Archive for In the news

Golfing and hearing damage

It’s official, golf can damage your hearing. It seems that some of the modern drivers are constructed in such a way and with such a set of materials that they can cause a significant amount of noise when they come into a contact with a golf ball on the tee.

I can’t say I’ve experienced an excessive volume of noise when I tee off using my drivers but I regularly hear the tee shots of other golfers on the course, sometimes from a few holes away. I guess this is going to become another factor for golfers to consider when purchasing new clubs.

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Recent BBC Debacle

It cannot have escaped the attention of anyone who maintains even a casual interest in the mainstream media that there has been a lot of coverage recently concerning a pre-recorded phone prank by by Russel Brand and Johnathon Ross that was allowed to air on BBC Radio 2. I’m not going to re-iterate comments of others or the writings of the media but present my own views on the events that unfolded and what this means for radio.

I grew up listening to the radio. At most points during the day when I was a child some radio station or other would be on and I very soon became an avid listener to a wide variety of genres. I attribute my love of the medium and my intense desire to one day present on it myself (which, little did I know at the time, I was to realise in late 2004) to this exposure and the insistence of my parents that the medium was infinitely better than television to extent where I had unlimited access to the radio and none to the television.

I mention all of this because one thing big thing I took away from my childhood experience was that radio was open to all. Presenters were respectful of all audiences and their position in the presenters chair was a privilege, not a right. My parents had no qualms about me selecting my station of choice and listening to my heart’s content from a young age and I feel I benefited immensely from this exposure; both from an enjoyment of music perspective and of the need to understand the goings on in the world at large through speech and debate.

Press coverage surrounding the recent problem has focused on the action or lack thereof from the BBC both before and after the incident and the complaints made from listeners. Personally I think they are missing the point. Radio doesn’t have a watershed like television. This means that all content should be suitable for all. During the short time I was broadcasting this fact was made quite plain to me both through experience and through the OFCOM regulations to which all presenters had to adhere.

Simply put, if content has and is being broadcast on any radio station and at any time that is in bad taste or quite simply offensive, even to one listener, then the enjoyment of the radio that I had as a child and hope my children will have in the future is at very real risk of being curtailed. This is not something we should allow to happen under any circumstances.

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Why can’t we fix things?

I was reading an article in G2 a while ago that talked about the issues encountered with consumer durables and getting them mended. Essentially the attitude in the present day and age is tipped severely towards replacement rather than repair.

Customers who find their consumer durables broken outside of a warranty period usually discover one of two things

  1. Parts are not in any way available to repair the item
  2. Parts are available but work out more expensive than the item itself

Personally I find this astounding. We live in a society where concerns about the impact we have on the environment are on the rise, where costs of disposal are increasing and where places where there remains room to landfill are on the decline. Surely if we hope to address these issues in the home then we need to repair and not replace. Of course its never as simple as all that. These days its all about responsibility and who takes it.

My feeling is that there is a tug of war as to who should foot the bill. No ordinary consumer will choose to pay more to repair an existing product than they would to purchase a new one but at the same time, no company will increase the costs of their products to pay for cheaper spares if it means potentially turning new customers away through high prices. Clearly though this state of limbo is not one we can remain in forever.

What is really needed here is some re-engineering of the whole way in which goods are made and sold. At present, a product is envisaged which requires certain components. Contracts are then put out to tender to companies who might be able to deliver the required components at optimal cost. This creates a problem in that once the contract has been fulfilled, the third party companies will stop making their components and accept contracts from companies making different products. This causes the products that leave the production line to have literally no sources of spares. You could argue that this doesn’t happen straight away, but it is certain that it happens reasonably quickly, definitely during the life of the product at any rate.

The first possible route to dealing with this problem is to force big manufacturers to produce their own components if they are specific to the product being made (some outsourcing would be fine – you can’t ever imagine ever needing to stop the production of 10k resistors just because one product that uses them stops being made for example). This would cause the company to take advantage of economies of scale and make far more parts than were needed (not doing so would be to waste the cost of factory setup). The result of this is perhaps slightly more expensive products but with a stock-pile of spares which can then be sold on cheaply (taking advantage of the original economies of scale used to produce them) to customers who suffer breakdowns in the future. Call it a product life insurance policy if you like.

The second possible route to solving the problem (which is arguably simpler but likely more expensive to all concerned) is to pass the costs (both financial and environmental) of end of life disposal onto the consumer. At the moment we can just take items to the dump for practically nothing. If this cost was increased then suddenly the cost of the spare parts would seem more appealing – cheaper than the cost of disposal plus the new product. This would encourage consumers to seek out spares and in so doing encourage traders to step into the market to cater for the demand.

