Monthly Archives: January 2015

  • TidyBS5 round-up

    It’s been a while since there’s been a Tidy BS5 post on this blog, but that doesn’t mean the campaign has been dormant.

    So let’s deal with recent developments in chronological order.

    On Thursday 22nd January Bristol Mayor George Ferguson was on a walkabout of the Ashley, Easton & Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership area.

    Bristol Mayor George Ferguson mobbed by Tidy BS5 campaigners
    Picture courtesy of Stacy Yelland

    TidyBS5 campaigners met the Mayor at the junction of Stapleton Road and Milsom Street – a notorious fly-tipping hotspot – to express their concerns about litter and fly-tipping locally, as reported by Bristol 24/7 (bit different from North Street, isn’t it, George? Ed.).

    The Bristol Post also reported on George’s visit to Stapleton Road, managing in its own inimitable, cock-eyed way to describe TidyBS as a “street-cleaning community group“.

    Although your ‘umble scribe was unable to attend due to other commitments, feedback has been positive. Witnesses report that George seemed genuinely shocked by the stinky bin by which he was confronted/ambushed. In addition, he gave a commitment to bring one of the Make Sunday Special events to Stapleton Road.

    Local resident Hannah has posted some more videos of George’s visit on YouTube.

    On Tuesday this week, local councillors Marg Hickman and Afzal Shah, together with local residents and Lorena from Up Our Street took Bristol’s Assistant Mayor for Neighbourhoods Daniella Radice on a walk around the Stapleton Road area to acquaint her with our local litter and fly-tipping difficulties.

    One thing that shocked Daniella was the way the council’s contractors May Gurney dump the plastic liner bags from litter bins on the pavement for later collection (sometimes the next day. Ed.), which also contributes to making the BS5 area look grotty; this was a practice Daniella undertook to investigate and/or change. We also drew her attention to concerns in reporting street cleansing problems via Twitter, the council’s online reporting system and by telephone (0117 922 2100 if you’d care to give it a go. Ed.).

    Daniella was also alerted to the totally inadequate – if any – recycling facilities provided for residents of the city’s tower blocks. For instance, Twinnell House in Easton houses hundreds of people. Their recycling “facilities” are illustrated below.

    6 wheelie bins for recycling for hundreds of residents of Twinnell House

    That’s right, a mere 6 wheelie bins!

    Marg Hickman also pointed out that millions of pounds are and have been spent in refurbishing the city’s council-owned high-rise blocks. However, the refurbishment plans include no provision for recycling facilities. This is incredible for a city that allegedly prides itself on its green credentials and is the current European Green Capital!

    Another item raised with Daniella was the lack of recycling collections for residents living on the lower part of Stapleton Road above the shops. They’re being charged for recycling collections in their council tax, but these collections are not provided. If I lived on Stapleton Road, I’d report Bristol City Council to the police for fraud and/or obtaining pecuniary advantage! 🙂

    On Wednesday evening this week Up Our Street hosted a TidyBS5 task force meeting, which attracted about a dozen local residents from across the BS5 area, as well as councillor Marg Hickman and representatives from the local ACORN branch. Various priorities from the Residents’ Rubbish Summit (posts passim), planned forthcoming activities (e.g. consultations, litter picks, etc.) and discovered what skills attendees could provide to benefit TidyBS5.

    Afterwards, we had the compulsory campaign photo taken.

    summiteers demand a tidy BS5
    Picture courtesy of Lorena Alvarez
  • “Most beautiful” LibreOffice 4.4 released

    The Document Foundation has announced the release of LibreOffice 4.4, billed as “the most beautiful LibreOffice ever“.

    This is the ninth major release of this leading free and open source office suite, with a significant number of design and user experience improvements.

    LibreOffice 4.4 infographic
    LibreOffice 4.4 infographic. Click on the image for the full-sized version.

    “LibreOffice 4.4 has got a lot of UX and design love, and in my opinion is the most beautiful ever,” says design team leader Jan “Kendy” Holesovsky. “We have completed the dialog conversion, redesigned menu bars, context menus, toolbars, status bars and rulers to make them much more useful. The Sifr monochrome icon theme is extended and now the default on OS X. We also developed a new Color Selector, improved the Sidebar to integrate more smoothly with menus, and reworked many user interface details to follow today’s UX trends.”

