Amazon integration – the last thing I want from Ubuntu

Ubuntu logoThe Inquirer yesterday carried a report in which Canonical, purveyors of Ubuntu Linux, claim that Amazon integration is what users want in Ubuntu.

Canonical released Ubuntu 12.10 on Thursday. This new release introduced tighter integration with Amazon in system search results – a move which has provoked criticism from the Ubuntu community. Canonical asserts that Amazon integration in Dash is something users expect and it will integrate other online services in future Ubuntu releases.

The move was defended by Steve George, Canonical’s Vice-President of communications and products, who told The Inquirer that: “Users increasingly expect to search. It is driven by two things, firstly the fact that online they search, so naturally they think about searching and the other thing is the total amount of content. […] The Dash has previously been restricted to only the things that were on your desktop, so where we are taking the Dash so we are trying to pull it so that everything – your personal cloud – all of your online and offline, everything you have in your universe around you, the Dash will be able to search that and find those things for you.”

Thanks for that Steve. I’ve been using Ubuntu happily on my laptop for two and a half years now, but if you’re going to clamber into bed with the likes of Amazon, I’m putting Debian on that machine when the long term support on my present Ubuntu install runs out.

Update 21/10/12: Bruno Girin has been in touch since I wrote this post and informed me there are 2 options for disabling the Amazon search – turning it off in the system settings and removing the package respectively – as follows:

  1. Option 1: system settings -> privacy -> include online search results = off
  2. Option 2: sudo apt-get remove unity-lens-shopping

Court Language Services Forum launched

It’s not just the Public Accounts Select Committee that’s taking an interest in the court interpreting and translation services shambles currently being presided over by ALS/Capita (posts passim).

The Justice Committee is naturally also taking an interest and has just launched a Court Languages Forum as part of its inquiry.

The following notice was issued to coincide with the forum’s launch:

The Justice Committee has launched an inquiry into the provision of interpretation and translation services since Applied Language Solutions (ALS) began operating as the Ministry of Justice’s sole contractor for language services in February 2012. The Committee had an excellent response to its call for written evidence. We have been given many examples which highlight apparent under-performance but most of these have been provided by third parties and relate to the first few months of operation.

The Justice Committee has heard that some stakeholders may be reticent to provide formal written evidence. These may include: court and tribunal service staff; members of the judiciary and magistracy; legal practitioners and other practitioners; defendants in criminal cases and parties in civil and family cases and interpreters providing services on behalf of ALS. We would encourage these individuals to submit their experiences through this web forum using an anonymous user name.

The Justice Committee would like to hear from individuals with direct experience of the provision of interpreting and translation services by Applied Language Solutions (ALS). The Justice Committee would particularly like to hear about direct examples of recent performance issues (during September and October 2012) surrounding the operation of the Framework Agreement between the Ministry of Justice and ALS.

Comments will be pre-moderated before being posted on this web forum. Comments will be moderated at least every working day. Where possible we will aim to publish accepted posts within 24 hours. This forum is pre-moderated and comments that breach the online discussion rules will not be posted. Please avoid naming particular courts or court cases. Any such responses may not be posted on the forum by moderators. This forum will close on 2 November 2012.

Interpreting: courting disaster

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice made a massive cock-up when it changed the method by which courts in England and Wales procured interpreters. It handed a £ 43 mn. contract for court interpreting services to an outfit called Applied Language Solutions (ALS), an outfit totally incapable of and unprepared for handling such a large contract.

Once it had laid its hands on the court interpreting contract, ALS sought to change the terms and conditions under which interpreters are engaged, introducing a savage pay and expenses cut, resulting in a boycott of ALS which is still continuing as many interpreters are not prepared to do a professional job of work for a rate of pay that now works out at less than the minimum wage once expenses have been deducted.

To attempt to make good the shortfall, ALS resorted to hiring unqualified translators, including a rabbit called Jajo.

Earlier this week the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee examined the MoJ/ALS fiasco (footage here). The senior civil servants in charge of the project did not put in a good performance. To call them incompetent would be too praiseworthy.

Just as the Select Committee were settling in to their deliberations, the latest edition of Private Eye had also picked up the ALS story.

As the Eye piece points out, ALS has since been acquired by Capita and rebranded Capita Translation and Interpreting.

Private Eye spells Capita with an additional ‘r’. Say no more.

More North Somerset Luddism

There must be something in the water in North Somerset that induces idiocy and Luddism in that unitary authority’s councils.

Not far away from schizophrenic Clevedon, where members of the public can use social media to their hearts’ content during council meetings, but councillors cannot (posts passim), is Nailsea.

Today’s Bristol Post reports on yesterday’s meeting of Nailsea Town Council which, with typical bureaucratic perspicacity, voted to ban councillors from using iPads and laptops during meetings over concerns that councillors would use them to either surf the internet, send emails or post messages on networking sites.

The move hasn’t gone down well with one member of the town council – Councillor Mary Blatchford, who also represents Nailsea on North Somerset Council. Cllr. Blatchford has good reason to feel aggrieved: she has a hand injury; the latter makes it hard for her to write. She therefore quite sensibly uses her iPad for taking notes during meetings. It’s therefore hardly surprising she described the move as “archaic” and has moreover threatened to resign in protest.