Personally I wouldn’t be too fussed with which option was employed – I see both as having the potential to work – but we simply cannot continue to throw things away only to replace with the same item because repair is seen as a non-option. Our planet has limited resources. If, in the future, we wish to continue to take advantage of these resources for human progress we must take a little more care with how we use them today.

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Earthquake felt in Leeds

Heather and I were awoken in the early hours of the morning last night by a violent shaking of the house and a loud rumbling sound. It would appear that we, like many others in the region and in fact across the country, were witnesses to the strongest earthquake the UK has had since the quake felt in North Wales back in 1984.

Measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale the quake caused minor damage to a few buildings and caused objects to rattle across surfaces and furniture to move around on the floor. Considering how infrequently we have eatrhquakes here it was quite a bizare experience, and many of the reports in the news speak of surprise and concern.

A fair few articles are now present on the BBC website detailing the event.

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Eroding Civil Liberties

All who have been keeping up with the news lately can’t have helped but notice that yet again we have stuff moving towards the doors of parliament that involve a trade-off between our civil liberties and the “fight against terrorism”. I’m commenting on this because I don’t see enough debate on this in the blogosphere and as such I want to get peoples views and voice a few of my own.

In order to determine what is legitimate in order to fight terrorism we first of all have to decide exactly what terrorism is. The dictionary defines terrorism as [the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes]. It should therefore seem reasonable that only actions which fit this definition should be deemed a terrorist action and therefore only measures which prevent such an action should be considered valid counter-terrorism measure.

There is a problem here however. We already have a number of acts passed through parliament that mention counter terrorism but what they appear to address is not in fact terrorism but other issues entirely, and yet according to these acts anyone caught doing these actions should be treated as a terrorist when their actions do not actually correlate with the dictionary definition of terrorism.

That is practically an aside though (although it is certainly something that should be addressed). The problem is the methods employed by the counter-terrorism measures – they almost always involve us giving up certain rights that we have enjoyed for a good number of years and indeed should continue to be enjoyed. Furthermore you have to consider what terrorists aim to achieve; they want to affect our lives, make us scared, make us change our ways. In the act of giving up our civil liberties are we not in fact affecting our own lives, scaring ourselves and changing our ways before a terrorist has even been born?

It seems to me that we are doing this all wrong. When I woke up to news of explosions in in summer 2005 my first thoughts were to my friends who work in the city. Later my thoughts were of defiance; these people are not going to make me scared to go to London, to ride the tube, to live my life. Assuming I am correct in this action and not a mere fool, giving up our rights in the name of preventing terrorism is akin to waking a week after those attacks and being too scared to take the tube to work.

I don’t believe we should allow our government to pass laws and acts that force us to let the terrorists win by giving up our rights. They want us to change our lives for them. We need to make sure we don’t and show them we’re not afraid by living our lives with the freedoms we have always done. Only then can we truly beat the machine of terrorism which at present, by its mere mention, threatens to undermine every facet of freedom in our everyday lives that we should be able to take for granted.

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Cracking Final

A rare event occurred last night – I stayed up watching TV until gone 1am. Why I hear you ask, well the world championship snooker final was on and it was such a cracking match I just couldn’t stop watching. At the end of the first day John Higgins looked certain to triumph over Mark Selby with a score of 12-4 but Mark pulled it back on the second day with some of the most superb play I have ever seen, taking the match late into the night – the latest final finish on record in fact.

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate John Higgins on his win, his world championship final victory for 9 years and to Mark Selby for a superb come-back, the likes of which I have never seen on the snooker table. Snooker is such an amazing game, especially when it gets close to the wire and I’m just sorry I wasn’t at the crucible to see it this year. Ah well, maybe next time.

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NHS will not be free

I read this article on the bbc this morning about how the NHS is unlikely to be free in the not too distant future according to a large number of doctors polled.

This concerns me because we are pouring huge amounts of tax-payers money into the NHS at the moment, and what is the point in doing that if down the line we are going to end up having to pay for some or all of any major treatment we might need? Generally speaking a public service should be free because it is funded by our taxes. Likewise a private service should not be expected to receieve any public funds, but we should expect to pay at point of use for any use we make of that private service. How can we have an NHS that we have to pay for? National Health Service doesn’t really have a “we’re going to give you a nice big bill” kind of ring to it really, I mean why not just call it Expensive Private Health Service and give us more money in our pockets each month that we currently give the NHS in tax!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a public health service, I believe in taxation for its funding. What I don’t condone however is the taxpayer forking out money for a public health service which is really a private health service in public sector clothing. Blair and his government should be ashamed.