    LibreOffice 4.4 likewise offers several significant improvements in other areas, such as:

    • Support of OpenGL transitions in Windows and improved implementation based on the new OpenGL framework;
    • Digital signing of PDF files during the export process;
    • Installation of free fonts Carlito and Caladea to replace the proprietary Microsoft C-Fonts Calibri and Cambria, to get rid of font related problems while opening Microsoft’s proprietary format OOXML files;
    • The addition of several new default templates designed by volunteers;
    • Visual editing of Impress master pages, to remove unwanted elements, adding or hiding a level to the outline numbering and toggling bullet points on or off;
    • Better Track Changes – with new buttons in the Track Changes toolbar – and AutoCorrect features in Writer;
    • Improved import filters for Microsoft Visio, Microsoft Publisher and AbiWord files, as well as Microsoft Works spreadsheets;
    • New import filters for Adobe Pagemaker, MacDraw, MacDraw II and RagTime for Mac;
    • Greatly expanded support for media capabilities on each platform.

    A complete list of new and improved features is available in the release notes.

    LibreOffice 4.4 is available immediately for download from

    I’m looking forward to the new release being available in the Debian Jessie software repositories in the next few days. 🙂

  • OpenStack Debian image available

    OpenStack logoDebian developer Thomas Goirand has announced on his blog that a Debian disk image of the free and open source OpenStack cloud computing software platform is now available from Debian at

    Thomas writes:

    About a year and a half after I started writing the openstack-debian-images package, I’m very happy to announce to everyone that, thanks to Steve McIntyre’s help, the official OpenStack Debian image is now generated at the same time as the official Debian CD ISO images. If you are a cloud user, if you use OpenStack on a private cloud, or if you are a public cloud operator, then you may want to download the weekly build of the OpenStack image from here:

    Note that for the moment, there’s only the amd64 arch available, but I don’t think this is a problem: so far, I haven’t found any public cloud provider offering anything else than Intel 64 bits arch. Maybe this will change over the course of this year, and we will need arm64, but this can be added later on.

    Now, for later plans: I still have 2 bugs to fix on the openstack-debian-images package (the default 1GB size is now just a bit too small for Jessie, and the script exits with zero in case of error), but nothing that prevents its use right now. I don’t think it will be a problem for the release team to accept these small changes before Jessie is out.

    When generating the image, Steve also wants to generate a sources.tar.gz containing all the source packages that we include on the image. He already has the script (which is used as a hook script when running the build-openstack-debian-image script), and I am planning to add it as a documentation in /usr/share/doc/openstack-debian-images.

    Last, probably it would be a good idea to install grub-xen, just as Ian Campbell suggested to make it possible for this image to run in AWS or other Xen based clouds. I would need to be able to test this though. If you can contribute with this kind of test, please get in touch.

    Feel free to play with all of this, and customize your Jessie images if you need to. The script is (on purpose) very small (around 400 lines of shell script) and easy to understand (no function, it’s mostly linear from top to bottom of the file), so it is also very easy to hack, plus it has a convenient hook script facility where you can do all sorts of things (copying files, apt-get install stuff, running things in the chroot, etc.).

    Again, thanks so much to Steve for working on using the script during the CD builds. This feels me with joy that Debian finally has official images for OpenStack.

    I’m a great fan of Debian GNU/Linux (byline: the universal operating system. Ed.), having used it or its derivatives (e.g. Ubuntu, Mepis) as my main operating systems since my wholesale move to free and open source software.

  • Capita has had 3 years to hit target and has failed… miserably

    Yesterday, the Law Gazette website reported that 3 years into its courts and tribunals interpreting contract with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Capita Translation & Interpreting has yet to meet its key performance target – that of the percentage of requests filled for the provision of court interpreters.

    image of scales of justiceAccording to the latest figures released by the MoJ, Capita Translation & Interpreting completed 94.8% of requests for language services in the 3rd quarter (July to September) of 2014, i.e. well short of the 98% target specified in its contract.

    The Ministry of Justice said this was the hapless outsourcer’s highest success rate since the contract started in 2012.

    Capita Translation & Interpreting is supposed to hit that 98% target every month and has yet to meet it at all in one single month over the last 3 years.

    There’s a phrase for this: abject failure.

