Monday, January 19, 2009

They're at it again

Our elected representatives are at it again.  Apparently collecting receipts for everything they buy on expenses is just too much effort.  Strange... everybody else seems to manage it.

Nevertheless, they appear to want to limit scrutiny of how they spend the money that they take from us to fund themselves.

It seems some of the grass-roots organisations are also angry about this.

Here's the email I just sent to my MP:

Dear Mr Fitzpatrick,

You may recall that we corresponded some time ago on the subject of
MPs' attempts to limit scrutiny of their expenses by amending the
Freedom of Information Act.

It would appear that Parliament is returning to this subject on
Thursday in another attempt to relieve MPs of the burdens they impose
on everybody else.

Could you let me know if you are in favour of the proposed changes
and, if not, whether you plan to sign Jo Swinson's Early Day Motion on
the topic please?

The full text of the Early Day Motion is below.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Brown

Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009

That this House notes with concern the provisions in the Freedom of
Information (Parliament) Order 2009 to exempt remove [sic] the
expenses of Members of Parliament and Peers from the scope of the
Freedom of Information Act'; notes that this order will single out MPs
and Peers in a special category as the only paid public officials who
will note [sic] have to disclose full details of their expenses; notes
with concern the regressive effect of this Order on Parliamentary
transparency and the detrimental impact it will have on Parliament in
the eyes of the public; calls on Ministers to block or repeal the
Order in the interest of MPs' and Peers' accountability to members of
the public.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cure for Condensation

The recent cold weather has resulted in an unpleasant build-up of condensation in the flat.

I can cope with slightly steamed up windows but when small pools of water started building up on window-ledges, it was time to do something about it.

Leaving windows open for long periods of time helps with the problem but it's not really a solution when the weather is as cold as now.

The cause is quite simple: too much moisture being produced (breathing, cooking, showering, etc) and too little air exchange with the outside (because it's COLD and the windows are CLOSED!)

I did some research and decided that the solution would be do invest in a dehumidifier.  Sadly, it seems that everybody else has had the same idea and everywhere is out of stock.

I decided that the Delonghi DEM10 would be the best choice as it seems to get good feedback and it is priced keenly.  Unfortunately, it seems to be out of stock everywhere.   I stumbled upon one in the basement of John Lewis on Oxford Street last week and almost wept with joy.  I stood guard over it while I furiously tried to get the attention of an assistant.  When somebody finally came over, I was distraught to learn that it was the only one he had and that he was not prepared to sell it to me!  Apparently it had been on display for six months and had undergone so much abuse that there was no chance it would work.  I even offered to take it off his hands for £20 with a promise not to return it if it proved to be faulty.  No joy: he wanted to keep hold of it as a demonstration model.   


He did give me one piece of useful information, however.  Apparently a container full of DEM10s was supposed to arrive in the UK before Christmas but didn't turn up.    I suppose a missing container of a popular model, combined with a cold snap, might be enough to result in a nationwide shortage of pretty much all similarly-priced products.

So I returned to the web and stumbled upon a company that appears to specialise in nothing but Dehumidifers.  Ebac appear to live and breathe dehumidifiers. Indeed, it looks like they make their own and have been doing so for some time.   I suspect the £100 price point was not one they addressed until recently and so I had to hunt quite hard on their website until I found the "Amazon", which appears to be their entry-level model for price conscious people like me.

Now, I have to admit that I was initially somewhat suspicious.  "Ebac" does look quite like "Ebay" so any company that names one of their best-selling products "Amazon" is either stunningly naive or trying just a little too hard to game the search engines.

Anyway, I thought I'd give them a go.

And I have to say that I'm impressed.    The machine isn't pulling gallons of water out of the air but it is slowly but surely filling up the water container.  More importantly, the condensation has almost completely gone.  The bathroom mirror clears far more quickly after a shower and there are no unpleasant pools of water under the windows.   So, I'm somewhat impressed so far.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Woolwich Arsenal Station

Yes, OK. I admit it.  The DLR Woolwich Arsenal extension opened today so I went for a ride.

The train was full of train-spotter types with notepads and cameras.  At least one of them was muttering things under his breath for most of the journey and there was near ecstasy amongst others when the train lost power in the tunnel and started rolling backwards.

It made me wonder at what point one makes the transition from being an "interested observer" to a trainspotter.   My self image is strongly aligned with the former.  But I can't stop worrying that I may have crossed the line and just not noticed...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Free 0870 and 0845 calls on BT

BT plan to make calls to 0870 and 0845 numbers free to most of their customers.

Now, I believe the operators and owners of these numbers receive fees from the caller (or their phone company) when calls to these numbers are made. BT say they'll absorb these costs.

So, what's to stop me signing up for hundreds of these numbers and then getting millions of people to call me?  More likely, what's to stop a bad guy setting up hundreds of these numbers and then infecting those milions of computers in the country that still have modems and are connected to the phone line? 

I assume BT have this covered. But I'd love to know how.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The wrong kind of terrorist

Ian discovered last night that the Met Police were buying ads encouraging the public to report suspected terrorism. 

Unfortunately, he discovered this when he noticed that the ads were being placed on his own site. The working assumption is that the police may, scandalously, be buying keywords as broad as "right wing".

I guess a Freedom of Information request might answer that particular question.

However, a more worrying observation was made by a commentator on Iain Dale's site: they seem to have a very specific idea about the kinds of terrorists they're looking for.

I typed the following four searches into Google. Try to guess which ones triggered the ad...

Right wing extremist

Left wing extremist

Muslim extremist

Animal extremist

Here are the results:

Right Wing Extremist

Ad appears in line with the search results and is highly visible:

Left Wing Extremist

No ad:

Muslim Extremist

Ad appears - but is way over to the right. I almost missed it


Animal Extremist

No ad


So I guess the implication is clear:

If you're worried about right-wing or religious extremists next door, the Met wants to hear from you.

If you live next door to a mad animal-rights lunatic, don't worry about it.

As for the last case, I guess it's rational for the Met not to waste money advertising on Google.  I mean, if he lives next door to a crazed loon intent on wrecking the economy, Darling only has to step outside and tell the bobby guarding the entrance to No. 10 about it...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

"Rat to Ox"

Leaving aside the question of whether throwing away a trusted brand name is a good idea, can anybody explain Aviva's latest poster ad to me, please?

The ad reads something like this:


"The Quarrymen to The Beatles

Rat to Ox

Norwich Union to Aviva"

I get the first line and I understand the third line but the middle line just confuses me.

Is this a reference to something to do with horoscopes? Chinese mythology, perhaps? Something else entirely?  I genuinely don't get it.

Anyone know?