Put icons back in church where they belong

Once upon a time the only place one would see anything “iconic” was in a Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox Church. A gilded frame, copious amounts of gold leaf and a halo or haloes were usually involved.

However nowadays – much to my dismay – something just has to exist to be regarded as an icon: no veneration is necessary and the word has become hackneyed and synonymous with lazy journalism, as in this piece from today’s Bristol Post, where the undeserving victim is traditional British fish and chips.

Let’s see what the Guardian Style Guide says about iconic:

In danger of losing all meaning after an average three appearances a day in the Guardian and Observer, employed to describe anything vaguely memorable or well-known – from hairdressers, storm drains in Los Angeles and the Ferrero Rocher TV ads to Weetabix, the red kite and the cut above the eye David Beckham sustained after being hit by a flying boot kicked by Sir Alex Ferguson. Our advice, even if our own writers rarely follow it, is to show a little more thought, and restraint, in using this term.

Turning to icon, the Style Guide lists the following objects which were described in the Guardian as “iconic” in a single fortnight in 2010:

Archaeopteryx
bluefin tuna
Castro’s cigar
David Beckham wearing an anti-Glazer scarf
Grace Kelly in casual wear
Imperial War Museum North
Liberty prints
limestone stacks in Thailand
Nigel Slater
Mad Men
Variety
the John Hughes films Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Weird Science
postboxes
prints of the Che Guevara image
Stephen Fairey’s Obama Hope design
the parliamentary constituency of Hove
the Brandenburg Gate
Bach’s St Matthew Passion
a community-owned wind turbine
Kraft cheese slices
salmon farming
the blue and white stripes of Cornishware pottery
Penarth Pavilion, Cardiff
the Norwegian church and Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay
a multimillion-pound arena in Leeds
a “rock-built engine house at Bottalack near St Just”
the Royal Albert Hall
wind turbines (“iconic renewable energy technology”)
Wembley Arena
the video for Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head

This abuse of language has gone on far too long. Let’s put icons back where they belong: in an Orthodox church, in a gilt frame and covered in gold leaf; is that too much to ask?

Reading for all

One thing I meant to mention (but forgot!) in the recent Reading for Boys post (posts passim) was the vast wealth of e-books available to read for free from one of the gems of the internet – Project Gutenberg.

image of Lenin reading Pravda

Lenin – just one of the thousands of authors available for free from Project Gutenberg. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Project Gutenberg was founded by Michael S. Hart, who died in 2011. Hart’s other claim to fame is as the inventor of the electronic book (or ebook). In Gutenberg’s early days, Hart is reputed to have produced many of the texts himself.

The aims of Project Gutenberg are to:

  • Encourage the creation and distribution of ebooks;
  • Help break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy;
  • Give as many ebooks to as many people as possible.

Gutenberg offers over 40,000 free ebooks in various formats – epub, Kindle, PDF, HTML, plain vanilla text, etc. – in 60 languages as at September 2011.

All the authors featured are out of copyright in the USA. Consequently, Gutenberg’s catalogue contains thousands of works in all fields: authors from ancient Greece and Rome, medieval literature, politics, philosophy, children’s literature and so on. If these are your desire, why pay the likes of Amazon for the privilege of acquiring a text that’s in the public domain when the same work is more than likely free of charge from Gutenberg or its partners and affiliates? Of course, Gutenberg accepts donations to support the work of its volunteers and keep the servers running.

GBeers – open source and beer

GNOME logo

GNOME – enjoy with a beer!

Phoronix reports that 2 of my favourite things – beer and open source – are being combined in GBeers (GNOME + Beers = GBeers), a world-wide initiative for GNOME meet-ups with lightning talk presentations taking place while drinking beer. Madrid in Spain recently hosted the very first GBeers event. Other GNOME users and developers are being encouraged by the GNOME project to arrange GBeers in their own towns and cities.

The proposed format of GBeers events is one hour of lightning talks (with each talk lasting 5-10 minutes. Ed.) on unrestricted topics every month, with the talks possibly being recorded for internet distribution. A further possibility is for virtual GBeers through Skype or Google hang-outs.

GBeers have so far been organised in Madrid, Las Palmas, A Coruña, Seville (all Spain), Chicago (USA) and Lima (Peru). Further information about this initiative can be found on the GNOME Live Wiki.

Hat tip: Roy Schestowitz.

Reading for boys

Looking back over the best part of 5 decades, it’s hard to remember what I read as a boy. Of course, there were the regular weekly reads courtesy of The Beano and The Dandy and their host of colourful characters, plus other comics, but when it comes down to actual books, the memory gets a bit hazy.

However, I do remember that Robert Louis Stevenson‘s canon came in for lots of reading and I remember paying regular visits to the local lending library in Market Drayton where we lived, as well as burrowing under the bedclothes with a torch and book after lights out.

