The General Discussion Thread

[Publish Date updated to restore to front page]

Okay as an experiment here it is. Discuss your favourite generals here!

Well perhaps… Really this is simply the place to post news-items, fun-items or whatever takes your fancy. In short just post what you want here.

It’s just another wee experiment – comments welcome.


[Image: General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett (Stephen Fry)]

17,285 thoughts on “The General Discussion Thread

  1. Komodo, thanks. “Q” will be Quantal Quetzal then, version 12.10:

    The version numbers are simple and informative; they go “year-dot-month”, so 12.04 was released in April 2012. I find the animal names confusing, but I’ve just noticed that the initial letters follow alphabetical order. Releases occur every six months, so the number after the dot is always .04 (April) or .10 (October).

    Most releases are only supported for eighteen months, but every two years a “Long Term Support” (“LTS”) version is released. LTS versions are the “Enterprise” versions, recommended for businesses, and I find them to be less buggy and more reliable. Ubuntu 8.04, 10.04 and 12.04 are all LTS versions. These get three or five year support. I install LTS versions if possible, to cut down on the amount of upgrading I have to do. Sometimes I need to install one of the others, usually because someone has a very new laptop which requires very recent driver software.

  2. Hi All,

    There may be some short server downtime later today and/or over the weekend as I do some server updates. If the site is down it should only be for a few short intervals.

    Also the site has been updated to WordPress 3.8.1 which is just a minor bug fix update but let me know if you find anything that isn’t working properly.

  3. Thanks for the info. I think you like doing these tekkie bits!

    One thing. My user name and e-mail used to be stored here above this comment box but not lately. ??


    Kerry is speaking live at Davos. I have been watching. He loves the sound of his own voice. 1 hr + and counting. Same old. Demonizing Assad and knocking Iran. Israelis perfect.


    Is Rebekah Brooks forgetful or just plain careless? 🙂

    As many as 10 mobile phones and computer gadgets potentially linked to Rebekah Brooks have never been found by police, a court has heard.

  4. Hmm, user names and email should still be pre-filled. Anyone else having that problem? They are stored in a site cookie on your PC so if you have any kind of security, cookie blocker or cleaner add-on that might be the problem. If not how long has the problem been happening for? You could also try clearing site cookies in the browser in case you have a corrupted cookie file. That would force the details to be stored again.

  5. Sorry can’t remember how long AlcAnon but probably a month ago. I have cleared the site cookies to no avail and am not aware of any changes like add ons or security changes. No worry.

    I went to the docs this morning for a BP check and blood test. Routine. In the waiting room there are always a few copies of Poems in the Waiting Room which you can read or take away. They usually have a seasonal theme. Brilliant little charity behind it. Patients with a lot of their minds might find the diversion helpful and/or therapeutic.

    The latest version includes this thrilling sonnet probably known to many.

    “High Flight”

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air….

    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
    Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
    And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    – Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    The author was 19 when he died in a mid air collision between his Spitfire and a RAF trainer. He was a brave young American who came over to help us in WWII. I found his story very moving.,_Jr.

  6. Mary, I briefly made a change which invalidated site cookies at some point but undid it quickly. Possible if you visited at that time it caused the problem but I would have thought clearing cookies should fix it. Let me think about it.

  7. It’s only money. OUR money.

    Former BBC technology boss sacked over failed project
    John Linwood was paid £280,000 for his role

    Related Stories
    BBC’s £100m IT failings detailed
    Mark Thompson recalled to face MPs
    BBC abandons £100m digital project

    The BBC’s former technology chief John Linwood was sacked in July over the failed £100m Digital Media Initiative (DMI) the corporation has confirmed.

    John Linwood was suspended in May over the abandonment of the project to move the BBC away from using video tape.

    A BBC spokesman confirmed Mr Linwood did not receive a pay-off after the termination of his contract.

    Next month a Commons committee is due to hear evidence on DMI from former BBC boss Mark Thompson.