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Blogosphere point-scoring

The Guardian levied an accusation against the blogosphere in todays paper. They suggest that it “… risks putting off everyone but point-scoring males”. When I first read the headline I felt a typical bloggers outrage at having my corner of the web criticised, but then I thought about it for minute and realised that it is my immediate reaction, were it to be put down on my blog, that brings about that outsiders view of the blogosphere. As such I’m going to address this in a much more matter of fact way and give my straight up honest take on the very fabric in which I express my views.

The WWW (World Wide Web) is a collection of communities, much like those we find in any country you care to name in the world. The main difference with the WWW is that each of these communities are in easy reach of each other. A matter of milliseconds in fact. The big question I have though, is how is any given offline community different from one, say, in a particular area of a city?

A city community will have an accepted way of behaving, of conducting your life, the way you speak to other people etc. An online community will have the same. To illustrate this, consider a technical forum where off-topic discussion is frowned upon and those who display more knowledge are respected above others and users expect to speak to other users in a certain way and for that to be reciprocated.

Our city community isn’t perfect however. Some people do things others don’t like, say things that are offensive, rebel against the status quo. These things are frowned upon and often cause an uproar, but none the less they go on, and simply get shouted down when they occur. Back then to our online technical community where occasionally someone offends someone else, perhaps by telling them they are wrong in a derogatory fashion. This is frowned upon by others and the offender is shouted down. These incidents still go on however and simply get shouted down when they occur.

See where I’m going? Just because its online, doesn’t mean we should expect everything we find to be tailored to us, just because we see it though a computer screen we call our own doesn’t mean everything we display on it should be suited specifically for us. We live our lives expecting some facts of our lives to offend us. Why should we demand that the WWW be exempt from this quite ordinary, accepted fact of life?

The blogosphere is a place on the WWW where anyone and everyone can express their opinions in articles or comments. We cannot and should not expect that the way others express their opinions to always match our preferred standards. In fact the very nature of the WWW is such that we can easily avoid things we don’t wish to see, or comments we don’t wish to read simply by choosing not to navgate to places on the web where these things reside, or when we find ourselves reading something we don’t want to read we can navigate away from it.

I don’t expect everyone to like what I write, I don’t expect everyone to read it, but I do expect EVERYONE to stand by and let me write it in the first place.

Not everyone likes tabloid newspapers, but I haven’t ever met one person who has been put off by reading ALL newspapers simply because tabloids exist. The sooner people start seeing the WWW and in particular the blogosphere as an extension to their everyday lives rather than a whole new environment the sooner they will see that the way it all works is not really any different to everything else around them. On that day, perhaps us bloggers will finally be left in peace.

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Hubble will live

I read with delight on the BBC news website this morning that a rescue mission to renew failing systems and install new instruments to the Hubble space telescope will be going ahead after it was canceled after the space shuttle Columbia disaster. This important for several reasons. Some of the most amazing discoveries have been made about our universe with the help of Hubble and given the rate of these discoveries its entirely possible that there are many more waiting to happen if Hubble is given the chance.

This is of course not to mention that some of the most beautiful images of our universe have come in through its mirror system – images that have left the world in awe. In an attempt to share with you the importance of this rescue mission I’ve uploaded a set of images from Hubble that I feel justifies all the effort being made and some more.

Long live Hubble!

The best images from Hubble

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Jailed for blogging

The other day I was pointed by Heather to a BBC article on the plight of some bloggers around the world and the fact that freedom of speech online doesn’t exist in all parts of the world as we like to believe it does. You can read the article here.

This article focuses on the plight of many people the world over for daring to critisize thier government using their blogs and for just doing this have ended up in jail or worse. Amnesty international are doing a fine job in bringing this to peoples attention and I would like to express my support, as a blogger, to the work they are doing here.

Further to this though is a more fundamental point about the differences in law between the rights of online journalists (bloggers) and those who write for conventional media (such as newspapers, radio etc.). What annoys me on a daily basis is how its assumed that just because you can deduce the identity of an internet user much easier than you can deduce the identity of a source for a newspaper that this should be an important factor in if a blogger is blamed or not. Every day people are losing their jobs and landing up in court because of things they write on their blogs, things they have a right to say and things they would be allowed to say with no repremand if they were to do so in conventional media.

While these issues may become less of a problem as the law evolves to take account of online media, all those who blog need to make a stand and ensure these changes happen sooner rather than later. Free speech is our right, not a privillage.

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