Monthly Archives: May 2016

  • On this day in 1649

    For any Brit with republican leanings who is still trying to forget yesterday’s antediluvian pantomime in Westminster otherwise known as the State Opening of Parliament, 19th May 1649 is a significant date.

    On that day in 1649 the English Parliament enacted a law entitled “Act Declaring and Constituting the People of England to be a Commonwealth and Free-State“, abolishing both the monarchy and the House of Lords.

    The text of the Act is available on Wikisource*, from whence it has been transcribed from the accompanying PDF with the original 17th century spelling and punctuation.

    BE IT DECLARED and enacted by this present Parliament and by the Authoritie of the same:—
    That the People of England and of all the Dominions and Territoryes thereunto belonging are and shall be and are hereby constituted, made, established, and confirmed to be a Commonwealth and free State And shall from henceforth be Governed as a Commonwealth and Free State by the supreame Authoritie of
    this Nation, the Representatives of the People in Parliament and by such as they shall appoint and constitute as Officers and Ministers under them for the good of the People and that without any King or House of Lords.

    * Originally taken from Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660, edited C H Firth and R S Rait (London, 1911)

    Hat tip: Westengland

  • Local MP stands up for Afghan interpreters

    headshot of Jack LoprestiJack Lopresti, the MP for the Filton & Bradley Stoke constituency on Bristol’s northern fringe, has questioned the UK’s treatment of the Afghan interpreters employed by the British armed forces during their deployment in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014.

    Today’s Bristol Post reports that Mr Lopresti asked the Prime Minister about the fate of the Afghan linguists.

    To quote from the Post:

    The former Army reservist said it was a “stain on our country’s honour” that Afghan interpreters who had helped British soldiers, including his own 29 Commando RAs when they were mobilised in 2008-09, had been “abandoned”.

    He told the Prime Minister that many had been murdered upon returning to their country and pleaded that all of them be offered “sanctuary” in the UK.

    The PM said there was a “very generous scheme” to help those who had not been translators [sic] long enough to qualify to come to Britain.

    According to Hansard, the full verbatim exchange between Lopresti and Cameron is as follows:

    Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
    During military operations in Afghanistan, British forces were heavily reliant on locally employed interpreters, who constantly put themselves in harm’s way alongside our people. I saw with my own eyes during Herrick 9 just how brave these interpreters were. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is a stain on our country’s honour that we have abandoned a large number of them to be threatened by the Taliban? Some have been murdered and others have had to flee their homes, in fear of their lives. We owe the interpreters a huge debt of gratitude and honour, and we must provide safety and sanctuary for them here.

    The Prime Minister
    We debated and discussed around the National Security Council table in the coalition Government and then announced in the House of Commons a scheme to make sure that those people who had helped our forces with translation and other services were given the opportunity of coming to the UK. We set up two schemes: one to encourage that, but also another scheme, a very generous scheme, to try to encourage those people who either wanted to stay or had not been translators for a long enough period to stay in Afghanistan and help to rebuild that country. ​I think it is important to have both schemes in place, rather than simply saying that everyone in any way involved can come immediately to the UK. Let us back Afghans to rebuild their own country.

    If Mr Cameron cannot tell the difference between interpreters and translators, in spite of his expensive education at Eton College and Oxford University, I suggest he consults this handy illustrated guide. 🙂

  • LibreOffice 5.1.3 available for download

    The Document Foundation (TDF) has today announced the immediate availability of LibreOffice 5.1.3, the third minor release of the LibreOffice 5.1 family, which now supports Google Drive remote connectivity on GNU/Linux and MacOS X operating systems.

    LibreOffice 5.1.3 is targeted at technology enthusiasts, early adopters and power users. For more conservative users and for enterprise deployments, TDF recommends the “still” version – LibreOffice 5.0.6. For enterprise deployments, The Document Foundation also recommends professional support by certified people.

    For those users interested in helping to test forthcoming releases, there are also development versions and nightly builds available. However, these are not recommended for use in a production environment, where stability and reliability are required.

    LibreOffice Impress presentation software
    LibreOffice Impress presentation software

    Download LibreOffice

    LibreOffice 5.1.3 is available for immediate download.

    LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members can also support The Document Foundation with a donation.

    LibreOffice Conference 2016

    In 2016 the annual LibreOffice Conference will be hosted by the Faculty of Information Technology at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic from 7th to 9th September.

    The Call for Papers is open until 15th July 2016 and registration for the conference is now open.

  • Three ravens

    Although they are more likely to be seen in upland areas of south-west England, Wales, the north Pennines and Lake District and much of Scotland, sightings of ravens are not unknown in the low-lying city of Bristol.

    image of common raven
    Common raven (corvus corax). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Your ‘umble scribe has seen single ravens around Temple Meads railway station, as well as in such inner-city districts as Easton. More often than not, I have heard the raven’s distinctive call before seeing it with the naked eye.

    The largest number I’ve ever spotted at one time was a few weeks ago, when I sighted three ravens circling over Barton Hill, being mobbed by aggressive members of the area’s resident gull population.

    Mythology and legend

    Ravens have long featured in European mythology. In Irish mythology, the goddess Morrígan alighted on the hero Cú Chulainn‘s shoulder in the form of a raven after his death. In Welsh mythology ravens were associated with the Welsh god Bran the Blessed, whose name translates to “raven.” According to the Mabinogion, Bran’s head was buried in the White Hill of London as a talisman against invasion.