    The news of the termination of Mr Linwood’s employment has been delayed for several months due to legal reasons


    The disastrous Thompson is in the frame again. Not forgiven for the Savile cover up.


    Miles Goslett is on the case.

  8. OUR money again. Remember BLiar’s £13bn IT medical records disaster that cost the NHS £13bn?

    Government IT suppliers behaved appallingly – Bill Crothers

    If you Google ‘government IT contracts’ you get all these links to government ministers over the years promising no more wastage, no more cock ups, no more wasted contracts, etc etc.

  9. Mary, thanks for that poem, which is truly inspiring. Here’s one in return. The first verse speaks from the perspective of the student, working on after Tycho Brahe’s death. In the first line, the “Tycho Brahe” to be “reached down” refers to Brahe’s famous catalogue of stars. From the second verse on, the deceased Tycho Brahe replies to his former student.

    The Old Astronomer to his Pupil
    by Sarah Williams

    Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
    When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
    He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
    We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

    Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
    Lacking only certain data, for your adding, as is meet,
    And remember men will scorn it, ‘tis original and true,
    And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

    But, my pupil, as my pupil you will have learned the worth of scorn,
    You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed at the forlorn.
    What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles;
    What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious wiles!

    You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
    But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
    Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
    I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

  10. Mary, the governmental information technology situation is ridiculous, not just in the UK, and not just in the NHS.

    For decades, governments have chosen to purchase software from companies rather than hiring programmers and developing it themselves. The companies have mistreated governments just as they have mistreated domestic users. Hardly anyone understands; the commercial trick is known as “vendor lock-in”.

    When information is converted to a digital representation it has to be encoded in some way. Governments didn’t want to become involved in the nitty-gritty of all that so they left it to the companies. The companies took advantage of this abdication of responsibility by shackling the governments to their software; they encoded the data in ways that only they understood, such that only their software could convert it back to human readable form.

    This same trick was played over and over again, until multiple systems had been built that were all incapable of transferring data between each other. Some companies went bust or were bought out, and documentation which was held by the companies (not by the government) was lost.

    Just yesterday, a friend was telling me that the computers of the probation services, the courts and the police are all unable to exchange data. Details have to be read off the screen of one system and input manually into another. This leads to ridiculous situations where police or probation officers are not notified about court timings, no one is present to deal with an offender at the end of a court session and they end up unsupervised or running off up the street.

    Governments could hire programmers to create data systems. The vast majority of the necessary components already exist in the world of Free Software; the GPL license ensures that governments and companies can use this software, freely and without charge, just as I am using it as my operating system, and Squonk is using it to operate this site. The government could hire programmers to assemble complete data handling systems from these components, much like Lego or Meccano. The GPL insists that the program code all has to be published, so there is never any mystery or secrecy as to how the disk filing systems and database systems encode the data. All systems would thus be capable of communicating with each other, and the details of how it’s encoded could never be lost.

    Unfortunately, there now exists a legal impediment to this sort of approach. The corporate system successfully lobbied for EU laws that prevent the public sector from “competing” with the private sector. Governmental organisations in the EU are prevented by law from pricing up their own development costs and comparing it with commercial offerings; they have to put it out for tender.

  11. Squonk my form is fine too…

    Mary thanks for that Sonnet…most beautiful…and the charity behind it is a fantastic idea….Checked it out really Kool 🙂

    the poem so reminded me of a stunning video… of soaring out from the earth, and on out to the very farthest reaches of our known universe… its amazing the sheer scale of the joint ( Universe ) … not sure i should put it up here, or over on the X class Solar Flare thread…but as it is in relpy to Mary’s post @ 6;35 above…i’ll put here

    Clark cheers also for beautiful poem….i’m sure Tycho Brahe would have been thrilled if he were around now and been able to see the Scale of universe video

  12. I have MacKeeper and access to help, but I thought I would ask you AA.

    Sue is even less techie than me but she tried to download Adobe Flash and was unsuccessful with installation. It made her Mac barmy as hell. The cursor from the pad was wildly opening everything it passed over. I was finally able to successfully install and the problem is largely gone, but a ghost of that stupidity occasionally frustrates her.

