Steve Woods

Generic carbon-based humanoid life form.

  • Avian neighbours

    Your ‘umble scribe is spending a few days beyond the confines of HM Open Prison United Kingdom staying with family in the Campo de Gibraltar. It’s his first time in the country for a few decades and a good chance to brush up on rusty spoken Spanish, as well as get some much-needed sun after a long, wet English winter.

    Being out in the countryside, your correspondent has been amazed by the local birdlife, which features species that are never or rarely seen back home.

    Firstly, let’s introduce the biggest of the local avian species, the Eurasian Griffon Vulture. These are described by my trusty half a century old Collins bird book as having a flight outline like a “tea tray in the sky“, stand as high as 1.22 metres high and have a wingspan up to 2.8 metres.

    They are spotted throughout the day on the crags behind the house, as well as riding the thermals in large flocks.

    Three vultures sunning themselves on a rock
    Three vultures perched on crags. Very easy photographic subjects at rest, but testing the phone camera’s technical limits.

    It’s rather difficult to get a decent photo of them on a phone, so here’s a close-up from elsewhere.

    Griffon vulture in flight
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    The other 2 very impressive local birds are more colourful but slightly smaller: the golden oriole and the European bee-eater respectively.

    Golden oriole in a fig tree
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Orioles are truly spectacular, flitting across the valley in a flash of gold and black. Although they do migrate to Britain, their distribution is rather limited, whilst your ‘umble scribe had four sightings in a couple of hours one afternoon.

    Where the oriole impresses with its two-tone plumage, the bea-eater has colourful plumage reminiscent of a member of a 1970s psychedelic rock band.

    Bee-eater on a bare branch
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    These birds are not regular migrants to Britain, but have bred on several occasions in recent years, according to the RSPB. Down in southern Spain, it can sound as if there’s one in just about every shrub at times!

  • The importance of proofreading

    Within minutes of each other, two occurrences reminded your ‘umble scribe of the importance of proofreading, i.e. the process of finding and correcting mistakes in text before it is printed out or posted online.

    If nothing else, it proves the person or company involves knows what it’s doing and writing, providing evidence of professional competence

    The first was spotted on a change machine in Terminal 1 of Manchester Airport in the early hours of this morning.

    Sticker on machine stating this machine accepts new £20 note. On the image of the note is the printed word SPECIMAN.
    SPECIMAN? What’s one of those?

    According to Wikipedia, a specimen – not SPECIMAN – banknote is printed generally in very limited quantities for distribution to central banks to aid in the recognition of banknotes from a country other than their own. Furthermore, To avoid use of specimen banknotes as legal tender notes, the banknotes are deformed, typically by being overprinted and/or punched (perfin) with an inscription such as “SPECIMEN”, “SPECIMEN NO VALUE”, “CANCELLED” or the equivalent in one or more other languages.

    The second turned up a couple of minutes later on your correspondent’s social media feed.

    Ingredients list for a roast beef and criminalized red onion relish roll
    Should those with a poor grasp of English be gaoled?

    A reverse image search reveals that the original image first emerged on social media some 4 years ago and originated in the United States. Note that the snack is accurately defined as having caramelized onion relish its long description. Y’all have a good misspelt sandwich now! 😀

  • Single news day, double ambiguity

    In his first job after graduation at Bristol’s Imperial Tobacco, your ‘umble scribe was coached in writing in the company’s house style, which included writing clearly to avoid any ambiguity, i.e. the quality of a phrase or sentence being open to more than one interpretation.

    This avoidance of ambiguity is something that clearly needs to be instilled in what passes nowadays for the journalists at the Bristol (Evening) Post/Bristol Live, who yesterday demonstrated that Bristol’s Temple Way Ministry of Truth is quite capable of serving up double helpings thereof.

    Firstly, have you got a few spare quid? Do you fancy buying a foreign city, especially one where property prices are so low that the whole metropolis will only set you back a mere £18?

    Headline - The city 3 hours from Bristol that gets 300 days of sun a year and costs £18

    What can one complain about? A nice cheap price and 300 days sunshine per year. When can I start packing? And are other similarly priced settlements available nearby? I really do feel I can afford to build up a property portfolio. 😀

    The day’s other bit of ambiguity is far more grisly and disturbing involving two deaths, one of them violent.

    Headline - Woman finds body of sex offender wanted for murder in her caravan

    Did the murder take place in the caravan? Thankfully, the byline provides reliable information where the headline, by trying to cram in the whole story in one phrase, merely serves to sow confusion.

