Local youngsters get chance to win a Raspberry Pi

Although my postal address says Easton, I’ve lived in Bristol’s Lawrence Hill ward for 35 years now and was delighted to see there was a competition to win a Raspberry Pi in the latest edition of Up Our Street, the quarterly regeneration and community matters magazine produced by Easton and Lawrence Hill Management.

The Raspberry Pi is of course a small Linux computer available at pocket money prices and aimed at young people who wish to learn programming.

Raspberry Pi in a case

To be eligible for the competition, entrants must be under 25 years of age and live in either Lawrence Hill or Easton ward in Bristol.

Entries stating why you would like to win the Raspberry Pi should be sent by email to stacy (at) eastonandlawrencehill.org.uk by the closing date of 30th November and should also include your name, date of birth and address.

Of patricians and plebeians

Andrew MitchellGovernment Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell has been in a spot of bother recently for allegedly saying the following – according to The Sun – to a police officer in Downing Street who refused to let him ride his bicycle out through main security gate:

Best you learn your f*cking place. You don’t run this f*cking government. You’re f*cking plebs.

According to his Wikipedia entry, featuring public school, Cambridge and the world of high finance there’s no doubt that Mitchell is a patrician.

The term patrician originally referred to the elite families in ancient Rome. They were the top of the social pile and had wider political influence than the citizens and residents below them. It has subsequently become a vaguer term used for the aristocracy and elite bourgeoisie in many countries.

Below the patricians in ancient Rome’s pecking order came the plebeians. Plebeians were defined as “the non-aristocratic class of Rome, and consisted of freed people, shopkeepers, crafts people, skilled or unskilled workers and farmers“. Over the centuries, some plebeian families in Rome nevertheless became quite rich and influential. Pleb is now used – as above by Mitchell – as a derogatory term for someone thought of as inferior, common or ignorant.

However, the plebeians were not the lowest of the low in Rome. Below them came the “Capite censi“, i.e. “those counted by head” in the census, and slaves. The largest group of the capite censi were the proletarii, literally “those who produce offspring”. Proletarii were therefore Roman citizens owning little or no property.

So, looking back at the origins of “plebs”, by using it, was Mitchell actually (if unknowingly) abusing the middle classes, Middle England and the bedrock of Tory support?

Women and politics

The piece below is one of the 4 winning entries for a recent Labour peers’ essay writing competition for young women (aged 17-18 years) on the topic of young women and politics.

Young Women and Politics

by Lucy Midgley

I believe that one of the main problems in today’s society is that women simply do not have the confidence and self esteem to state their views. In this essay I will discuss reasons why I believe that women are afraid or unwilling to raise their voices.

Self esteem is certainly a big issue; how can women feel empowered enough to speak out for what they believe in and to make their views heard when they have no confidence in themselves? In today’s society there is far too much focus on personal image. Women in particular are targeted by society to dress a certain way. In order to feel comfortable there is a certain image that has to be maintained: it’s a pack mentality and outsiders who don’t fit in a box will be excluded. The amount of pressure on young women is so great these days to, for example, wear fake tan and expensive clothes, that these are the only things that seem to fill their minds.

In recent years narcissism has been increasing in young people with the growth of interest in Facebook and other social networking sites. A thing that only emerged as I was growing up has been something that many are growing up already fully accustomed to. This causes many young people to become extremely self conscious and obsessed. Many teens, particularly girls, spend most of their time on Facebook, checking their pages to see what other people have written about them, posting pouty photos and reading all the gushy comments about how pretty they look. This is all they essentially seem to care about. It’s hard to believe these young women really care about anything at all, so obsessed with their own very small bubble, and yet ninety years ago these would be the women campaigning for women’s right to vote. What can have happened for there to be such a fog of apathy to have descended on the female population during these last few years?

The problem, highlighted by the 2009 report ‘We Care, But Will We Vote’ lies within the women themselves: young women are simply not interested in politics or in having their views heard. Is this, you may ask, because they are completely content with their lot and have no issues to be raised? I believe the problem is not a lack of issues but a repressed voice. I believe that the narcissism I mentioned is not born out of an intrinsic vainness but rather an intrinsic insecurity; born out of a need to reach the ridiculously high bar set by women’s magazines and celebrities. This insecurity is an insidious thing that will only grow and grow with the daily deluge of photos showing image conscious young women impossible expectations.

This has recently been highlighted by the media frenzy following the release of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge by a French magazine. The amount of media hype surrounding these photos I find to be completely ridiculous; the fact that the biggest news story of recent times about a female public figure is still to do with her image and not any of the wonderful things she has been doing.

I’m not saying I’m surprised by this, I’m simply disappointed in the amount of interest this has garnered. People still see women, even female public figures and politicians, as objects and care more about how they look and what they are wearing than about what they have to say. It feels like a step back, with the anniversary of the death of Princess Diana so close to the release of these pictures. It seems that we still care so little about what is important and the media are still much more interested in their private lives and their body image than their positive actions. The magazine Closer, which published the photos, had no qualms about showing them to its audience; no thoughts on how this would affect image conscious young women. How are we supposed to be getting women to feel empowered and interested in politics and raising their voices when these kinds of news stories are still viewed upon with such relish?