    Ideas? MAC OS X ver 10.6.8 intel core 2 duo

  13. “Not so much a wine for drinking as for laying down and avoiding”

    “Steve Jobs didn’t want Flash on any of his computers and devices; he was right. Flash sucks. It really sucks. It runs in software where today’s technologies run in hardware, it melts your mobo, sucks up your VM, revs your fan, and makes your box run slow. It’s shit.

    But Flash has invasive technologies the content providers are greedy for. Flash can keep an eye on you and control you.”,00.shtml

    Go here, and search on Adobe Flash

    I hope you can get it to uninstall cleanly. Fucking thing.

  14. The Adobe Flash Player is my most hated piece of software. It’s the one piece of proprietary software that I’m virtually forced to add to the Free Software systems that I install. One of my old PCs has a 1GHz processor and a ten year old graphics card. It has no trouble displaying a video full-screen from a DVD, so how come Flash videos are jerky when their window is less then three inches across?

    I have to install the Flash Player because Flash Videos are designed such that they won’t play on anything else. Lock-in. I do have two great Free Software work-arounds for specific video-streaming sites…

    youtube-dl is a command-line tool that downloads from YouTube, extracting the original video (.mov .mp4 .qt or whatever) from the Flash .flv stream and saving it as a file (Flash is only a “container format”; there’s always a “real” video somehow scrambled into it). youtube-dl works on Mac OS-X, but you need to have python installed.

    get-iplayer is a similar tool for BBC iPlayer.

    Note that these are command line tools; you have to open a terminal and type your command in. I suspect this is the only way the developers manage to avoid litigious persecution from Adobe. Say you want to download this video, “Who Is Really Behind the Syrian War?”:

    The simplest command is


    The tools give you a lot of options. The -F option displays all the available formats and resolutions, and the -f option lets you choose which to download. The bits after the “$” symbol are the bits I had to type (or paste). The other bits are youtube-dl’s responses.:

    $ youtube-dl -F
    Available formats:
    22 : mp4 [720×1280]
    18 : mp4 [360×640]
    43 : webm [360×640]
    5 : flv [240×400]
    17 : mp4 [144×176]

    $ youtube-dl -f 18
    [youtube] Setting language
    [youtube] cCdaExnIpGs: Downloading video webpage
    [youtube] cCdaExnIpGs: Downloading video info webpage
    [youtube] cCdaExnIpGs: Extracting video information
    [download] Destination: cCdaExnIpGs.mp4
    [download] 3.6% of 145.62M at 344.34k/s ETA 06:57

  15. Who are the employees with arrested mental development in this US outfit? Keen to get the eye of Ms Marissa Mayer probably. She is ex Google incidentally.

    ‘Yahoo, a main rival to the search giant, cheekily tweeted news of the outage, along with a picture of the error message.

    However it later took down the tweet and posted an apology.

    Yahoo said: “Earlier today, a tweet that reflected bad judgment was posted and has been deleted. We apologize to @Google and the @Gmail team.”

    Yahoo had its own email problems last month, with users locked out of accounts and messages not being delivered.’

    Google Gmail Users Have Problems Connecting
    Users report difficulty accessing their email and other Google services but the company says things are now running as normal.

    Speaking personally I cannot wait for BT to dump Yahoo Mail. Dreadful performance.

    ‘BT Yahoo email security warning
    We’ve recently detected unusual activity on some BT Yahoo email accounts and have already taken steps to secure these.
    If after logging into your email, you receive a message advising you to change your password and run some security checks, it is important for you to do so.
    Further advice on the steps we recommend that you should also take can be found at ……’

  16. Thanks for your links to Tycho Brahe (new to me) Clark. All that nearly 500 years ago and predating the Age of the Enlightenment. A most unusual man. I liked the fact that he had his own paper made on which to print his results. Not so keen on his strange moustache though.