    In Norse mythology, Huginn (from the Old Norse for “thought”) and Muninn (Old Norse for “memory” or “mind”) are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, Midgard and bring the god Odin information.

    In England a legend developed that the country would not fall to a foreign invader as long as there were ravens at the Tower of London (invasions are averted by the simple expedient of clipping the wings of the resident ravens. Ed.). Although this is often thought to be an ancient belief, Geoffrey Parnell, the official Tower of London historian, believes that, like so many other legends of the British Isles, this is actually a romantic Victorian invention.

    In culture

    In western culture ravens have long been considered to be birds of ill omen and death, partly due to the negative symbolism of their all-black plumage and the eating of carrion.

    As in traditional mythology and folklore, the common raven features frequently in more modern writings such as the works of William Shakespeare, and, perhaps most famously, in the poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. Ravens have also appeared in the works of Charles Dickens, J. R. R. Tolkien and Stephen King, amongst others.

    Ravens have also featured in song. “The Three Ravens” is an English folk ballad, printed in the song book Melismata compiled by the appositely named Thomas Ravenscroft and published in 1611, but it is perhaps older than that.

    The music and lyrics are set out below. The latter are in their original 17th century orthography, with the refrains in italics.

    The ballad takes the form of 3 ravens conversing about where and what they should eat. One tells of a newly slain knight, but they find he is guarded by his loyal hawks and hounds. Furthermore, a “fallow doe”, an obvious metaphor for the knight’s pregnant (“as great with young as she might go”) lover or mistress comes to his body, kisses his wounds, bears him away and buries him, leaving the ravens without a meal.

    image of musical score for The Three Ravens ballad
    Music for The Three Ravens

    There were three rauens sat on a tree,
    Downe a downe, hay down, hay downe
    There were three rauens sat on a tree,
    With a downe
    There were three rauens sat on a tree,
    They were as blacke as they might be.
    With a downe derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe
    The one of them said to his mate,
    ‘Where shall we our breakefast take?’
    ‘Downe in yonder greene field,
    There lies a knight slain vnder his shield.
    ‘His hounds they lie downe at his feete,
    So well they can their master keepe.
    ‘His haukes they flie so eagerly,
    There’s no fowle dare him come nie.’
    Downe there comes a fallow doe,
    As great with yong as she might goe.
    She lift vp his bloudy hed,
    And kist his wounds that were so red.
    She got him vp vpon her backe,
    And carried him to earthen lake.
    She buried him before the prime,
    She was dead herselfe ere euen-song time.
    God send euery gentleman,
    Such haukes, such hounds, and such a leman.

    Your correspondent does not know what the three ravens circling Barton Hill found to eat, as dead knights are not exactly common in that part of the city. 😀

  • Open source helps Bristol academics win award

    photo of Marcella Oliviero and Andrea Zhok from Bristol Uni Department of ItalianOpen source software was an essential element in the work of 2 Bristol modern languages tutors who have just won an award.

    The University of Bristol has announced that Marcella Oliviero and Andrea Zhok have won first prize in the 2016 Apereo Teaching & Learning Awards (ATLAS) for a project that helped first-year students in the Department of Italian teach elements of grammar to their peers. With support from University staff, students were encouraged to develop their own tutorials using Xerte, an open source software package for the creation of interactive teaching and learning materials, which has been developed by the University of Nottingham. As a result, students gained a greater stake in their own learning, improved their subject knowledge and acquired new IT skills.

    Xerte bannerApereo is a network that develops and maintains e-learning software used in thousands of educational institutions worldwide. Packages like Xerte permit the use of a wide range of functions and media to make the learning experience richer and more diverse than is possible with traditional methods. The tutors’ success was announced at the 2016 Xerte Conference in Nottingham and they have also been invited to present their work at the Open Apereo conference in New York later this month.

    Initially posted on Bristol Wireless.

  • LibreOffice 5.0.6 released

    Yesterday The Document Foundation announced the availability LibreOffice 5.0.6 “still”, the sixth release of the LibreOffice 5.0 family, which can be used for the deployment in large organisations and for more conservative software users.

    The Document Foundation recommends large-scale deployment of LibreOffice 5.0.6 with professional level 3 support from certified developers (a list of qualified developers is available at When migrating to LibreOffice from proprietary office suites such as MS Office, organisations are further advised to seek professional support from certified migration consultants and trainers, which are listed on the same web page.

    In addition, there are companies providing LibreOffice LTS (Long Term Support) versions with incremental updates which are targeted at enterprise deployments.

    People interested in technical details about the release can see the bugs fixed in RC1) and those fixed in RC2.

    Download LibreOffice

    LibreOffice 5.0.6 is available for immediate download.

    LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members can support The Document Foundation by making a donation. In addition, LibreOffice merchandise is now available from the brand new project shop.

    LibreOffice Conference

    The 2016 LibreOffice Conference will be hosted by the Faculty of Information Technology at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic from 7th to 9th September. The conference is being organised by OpenAlt.

    Details of the Call for Papers, which is open until 15th July 2016, are available at, whilst registration has also opened for the conference.

    LibreOffice development versions

    screenshot of LibreOffice 5.2 alpha1
    LibreOffice 5.2 alpha1 – a development version currently available

    Pre-release development versions of LibreOffice are also available. To access these, visit the pre-releases server.

    Finally, for those who want to right on the bleeding edge of software development, there are nightly builds available, although it should be pointed out that both pre-release and nightly build versions are intended for technology enthusiasts and developers only; use in a production environment by users with average IT skills is not recommended.