    Language is a precision tool, capable of imparting detailed information. However, those employed as ‘journalists’ by Reach plc titles like the Post/Live, only seem capable of using it like a crude, blunt instrument. 🙁

  • Schleswig-Holstein moves towards digital sovereignty

    The region of Schleswig-Holstein on the Jutland Peninsula is no stranger where matters of sovereignty are concerned.

    In the nineteenth century there was the Schleswig-Holstein Question, was a complex set of diplomatic and other issues arising in the 19th century from the relations of two duchies, Schleswig (Sønderjylland/Slesvig) and Holstein (Holsten), to the Danish Crown, to the German Confederation, and to each other.

    Coat of arms of Schleswig-HolsteinIn the twenty-first century digital sovereignty has become a matter of political importance to the north German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein.

    The blog of The Document Foundation reports today that, following a successful pilot project, the state has decided to move from Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office to Linux and LibreOffice (and other free and open source software) on the 30,000 PCs used by the state government.

    According to a statement by the Premier of Schleswig-Holstein, the components of its digitally sovereign workplaces are being based on a total of six project pillars:

    • Switching from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice;
    • Switching the operating system from Microsoft Windows to Linux;
    • Collaboration within the state government and with third parties: use of the open source products Nextcloud, Open Xchange/Thunderbird in conjunction with the Univention AD connector to replace Microsoft Sharepoint and Microsoft Exchange/Outlook;
    • Design of an open source-based directory service to replace Microsoft Active Directory;
    • Appraising specialist procedures with regard to compatibility and interoperability with LibreOffice and Linux; and
    • Development of an open source-based solution to replace Telekom-Flexport.

    The decision to switch office suites follows on from the finding by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) that the European Commission’s use of Microsoft 365 breaches European data protection law.

    According to Schleswig-Holstein’s Digitalisation Minister Dirk Schrödter, digital sovereignty is an integral part of the state government’s digital strategy and work programme. “This cannot be achieved with the current standard IT workstation products. We take digital sovereignty seriously and are moving forward: the decision to change office software is a milestone, but only the beginning of the change: the change to free software for the operating system, the collaboration platform, the directory service, specialist procedures and telephony will follow.”

  • Asda vs Asbo

    British supermarket chain Asda is well known for the lime green livery of its grocery delivery vans, as per the photograph below.

    Asda delivery van and driver
    Photo credit: Asda

    However, there is now a serious rival to Asda’s dominance of the lime green delivery van sector. The vehicle below was spotted last week outside the Chelsea Inn at the junction of Chelsea Road and Bloy Street in Bristol’s Easton area.

    Asbo van outside the Chelsea

    Both Asda and Asbo are acronyms, i.e. abbreviations formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. Asda is a truncated version of the first part of its original name of Associated Dairies and Farm Stores , whilst Asbo denotes an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, a past form of sanction for naughty boys and girls which has now been replaced by two penalties – the Community Protection Order (CPO) and the Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO).

    Note that the Asbo van is parked on the footway (which some refer to as the pavement (posts passim). Ed.); how apposite! 😀

  • Distracted boyfriend: Tory Lite edition

    The latest variant of the Distracted boyfriend meme has just come into my social media feed (posts passim).

    Starmer distracted by Thatcher to the dismay of Clem Attlee

    This time the dramatis personae are:

    • Distracted boyfriend – ‘Sir’ Keir Rodney Starmer, allegedly leader of the democratic socialist (on paper anyway. Ed.) Labour Party;
    • Annoyed girlfriend – Clement Attlee, leader of the 1945-51 post-war Labour government, which introduced the National Health Service amongst other achievements; and
    • New love interest – one Margaret Hilda Thatcher, one of the Untied Kingdom’s worst prime ministers and figure of divine devotion to the right-wing Conservative Party, the person who inspired the addition to the English language of the noun Thatcherism and the adjective Thatcherite.

    Some would say that any similarity between Starmer and a socialist is – as Hollywood would say – purely coincidental; others would even go as far as to declare such to be non-existent.

  • Honest Bob does a racism

    Smirking Bob Jenrick, a boil on the bottom of the body politicBackbench Tory MP Robert “Honest Bob” Jenrick has proposed that details of a person’s nationality, immigration and visa status should be recorded whenever he or she is given a criminal conviction, Nation Cymru reports.

    This piece of blatant racism has been submitted an amendment to the government’s Criminal Justice Bill, with Jenrick justifying it by saying the data would help to inform deportation and visa policies.

