists and hard realists in the American government set out to intervene in Syria. Their aim was to liberate the Syrian people from a corrupt autocratic elite - and allow true democracy to flourish. They did this because they were convinced that "the Syrian people are naturally democratic" and that all that was neccessary was to get rid of the elites - and a new world of "peace and progress" would inevitably emerge.

read on...

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Children's TV from North Korea

Iron Maiden does Flight Safety

Actually this is serious stuff and all presented by a Captain B Dickinson:

Heavy Metal front man ramps up industry loading awareness
Date: 15 June 2011
A brand new safety film, highlighting the importance of loading aircraft safely and accurately, has just been launched as part of a joint initiative by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the UK aviation industry. Safety in the Balance is presented by Astraeus Airlines Captain, and legendary Iron Maiden front man, Bruce Dickinson.

The film is aimed at airlines, ground handling agents and other industry organisations, and is being made available on DVD and also online at, . It was commissioned by the Ground Handling Operations Safety Team (GHOST), a CAA/Industry group committed to developing strategies to reduce the safety risks from aircraft ground handling and ground support activities.

And the video:

Friday, 17 June 2011

Phobos passes Jupiter… as seen from Mars!

Phobos passes Jupiter; as seen from Mars!

Mars Express is a European Space Agency probe that’s been orbiting the Red Planet since 2003, returning vast amount of data. Lately it’s been taking some amazing images and video of the tiny Martian moon Phobos, and the ESA just released this amazing footage of the lumpy potato moon passing by Jupiter as seen from the orbiting craft:

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Mercury - NASA Press Release


Date: June 16, 2011, at 1 p.m. EDT


NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury on March 18, becoming the first spacecraft ever to do so. MESSENGER’s instruments are performing the first complete reconnaissance of the planet’s geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and plasma environment. After nearly three months in orbit, the payload is providing a wealth of new information about Mercury, as well as a few surprises.


- Brett W. Denevi, Staff Scientist, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
- Larry R. Nittler, Staff Scientist, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.
- Sean C. Solomon, MESSENGER Principal Investigator, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.
- Ralph L. McNutt, Jr., MESSENGER Project Scientist, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Wadler's Law part 2

The original discussion about Walder's Law can be found here. There's a nice discussion about syntax and semantics between a couple of posters - there's a little misunderstanding which sparked this, but then it generated a superb comment (highlighed below).

[–]almafa 9 points 1 day ago
This is of course absolute truth. On the other hand, I think syntax is important.
[–]Peaker 3 points 1 day ago
Semantics are more important.
[–]almafa 4 points 1 day ago
I didn't compare the importance of syntax to the importance of semantics, I just noted that syntax is important, too.
[–]munificent 1 point 2 hours ago
Personally, I believe humans are unable to separate the two.


Wadler's Law of Language Design

Starting with the truism found via LtU:


In any language design, the total time spent discussing
a feature in this list is proportional to two raised to
the power of its position.

  1. Semantics
  2. Syntax
  3. Lexical syntax
  4. Lexical syntax of comments

(That is, twice as much time is spent discussing syntax
than semantics, twice as much time is spent discussing
lexical syntax than syntax, and twice as much time is
spent discussing syntax of comments than lexical syntax.)

Which leads us to Parkinson's Law of Triviality:

Parkinson's Law of Triviality, also known as bikeshedding or the bicycle shed example, is C. Northcote Parkinson's 1957 argument that organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Parkinson demonstrated this by contrasting the triviality of a bike shed to a nuclear reactor. Later, Poul-Henning Kamp applied the law to software development and introduced the colour of the bike shed as the proverbial trivial detail receiving disproportionate attention.

and finally this posting by Poul-Henning Kamp from October 1999 on the FreeBSD mailing list - lots of interesting sound ideas and worth reposting here (original at ):

Why Should I Care What Color the Bikeshed Is?


"The really, really short answer is that you should not. The somewhat longer answer is that just because you are capable of building a bikeshed does not mean you should stop others from building one just because you do not like the color they plan to paint it. This is a metaphor indicating that you need not argue about every little feature just because you know enough to do so. Some people have commented that the amount of noise generated by a change is inversely proportional to the complexity of the change."