I also recall both my sister Hilary and I used to tease our younger brother Andrew unmercifully about his love of Enid Blyton when we believed there was better ‘quality’ literature available for children. Maybe we should have been more generous: at least he was reading something.

image of boy reading

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

All of which brings me to the point of this post. Via Twitter contacts in Shropshire I’ve been made aware of The Boy Reader Blog written by Matthew Swain of Shrewsbury.

The Boy Reader Blog’s byline is: “A blog written by a 10 year old boy Matthew to try and encourage more boys to read.” Apparently, boys are less inclined to read than are girls and Matthew, who loves reading, has bravely decided to stick his head above the parapet in the hope of giving his male contemporaries a bit of encouragement and providing them with an example.

Or to put the paragraph above in Matthew’s own words from his first post:

Hi I’m Matthew I’m 10 and I LOVE READING. I have decided to write a blog about reading from a boys point of view. My aim is to get boys to cut down on the video games and read a little bit more. To be honest I never used to like reading myself, the Biff and Chip books at school were boring, but the 2009 world book day is where it all began with a short Beast Quest book by Adam Blade which my mum bought for something different to read at bedtime. Mum or dad always read me a story at bedtime but I liked the look of this book and decided to try and read it myself. Ever since then I’ve never wanted to stop reading (and still don’t) I’ve noticed that a lot of other boys prefer video games than reading and that is why I have started this blog to try and help them on the reading journey.

Matthew also makes regular suggestions and recommendations for reading, such as the Book of the Week for 7th October.

I’d like to wish Matthew every success with his efforts to get his peers reading, not to mention keeping up a regular supply of posts! 🙂

Bristol City Council – heritage vandals

Take a look at the picture below, taken in Bristol on Monday 8th October. Fairly unremarkable isn’t it? What’s the most interesting thing about it? The digger perhaps?

No, the most interesting aspect of the picture is what isn’t there. However, before we come to that, a bit of history and context is required.

Lower Castle Street, Bristol

Lower Castle Street, Bristol showing the old alignment (cobbled) and the new alignment (asphalt)

As the caption states, the image shows Lower Castle Street in central Bristol. The cobbled surface near the foot of the picture shows the street’s old alignment hard by the moat and outer defensive walls of the now demolished Bristol Castle; the modern asphalt surface beyond is the modern alignment of Lower Castle Street designed to accommodate modern motorised traffic. The old cobbled bit of what was Lower Castle Street has been incorporated into Castle Park, which occupies the site of Bristol Castle and what was Bristol’s main shopping area until the Luftwaffe razed it during the Blitz in the Second World War.

Bristol City Council has recently commissioned some works in the corner of the park occupied by the old alignment of Lower Castle Street, as the picture shows. New flowerbeds or grassed areas (it is not yet obvious what they’ll be) have been laid out and the cobbles relaid. So far, so good.

However, before Bristol City Council sent in its contractors to do the works, the old cobbled bit of Lower Castle Street held what some would regard a significant element of the city’s transport heritage: one of the last set of tram rails visible in any road surface in the city and, as can be seen from the picture, these have now vanished; this leaves just one place in the city where tram rails can still be seen set into the road surface – Bristol Temple Meads station, where the tracks are part of the former tram terminus between the ramp and the old station.

Perhaps the City Council thinks that ‘heritage’ is something that belongs in a museum. It doesn’t: it’s part of everyday life in a city like Bristol which has existed since Saxon times; and some parts of the city are even older than that. By its vandalism the City Council has shown it is not a fit and proper curator of the city’s history and heritage.

There’s yet one more place in central Bristol where a tram rail – a single one – can still be seen; it’s in the churchyard of St Mary Redcliffe. During the Second World War a bomb exploded in a nearby street, throwing a rail from the tramway over the houses and into the churchyard, where it remains to this day.

(I am indebted to Pete Insole for information re Temple Meads.)

Language and open source

I’m intrigued by the way we advocates of free and open source software (FOSS) are viewed and described by the world outside our circle. Frequently, the terms are very loaded, e.g. ‘zealot’.

A report today in The Register Channel on Scottish NHS IT procurement and a decision to waste millions on Microsoft Windows 7 is no exception. Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius, a major UK open source supplier, is quoted and referred to as a ‘firebrand’.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, firebrand‘s first recorded use was in the 13th century, when it was originally “a piece of burning wood“. Its meaning was extended to over subsequent centuries to include “one that creates unrest or strife“.

Synonyms for firebrand are: demagogue, exciter, agitator, fomenter, incendiary, inciter, instigator, kindler, provocateur, rabble-rouser.

I’ve met and spoken to Mark on a number occasions and the last thing one can describe him as is a firebrand or any of its above synonyms. Admittedly, he has a business to run, but he’s also concerned that the UK spending on ICT amounts to an eye-watering £20 billion per year. That’s three times more than is spent on the army. Most of that £20 billion is spent on proprietary software and its suppliers, in the course of which vast amounts of taxpayers’ money are exported to MS’ coffers in Redmond, USA.

Both Mark and I feel that FOSS would be a better alternative and there’d then be more money for the NHS to spend on patient care – a far better use of resources. If that makes us ‘firebrands’, then we’ll wear the label with pride.

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