    A horrible death for him.

    Also appreciated that poem. The last two lines are particularly beautiful.

    ‘Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
    I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.’

  17. The Yahoo security breach has been ongoing for about a year now. People’s Yahoo e-mail accounts are abused to send e-mails to people on the account owner’s contact list. The first such e-mail I can find in my various Inboxes is dated early March 2013. By April 2013 I’d already received about seven such e-mails from Yahoo and Yahoo-affiliated accounts.

    Such e-mails are blank except for a single link, which usually leads to a page on a site that itself has been cracked. If the owners of the site haven’t detected and fixed their security breach, then the target page contains an exploit which attempts to install malware on the visitors’ systems.

    By contrast, Gmail actually has a good reputation for security.

  18. Yes Clark mine was done over. Embarrassing that friends got the junk. No apologies from BT or Yahoo of course, just the ceaseless stuff from BT about usage*, upgrading, etc etc. No apologies either from BT for outages and BB down which happens a couple of times a month. All their comms are ‘No reply. Handy that for them.
    *£5.30 per extra Gb above 10 allowed.


    This is heartening news from Surrey Univ. Only hope that there are jobs for them three or four years on when they graduate.
    University of Surrey physics applications ‘rise by 82% in a year’

  19. Ben,

    I’m not really a Mac expert so I don’t have any answers about the Flash problem. Google have Flash built into their Chrome browser where it runs inside its own security sandbox. Firefox now has its own open sourced Flash compatible player that is in early testing phase. At the moment it still can’t display most Flash content but the intention is it should be able eventually to play non copyright protected content on its own without the need to install official Flash Player.

  20. Mary: that sounds a poor service from BT. Suggest you take your broadband and landline business elsewhere. Can recommend Plusnet – cheap, reliable and very good customer service.

  21. “Firefox now has its own open sourced Flash compatible player that is in early testing phase. At the moment it still can’t display most Flash content but the intention…”

    Well good luck to Firefox/Mozilla, but this looks very similar to two long-standing and ongoing projects that somehow never manage to get past the “still can’t play most Flash content” stage, GNU gnash and swfdec.

    Adobe won’t cooperate. They’ll pretend to cooperate; there are “resources” for those who wish to develop alternative players, but you have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before Adobe will release essential details of the Flash format. The NDA ensures that full Flash decoding can never be implemented in Free (GPL) Software. And as soon as Adobe feel that their monopoly is threatened, they just issue an “upgraded” player, and release a new (and otherwise undecodable) version of the Flash format.

  22. I’m with Plusnet. They’re not as good as they used to be, but still much better than BT. Their call-centre is in the UK and the staff actually speak English as their first language. Oddly, Plusnet is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT.

  23. I can’t believe I stumped you AA. 🙂

    Clark; Thanks but I’m confused. Sue needs to have flash for her facebook and youtube adventures. Are you saying dump it for the alternative?

  24. Ben, there is no real alternative to the Adobe Flash player. Adobe have secured a monopoly. As a class, our best alternative is to boycott Flash, both player and content, and thereby force it off the Web. The backlash has already gained considerable ground because Apple refused to let the Flash Player onto the iPhone. Four fifths of videos on YouTube are now playable via the HTML5 standard rather than Flash.

    The Flash Player is shit software. Your experience of it making an entire system misbehave is, unfortunately, only slightly worse than typical.

    If you and Sue can put up with just downloading from Youtube via the command line, rather than just playing videos in your browser, you can use youtube-dl.

    One thing that might help, if you haven’t done it already; most of the animated advertisements that appear on Web pages are implemented by Flash. If there’s anything worse for your system than playing one Flash video, it’s playing several simultaneously. So install Firefox, and within Firefox, install the add-on AdBlock Plus or one of its variants. And/or install NoFlash, which replaces Flash videos with a clickable button that lets you play only those Flash videos that you click on, rather than every Flash video on the page playing automatically.