    Under Jenrick’s plan, there would be an annual requirement to publish the nationality, visa and asylum status of every offender convicted in English and Welsh courts in the previous year.

    In the traditional early morning media round for politicians in the last few days, Jenrick has been claiming without any citations or empirical evidence that there is “significant and growing evidence that we [the UK] were importing crime”.

    The BBC notes that Jenrick’s proposal has been backed by 25 Tory MPs, including the likes of former ministers ‘Sir’ Jacob “Happier Fish” Rees-Mogg and ‘Sir’ Robert Buckland, who presumably are also not bothered about being labelled as racists.

    Well-informed readers will be aware that Jenrick is a former immigration minister, who resigned because alleged prime minister Rishi Sunak was not being sufficiently nasty to foreigners.

    There is an old idiom in English, the fox guarding the hen house, which dates back to at least the 1580s. It denotes a set of circumstances in which someone who should not be trusted has been chosen to protect someone or oversee a situation.

    It is ideal to describe xenophobe like Jenrick being elevated to such a public office. Now he’s back on the back benches of the Commons, he’s clearly not letting opportunities to embrace his inner racist pass him by.

  • Joint release of LibreOffice versions 24.2.2 & 7.6.6

    Yesterday the blog of The Document Foundation (TDF) announced the simultaneous release of two versions – 23.2.2 and 7.6.6 respectively of the LibreOffice productivity suite. Both releases bugs and regressions to improve quality and interoperability for individual productivity.

    LibreOffice 24.2 banner

    As usual LibreOffice 7.6.6 is an update to a release not at the project’s cutting edge, but is designed for more conservative users who don’t necessarily want – or need – the suite’s latest features.

    Both versions are now available for download. All LibreOffice users are encouraged to update their current version as soon as possible to take advantage of the improvements and bug fixes in the new releases. For those using proprietary operating systems, the minimum requirements are Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 and Apple MacOS 10.15.

    For business use, TDF strongly recommends the LibreOffice Enterprise family of applications from its partners with a wide range of dedicated value-added features and other benefits such as SLAs. Details here.

    LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members can support the work of The Document Foundation by making a donation to it.

  • Today is Document Freedom Day

    Today, 27th March is Document Freedom Day, which every year publicises and raises awareness of how open standards and open document formats enable us to read and write as we so wish.

    Document Freedom Day graphic

    Was there ever a time you were sent an important file that the software onyour computer couldn’t read properly? Do you remember having to purchase or download a new application just so you could open an attachment you needed for your work? The same thing happens tens of thousands of times every day. Can you imagine how much knowledge sharing doesn’t happen just because the sender and receiver – either intentionally or unintentionally – use different file formats? Incompatibilities like these are typically caused by secret (“closed”) and privately held (“proprietary”) file formats.

    Document Freedom Day is a chance to inform the world about open standards, which are crucial for the exchange of information, independence from software suppliers like the Beast of Redmond and to ensure long-term access to our data. LibreOffice – the office suite used and recommended by your ‘umble scribe – is a fine example of how to use open standards such as Open Document Format (ODF).

  • Greggs – EN-US written here

    Greggs logoIn recent days, pastry products purveyor Greggs suffered an IT outage that left shops unable to process certain types of payment, the BBC reported yesterday. The company has over 2,000 branches and employs 21,500 persons.

    Some shops were forced to close and posted notices saying they were closed for the day or could only accept certain payment types. Fans of hot pastry-based snacks took to social media, with some labelling it as bordering on a national emergency. One of the more interesting signs from an unidentified branch of Greggs is shown below.

    Notice reads Due to a system outage, we are CARD ONLY temporarily and our staff cant do math

    Yes, you did read that correctly: “Due to a system outage, we are CARD ONLY temporarily and our staff cant do math“.

    A system outage is not the only woe to beset this particular branch of Greggs. First of all, there’s a punctuation thief about, unless the staff cant is hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically of a moral, religious, or political nature from employees. Secondly, what is this math? Mathematics, the knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their changes, is abbreviated differently by speakers of British and American English; the former with maths, the latter with math, as in the well-known US phrase, (you) do the math.

    Fears of the creeping Americanisation of British English have been doing the rounds for about a century already, but are becoming more prevalent due to the pervasiveness of US culture and a general lack of awareness of the distinctions between the two dialects. For instance, your ‘umble scribe would call something that ran his laptop a program, whilst something broadcast on the radio or TV would be a programme: some folk – quite possibly younger – would use program without distinction for both.

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