    However, the MoJ seems to have a particular blind spot for its pet contractor’s pathetic performance. Courts minister Shailesh Vara said the interpreting contract had continued to deliver significant improvements since being introduced to tackle inefficiencies and inconsistencies (my weasel words detector is working overtime. Ed.).

    Others involved in the administration of justice differ radically from the MoJ stance.

    The Law Society said it was “shocking” that after nearly 3 years of the MoJ having a sole provider, the service was still failing to reach its performance target.

    “A lack of available interpreters costs time and causes unnecessary adjournments, resulting in avoidable distress to victims and inconvenience to witnesses,” the Society said.

    Furthermore, Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said it was shocking the government was unable to get a grip after three years into the contract.

    I cannot disagree with either the Law Society or Mr. Slaughter. Had my failure to meet targets been of the order of that of Capita Translation & Interpreting, I would not have survived the last quarter of a century as a freelance linguist and been consigned to the dole queue long since.

    You should seriously think of showing Capita T&I the door, MoJ. If they haven’t been up to the job for the last 3 years, what makes you think they’ll ever change?

  • Introducing the biometric wireless keyboard powered by keystrokes

    Georgia Tech's wireless keyboardResearchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the USA are behind a project to develop a wireless keyboard powered by keystrokes, Le Monde Informatique reports. The force generated by the fingers can produce enough electrical current for a wireless connection. To convert mechanical energy into electricity, the researchers applied a coating which acts as an electrode on keystrokes. The small electrical charged produced is stored in a lithium-ion battery which powers the interface wirelessly.

    However, during their work, the researchers have thought of another use which could have a much wider impact. Over 100 volunteer testers typed the word “touch” on the keyboard and a software package collected data on the pressure exerted on the keys and measured the time interval between each stroke. It proved to be that these measurements are particular to each individual. By using signals analysis techniques, they identified touch patterns unique to individuals with a low error rate to achieve a kind of biometric authentication.

    A marketable product in 2 years

    In a telephone call, Professkr Zhong Li Wang of the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech, stated that these patterns enable a “unique personal measurement” to be defined.

    This keyboard, which uses standard materials, would be cheap to develop, Professor Wang stressed. The keys are not mechanical, but made up of transparent films stacked vertically to produce electricity. His team is still working on making the keyboard more reliable, but he believes this product could be marketed in just under two years. What happens if a person breaks a finger or changes his typing rhythm? Professor Wang states that a second authentication mechanism is a definite requirement.

  • The price of petrol – an object of worship

    image of petrol pump nozzle in tankThere’s been a lot of coverage in the media recently on the falling price of crude oil – and consequently of petroleum products – but it is questionable whether any other coverage has attained the level of religious fervour exhibited by the Bristol Post, an organ not normally renowned for its piety.

    Yesterday’s Post featured a report with the headline Unleaded petrol drops below £1 in Swindon – but when will Bristol see the hallowed price?

    Yes, that’s right – hallowed.

    According to Collins English Dictionary, the adjective hallowed has the following meanings:

    1. set apart as sacred
    2. consecrated or holy

    Nowhere else have I encountered the price of petrol being referred to as being set apart as sacred, let alone consecrated or holy.

    Collins also adds helpfully that hallowed is used to describe something that is respected and admired, usually because it is old, important, or has a good reputation.

    I hardly think any of the adjectives so helpfully added by Collins could be applied – even in the broadest sense – to the price of petrol in the West Country.

    Could it be that the unnamed journalist responsible for the piece is ignorant of the meaning of hallowed?

    Quite possibly.

    Furthermore, the Bristol Post is well known locally for its unquestioning championing of the motorist and demonisation of cyclists, not to mention its barely concealed opposition to Bristol Mayor George Ferguson’s plans for residents’ parking zones. That being so, perhaps Post “journalists” do worship piously at the pumps every time they fill up. 🙂

  • No sexual partners in Wigan?

    So far my experience of Wigan has been as the home of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls and the birthplace of George Formby, as well as a stop on the railway journey up to my sister’s home in Darwen.

    It now seems that Wigan has another claim to fame: no sexual partners are available there if there’s any credence behind the front page from the Wigan Evening Post shown below. 😉

    newspaper front page with headline Man tries to have sex with postbox

    The details of this attempted coupling can also be read on Wigan Today.

    Hat tip: Morna Simpson

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