  25. I have just read a poem on Counterpunch that refers to using children in an institution as guinea pigs in an experiment in the late 40s/50s. I found that it is true. Quite shocking as there must have been doctors involved.

    The poem is by John Snider on

    and the line is
    ‘At MIT they served 57 developmentally delayed children radioactive Quaker oatmeal.’

  26. Ben, Flash is well on its way to becoming obsolete:

    Meanwhile, here’s another piece of software that could provide a work-around. It’s proprietary (i.e. non-free). There’s a no-cost trial version, and a full version for $17. However, I can’t try it out because I don’t have a recent version of OS X, but you could find an OS X user who’s reasonably technical and ask them to try it. Or you could just try it yourself; it’s from Rixstep whom I consider trustworthy, so it’s unlikely to do any harm to your system:,00.shtml,00.shtml

  27. Mary, the experiments you refer to were unethical. However, the amounts of radioactivity administered were very low; the radioactive isotopes were being used as tracers, a technique you’re probably familiar with from nuclear medicine. That doesn’t excuse what was done, but to find out if it actually caused harm would require follow-up investigation.

    Other things that were done at the Walter E. Fernald State School were probably much worse. From your Wikipedia link:

    “[The state school] became a “poster child” for the American eugenics movement during the 1920s [… ] At its peak, some 2,500 people were confined there [… ] The institution did serve a large population of mentally retarded children, but The Boston Globe estimates that upwards of half of the inmates tested with IQs in the normal range. In the 20th century, living conditions were spartan or worse; approximately 36 children slept in each dormitory room. There were also reports of physical and sexual abuse.”

  28. On Australia Day (ie the anniversary of the whiteys invading the Aboriginal people’s land) there is no irony in the fact that they start killing off the sharks. Who was there first?

    Australia: First Shark Killed As Cull Begins
    A three-metre shark is shot dead as government-ordered cull gets under way on what campaigners say is a “sad day” for wildlife.

    Reference –

  29. Clark What do you make of these recurring crashes of bank servers? Coupled with all the talk this w/e about HSBC’s solvency triggered perhaps by their new cash withdrawal limits plus their demand to know why the cash is needed and for what purpose, it does all seem a jumpy state of affairs.

    26 January 2014 Last updated at 20:56
    Lloyds Banking Group customers hit by card problems

    Lloyds Banking Group says it has fixed problems that affected Halifax, Lloyds, Bank of Scotland and TSB customers using ATMs and debit cards.

    Lloyds is the largest retail bank group in the UK with 30 million customers. The chief executive of TSB, Paul Pester, said its customers’ debit card transactions had been affected after problems with two out of seven IT servers.

    He tweeted an apology and replied to some comments personally. In a statement, Lloyds Banking Group said: “We apologise that earlier today, between 3pm and 6pm, some customers were unable to complete their debit card transactions.

    Paul Pester Twitter TSB chief Paul Pester took to Twitter to respond to customer complaints
    “Although the majority of transactions were unaffected, we are very sorry for the inconvenience that this will have caused.

    “At the same time, some customers encountered problems at approximately half of our 7,000 ATMs. This was resolved by 7.30pm, and all of our ATMs are now working.


  30. Suffolk County Council announces £38.6m of cuts

    You have heard of ‘care in the community’ from the ‘Care’ Trust and the newly created Clinical Commission Groups. Well, that care will be via the telephone for some people to help with the cutz/austerity. But less social care anyway. However, it will still be ‘joined up’ – health and social care.

    *For old fellows who go into urinary retention for instance, self catheterisation kits will be on hand. Instructions for insertion by telephone – conference facility so he has both hands free.

    (* That is a joke but who knows what the future holds!)

    We are ‘modernizing’ here, there and everywhere. There are even ‘virtual ward rounds’. I am not kidding.
    The Suffolk County County savings include a £10.2m cut in adult care services in 2014-15
    Jobs and services are could be cut at Suffolk County Council as the authority struggles to meet a £38.6m shortfall in its budget for 2014-15.