A cancerous insecurity grows within many young women preventing them from feeling brave enough to speak out or to become politically involved. Insecurity in young women is not only caused by overexposure to stick-thin models but also to a lack of any real role models. With Margaret Thatcher the only woman in British history to become Prime Minister, many young women believe it is simply not possible to achieve a stable political career. Although the Suffragettes won the vote for women there is still a long and winding road to equality. I believe there is still a glass ceiling for women, preventing them from reaching top jobs, yet unlike the Suffragettes the problem is not mainly from authority figures but lies within. Many women believe positions in society are simply not possible for them. This is hardly surprising when you look at the statistics: the 2010 survey for women in politics worldwide found the UK in the 31st position with just 18% of female parliamentarians.

This problem has not been improved upon by the recent cabinet reshuffle. In fact is has been exacerbated, with only four women in the whole of the cabinet, the highest in sixth position and two women extremely close to the bottom of the ministerial pecking order. Are women in Britain really supposed to believe that the political profession could be a possible path for them? Yet this creates a vicious cycle: women not getting into politics means future generations will still have few role models, so what can be done? Women need to feel that the political profession is open to them.

One of the main causes of this political listlessness is a general feeling that society doesn’t care about young people in general. The recent rioting that occurred was a dramatic lashing out of a frustrated youth who used the anarchy to revert to primal instincts and simply enjoy the rebellion. Young people feel wronged by a government who promised not to raise tuition fees before they got into power and then broke their promises before they’d even got their foot in the door, is it any wonder young people felt frustrated? They attacked a society they believed was punishing the people that would eventually have to sort out its problems.

The trouble is that the loudest voice is always the one that seems to be heard and the government is hardly likely to care about young people who throw a temper tantrum when they don’t get their own way, the problem is that other voices are not heard above the shouting. Young women in society today can not all feel apathetic towards political issues but many are intimidated by those with louder voices. These women should be listened to and, in order to do this, you have to engender an interest in politics for women by showing them that they can make a difference. In politics nobody cares how you dress or how loudly you speak, people only care about what you have to say.

© Lucy Midgley, 2012. Reproduced by kind permission of the author.

Lucy Midgley is my niece. Needless to say, I’m a proud uncle.

Myths about translation

Over at the Huffington Post, Nathaly Kelly has been dispelling some translation myths in a piece entitled “Clearing up the Top 10 Myths About Translation”.

The 10 myths as are:

  1. Translation is a small, niche market;
  2. There is a declining need for translation;
  3. Most translators translate books; most interpreters work at the United Nations;
  4. Any bilingual person can be a translator or an interpreter;
  5. Translators and interpreters do the same thing (posts passim);
  6. Translators and interpreters work in more than two languages;
  7. Translation only matters to “language people”;
  8. Crowdsourcing puts professional translators out of work;
  9. Machine translation is crushing the demand for human translation; and
  10. All translation will someday be free.

It would be easy to go through each of the above points and comment. However, I would simply make one small remark regarding item 9: I’m so glad machine translation is so bad and likely to remain so for quite some time. I might just make it to state retirement age without having to claim benefits. 🙂

Anyway, I recommend you read the original Huffington Post article.

Today is Software Freedom Day

Software Freedom Day logoToday, 15th September, is Software Freedom Day, an annual worldwide event to promote the role that free and open source technology can play in the modern world, where our everyday lives are increasingly dependent upon technology. At the time of writing, there are over 200 teams in 60 countries putting on events of which the closest to us in Bristol is being organised by the Herefordshire LUG.

Free and open source software gives you, the user, access to the source code. This ensures that you can know (or get checked) what exactly a piece of software will do. It avoids nasty surprises, spyware and all kinds of problems that we can’t be absolutely sure are avoided in closed software. Proprietary software keeps the source code locked away from public scrutiny, meaning that there is no way to know exactly what the software actually does and no way to trust it to safeguard your human rights. Transparent technologies are about ensuring you can trust the results and operation of your technology.

As an increasing proportion of the world’s population starts using technology, getting online and developing the next major life-changing event of the future (such as the birth of the internet was for many of us), it is vital to ensure open, transparent and sustainable approaches are considered best practice. This is important to a future where technology empowers everyone equally, where knowledge is forever and where our basic human freedoms are strengthened – not hampered – by technology.

Software Freedom Day is a global celebration of why transparent and sustainable technologies are now more important than ever.

NB: This post originally appeared on the Bristol Wireless blog.

Gert lush

The story that the fair city of Bristol is to see the roll-out of 4G mobile access has not escaped the eagle eyes of The Daily Mash, as the screenshot below shows.