Subject: A bike shed (any colour will do) on greener grass...
From: Poul-Henning Kamp 
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 16:14:10 +0200
Message-ID: <>
Bcc: Blind Distribution List: ;
MIME-Version: 1.0

[bcc'ed to committers, hackers]

My last pamphlet was sufficiently well received that I was not
scared away from sending another one, and today I have the time
and inclination to do so.

I've had a little trouble with deciding on the right distribution
of this kind of stuff, this time it is bcc'ed to committers and
hackers, that is probably the best I can do.  I'm not subscribed
to hackers myself but more on that later.

The thing which have triggered me this time is the "sleep(1) should
do fractional seconds" thread, which have pestered our lives for
many days now, it's probably already a couple of weeks, I can't
even be bothered to check.

To those of you who have missed this particular thread: Congratulations.

It was a proposal to make sleep(1) DTRT if given a non-integer
argument that set this particular grass-fire off.  I'm not going
to say anymore about it than that, because it is a much smaller
item than one would expect from the length of the thread, and it
has already received far more attention than some of the *problems*
we have around here.

The sleep(1) saga is the most blatant example of a bike shed
discussion we have had ever in FreeBSD.  The proposal was well
thought out, we would gain compatibility with OpenBSD and NetBSD,
and still be fully compatible with any code anyone ever wrote.

Yet so many objections, proposals and changes were raised and
launched that one would think the change would have plugged all
the holes in swiss cheese or changed the taste of Coca Cola or
something similar serious.

"What is it about this bike shed ?" Some of you have asked me.

It's a long story, or rather it's an old story, but it is quite
short actually.  C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a book in the early
1960'ies, called "Parkinson's Law", which contains a lot of insight
into the dynamics of management.

You can find it on Amazon, and maybe also in your dads book-shelf,
it is well worth its price and the time to read it either way,
if you like Dilbert, you'll like Parkinson.

Somebody recently told me that he had read it and found that only
about 50% of it applied these days.  That is pretty darn good I
would say, many of the modern management books have hit-rates a
lot lower than that, and this one is 35+ years old.

In the specific example involving the bike shed, the other vital
component is an atomic power-plant, I guess that illustrates the
age of the book.

Parkinson shows how you can go in to the board of directors and
get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar
atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will
be tangled up in endless discussions.

Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast,
so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and
rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody
else checked all the details before it got this far.   Richard P.
Feynmann gives a couple of interesting, and very much to the point,
examples relating to Los Alamos in his books.

A bike shed on the other hand.  Anyone can build one of those over
a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV.  So no
matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with
your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is
doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is *here*.

In Denmark we call it "setting your fingerprint".  It is about
personal pride and prestige, it is about being able to point
somewhere and say "There!  *I* did that."  It is a strong trait in
politicians, but present in most people given the chance.  Just
think about footsteps in wet cement.

I bow my head in respect to the original proposer because he stuck
to his guns through this carpet blanking from the peanut gallery,
and the change is in our tree today.  I would have turned my back
and walked away after less than a handful of messages in that

And that brings me, as I promised earlier, to why I am not subscribed
to -hackers:

I un-subscribed from -hackers several years ago, because I could
not keep up with the email load.  Since then I have dropped off
several other lists as well for the very same reason.

And I still get a lot of email.  A lot of it gets routed to /dev/null
by filters:  People like Brett Glass will never make it onto my
screen, commits to documents in languages I don't understand
likewise, commits to ports as such.  All these things and more go
the winter way without me ever even knowing about it.

But despite these sharp teeth under my mailbox I still get too much

This is where the greener grass comes into the picture:

I wish we could reduce the amount of noise in our lists and I wish
we could let people build a bike shed every so often, and I don't
really care what colour they paint it.

The first of these wishes is about being civil, sensitive and 
intelligent in our use of email.