    ‘Monitoring staffing’
    The adult care savings include a £6.4m cut in the care purchasing budget.
    This could mean an increase in charges for some services and a greater use of telecare – offering remote care of elderly and physically less able people, who would be able to remain in their homes rather than go into care.

  31. Mary, well the ATM problems could be to do with the death throes of Windows XP, I suppose, as per my comment and Squonk’s one after it on the first link, and Dreoilin’s comment on my second link:

    When Microsoft were making the old Windows 9x series obsolete, they sent some nasty updates that degraded performance. With three months to go before they make Windows XP obsolete, they could be doing the same to that system. If the ATM machines are making bad requests, that could be interfering with servers. But this is pure speculation on my part.

  32. Mary, I’ve already experienced “telecare”. I was “offered” Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – “offered” i.e. they wouldn’t offer anything else. So I sat and waited, and then discovered what they were really going to do. A load of “worksheets” were posted to me, and once a week some girl who sounded like a depressed student ‘phoned me up, and asked me how I was getting on filling out the worksheets. Since my unhappiness is mostly caused by isolation and loneliness, this didn’t seem much like care.

  33. Sorry to hear of your experience Clark. Those in charge do not have hearts.

    Never feel alone. We are ALL your friends and are at the end of a telephone, BT permitting.

    I have just read about a village near here where the telephone lines have been down for 6 weeks, predating any storms or wet weather. One old chap aged 88 pays £55 a quarter for one of those personal call alarms which is u/s at the moment. His daughter has managed to divert incoming calls to a mobile she has provided for him but the alarm is connected to BT line and the alarm operators will not divert it temporarily.

    Open Reach were not available for comment needless to say.

  34. Mary, I think that people, as such, aren’t in charge. All there is, all that’s left, is a structure. The structure is made of people, but that doesn’t matter because all those people just have to follow structural rules. Here, read this to see what I mean:

    People, in their jobs, used to be permitted to exercise quite a lot of judgement. But sometimes judgement proves wrong, and often when that has happened the rules have been tightened by the powers above. Now all that’s left are the rules; the hearts have been eliminated by the behaviour of the structure.

  35. I wrote “tightened by the powers above”, but the same applies there, and at every level above. Supposedly, right at the top, is the democratic political structure, but even that is constrained. Governments have to follow certain policies, constrained by their creditors, the “rules of the market” or “the economy”, and “public opinion”, which is really the shallow ideas constantly re-transmitted by the corporate media.

    Each of these constraints is itself structural. Governments’ creditors are structural institutions. The economy has a structure though it was never designed. And the corporate media of course is a set of corporate structures.

    Maybe the only counter-force possible is anarchy. I hope not, because appropriate structure can be a fine thing. I just don’t know. I’m lacking in hope.

  36. Hi Clark

    I left a wee post for you over at Craig’s…Re stuxnet…interesting goings on.

    P.s…i second Mary… Never feel alone. We are ALL your friends and are at the end of a ‘Blog’ Cura Ut Valeas.

  37. Don’t you love this photo. It was on Medialens.

    Speaking of which, I live a good hour’s drive from the coast yet when the fields and meadows here were flooded recently, there were soon hundreds of seagulls swimming around. There are no landfill or rubbish tips in the area so seagulls are not normally seen. Where do they come from and how do they know where this new water is and communicate the info?

  38. Squonk, do you remember that horrible thing like a huge flayed head that went

  39. Clark,

    Only vaguely. I did find my copy though and from a quick flick through found it on pg 81 of the UK Orbit 1995 paperback edition . I think I waited for the paperback because a friend told me it was unreadable crap. I thought it was okay IIRC but not one of my favourite Banks novels which is probably why I never read it again and I’ve clearly forgotten most of the detail.

    Thinking about it further I think it just made me want to re-read “The City and the Stars” and/or “Against the Fall of Night” by A. C. Clarke. Either that or wait for a new Culture novel from Banks. Might give it another read but I don’t read books anywhere as much as I used to.

Comments are closed.