Screenshot of Daily Mash news piece

4G is shorthand for the fourth generation of mobile telecommunications standards and the successor to third generation (3G) standards.

Urban Dictionary defines ‘gert lush’ as: “The highest form of praise that can be given to anything by a Bristolian.”

Proper job, says I. 😉

Does Eurospeak = newspeak?

Here’s a fine example of obscurantist Eurobabble from Twitter.

George Orwell, the originator of newspeak in 1984, his dystopian vision of the future, would have been proud.

Is there still a need for nice?

Some time last week, the collective minds of Bristol Wireless were hunched over their pints down the pub when someone asked: “Is there still a point to nice?”

For those unfamiliar with nice, it’s a means on a Unix/Linux system of giving a process more or less CPU time than other processes. A niceness of −20 is the highest priority and 19 or 20 is the lowest priority. The default niceness for processes is inherited from its parent process, usually 0.

For an idea of how it works, here’s the nice man page:


nice – run a program with modified scheduling priority




Run COMMAND with an adjusted niceness, which affects process scheduling. With no COMMAND, print the current niceness. Nicenesses range from -20 (most favorable scheduling) to 19 (least favorable).

-n, –adjustment=N
add integer N to the niceness (default 10)

display this help and exit

output version information and exit

NOTE: your shell may have its own version of nice, which usually supersedes the version described here. Please refer to your shell’s documentation for details about the options it supports.

Written by David MacKenzie.

Reporting Bugs

Report nice bugs to bug-coreutils@gnu.org
GNU coreutils home page: http://www.gnu.org/software/coreutils/
General help using GNU software: http://www.gnu.org/gethelp/
Report nice translation bugs to http://translationproject.org/team/

Copyright © 2010 Free Software Foundation, Inc. License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later http://gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html.

This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it. There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.

See Also

The full documentation for nice is maintained as a Texinfo manual. If the info and nice programs are properly installed at your site, the command

info coreutils aqnice invocationaq

should give you access to the complete manual.

Anyway, the main discussion centred around whether processes still needed to have their niceness adjusted (‘reniced’ in the correct terminology) in these days of processors and amounts of RAM that have capacities many multiples of the systems upon which Unix and Linux were originally designed to run, although no real conclusions were reached, apart from one instance mentioned: that of a process just starting up and slowing the whole system to a crawl. Perhaps readers would like to leave their opinions – if any – in the comments below.

Putting on my language hat and looking at Wikipedia, it seems the etymology of nice is as follows. The name “nice” comes from the fact that the program’s purpose is to modify a process niceness value. The true priority, used to decide how much CPU time to concede to each process, is calculated by the kernel process scheduler from a combination of the niceness values of different processes and other data, such as the amount of I/O done by each process.

The term “niceness” itself originates from the idea that a process with a higher niceness value is “nicer” to other processes in the system, as it allows the other processes more CPU time.

Update: 27/09/12: Alex Butcher of Bristol & Bath LUG has suggested ionice is a more useful tool than nice.

Companies asked to fight European software patents and unitary patents

Companies within the European Union are being asked publicly to declare their opposition to software patents by signing a resolution (below) asking to the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs to amend the regulation on the unitary patent.

This resolution, along with the list of signatories, will be sent to Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday, 13th September – a few days before the meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs. More than 400 firms have already signed it.

To sign the resolution, please send an email to: resolution-enterprises (at) unitary-patent.eu

The text of the resolution is as follows:

Our company is worried about the current plans to set up a unitary patent with a flanking unified patent court.

The European Patent Office (EPO)’s practices to grant software patents, under the deceiving term of “computer-implemented inventions”, pose a threat to our professional activities.

We are concerned that the regulation on the unitary patent, as agreed in December 2011 by the negotiators of the Council, the Commission, and the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament, leaves any and every issue on the limits of patentability to the EPO’s case law, without any democratic control or review by an independent court.

The regulation on the unitary patent is an opportunity for the EU legislators to harmonise substantive patent law in the EU institutional and jurisdictional framework, and to put an end to the EPO’s self-motivated practices extending the realm of patentability to software. Failing to do so, this unitary patent will do more harm than good to the EU ICT firms.

For these reasons, we urge MEPs to adopt amendments which clearly state that the EPO’s decisions are subject to a review from the Court of Justice of the European Union, and which reaffirm the rejection of software patentability, as expressed by the votes of the European Parliament on September 24th, 2003 and July 6th, 2005.

Signatories are also being encouraged to contact members of the Committee on Legal Affairs by email.

As company secretary of Bristol Wireless, I’m pleased to say BW’s already signed the resolution.

Back to skool

This week marked the return to school after the long summer holidays. The end of the holidays also saw the opening of 55 new free schools, according to the Guardian.

One of these is The Hawthorne’s Free School in Bootle; a screenshot of its website home page is shown below.

Spotted anything amiss? That’s right! The greengrocer’s (or superfluous) apostrophe!

What would little Michael Gove say?

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