If I could concisely and precisely define a set of criteria for
when one should and when one should not reply to an email so that
everybody would agree and abide by it, I would be a happy man, but
I am too wise to even attempt that.

But let me suggest a few pop-up windows I would like to see
mail-programs implement whenever people send or reply to email
to the lists they want me to subscribe to:

      | Your email is about to be sent to several hundred thousand |
      | people, who will have to spend at least 10 seconds reading |
      | it before they can decide if it is interesting.  At least  |
      | two man-weeks will be spent reading your email.  Many of   |
      | the recipients will have to pay to download your email.    |
      |           |
      | Are you absolutely sure that your email is of sufficient   |
      | importance to bother all these people ?                    |
      |           |
      |                  [YES]  [REVISE]  [CANCEL]                 |

      | Warning:  You have not read all emails in this thread yet. |
      | Somebody else may already have said what you are about to  |
      | say in your reply.  Please read the entire thread before   |
      | replying to any email in it.                               |
      |           |
      |        [CANCEL]                              |

      | Warning:  Your mail program have not even shown you the    |
      | entire message yet.  Logically it follows that you cannot  |
      | possibly have read it all and understood it.               |
      |           |
      | It is not polite to reply to an email until you have       |
      | read it all and thought about it.      |
      |           |
      | A cool off timer for this thread will prevent you from     |
      | replying to any email in this thread for the next one hour |
      |           |
      |         [Cancel]       |

      | You composed this email at a rate of more than N.NN cps    |
      | It is generally not possible to think and type at a rate   |
      | faster than A.AA cps, and therefore you reply is likely to |
      | incoherent, badly thought out and/or emotional.            |
      |           |
      | A cool off timer will prevent you from sending any email   |
      | for the next one hour.         |
      |           |
      |         [Cancel]       |

The second part of my wish is more emotional.  Obviously, the
capacities we had manning the unfriendly fire in the sleep(1)
thread, despite their many years with the project, never cared
enough to do this tiny deed, so why are they suddenly so enflamed
by somebody else so much their junior doing it ?

I wish I knew.

I do know that reasoning will have no power to stop such "reactionaire
conservatism".  It may be that these people are frustrated about
their own lack of tangible contribution lately or it may be a bad
case of "we're old and grumpy, WE know how youth should behave".

Either way it is very unproductive for the project, but I have no
suggestions for how to stop it.  The best I can suggest is to refrain
from fuelling the monsters that lurk in the mailing lists:  Ignore
them, don't answer them, forget they're there.

I hope we can get a stronger and broader base of contributors in
FreeBSD, and I hope we together can prevent the grumpy old men
and the Brett Glasses of the world from chewing them up, spitting
them out and scaring them away before they ever get a leg to the 

For the people who have been lurking out there, scared away from
participating by the gargoyles:  I can only apologise and encourage
you to try anyway, this is not the way I want the environment in
the project to be.


Sunday, 5 June 2011

Eggs Benedict etc


Eggs Benedict
Eggs Benedict is a dish that consists of two halves of an muffin topped with ham or bacon, poached egg and hollandaise sauce.

  1. Muffin
  2. Poached Egg (see below for recipie)
  3. Ham
  4. Hollandaise Sauce (see below for recipie)

Eggs Benedict with Laverbread (I guess this would be Wyau Benedict a Bara Lawr)
(c)2011 Ian Oliver
  •  fry laverbread with bacon (fry small pieces of bacon in their own fat, until almost crispy, then add laverbread and fry until that is cooked)
  • place thick slice of ham (real ham!) on a muffin or half bagel
  • place fried laverbread and bacon on top
  • then a poached egg
  • then Hollandaise sauce over the top (seasoned with a little black pepper)
Hollandaise Sauce
A buttery sauce made from egg yolk, butter and a little lemon juice... 
Poached Eggs (properly)
  • boil water with a touch of vinegar and salt (helps keep the egg white together)
  • break egg, drop into boiling water for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes
  • take eggs out using slotted spoon - dry a little to remove excess water (most of which should evaporate)
  • the whites should be cooked and the yolks runny (!!)