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29 September 2006

Bush still in Denial

The other day we were told (through a report by a group of American security people) what Mr & Mrs Joe Public already knew ... that the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq had made the threat of terrorism infinitely worse than it already was. The Iraq situation is an effective recruiting sergeant for terrorists. Still it was good to be told by the people that should know these things. President Bush, of course, completely disagrees with the analysis. One can't help wondering why he employs security sspecialists if he disagrees with what they say.
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It was good to see a more intelligent President the other day, when Bill Clinton addressed the UK Labour Party Conference.
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Another breath of fresh air at the Conference when Home Secretary John Reid made a humorous and barnstorming speech that raised his profile as a potential successor to Tony Blair (i.e., a strong challenger to Gordon Brown). I liked his opening remarks about the ex-Deputy Leader Roy Hattersly's contribution to harmony in the Party by stating that he would shoot himself if John Reid ever became Leader. Reid said, "Up until now I had not really thought of a good reason for standing!"

23 September 2006

When your Hard Drive crashes.

It’s really quite scary how dependant one becomes on the computer, and it is not until it turns up its toes and goes to cyber-heaven (or should that be hell?) that the dependency really hits home.

About a year ago I read an article by David Pogue of the New York Times and he made it clear that it was not so much a case of IF your hard drive crashes, but WHEN. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. The sobering fact is that although the computer is basically a solid-state box of electronic circuitry, it’s weakest link is a device which relies on moving mechanical parts, i.e., the hard disk drive.

If your computer dies or is seriously past its use-by date, take it to bits, then apply a small screwdriver to the hard disk drive cover and you’ll find inside a little pile of shiny discs with a small gap between each, all spinning on a common spindle. So there’s one set of moving parts for you. Then there’s a set of arms pivoting near the perimeter of the discs, resembling nothing so much as a group of gramophone record pick-up arms (for those of you who can remember such things!) that swing backwards and forward across the surface of the discs a hair’s breadth from the surface. The potential for wear and tear and physical damage to the surface of the discs is clear to see.

As a result of reading that article I made the decision to purchase an external hard drive and I kept all my important files backed up to it. The final demise of my 6-year old computer the other week caused high levels of stress, but the existence of my external hard drive at least reduced the likelihood of a complete nervous breakdown!

Getting the new machine up and running was not all sweetness and light, however, since I was switching from Windows 98 to Windows XP, and I found that my accounts program – which happily runs on either of the operating systems – was unable to open any of my accounts files that it had created and saved whilst running in Windows 98 mode. It was quite happy to start creating new files for me in Windows XP but now I was faced with the loss of six years personal financial data, and I had to go through the painstaking process of setting up all my accounts again, and accessing the various current and savings accounts (fortunately available online) to get some balances to start the new files with.

The other little glitch was the loss of all my incoming and outgoing e-mails, and the e-mail address book from my e-mail client program. These are not easy to locate and backup and I had forgotten that programs like Outlook Express and Thunderbird (I use the latter) have an “Export” function that you can use to export all this data to a text file. I recovered some of my addresses by going to my BT web mail, but it had not been kept so up-to-date.

So – if you don’t want to lose your window on the world, your financial documents, your precious writing, your spreadsheets and databases, and your sanity, learn the lesson the easy way, not the hard way: make regular backups to CD-ROM disks or to an external hard drive. Don’t forget … it’s not IF but WHEN your hard drive crashes. Don’t come crying to me when it happens!

A final thought: there have been stories of data recovered from discarded computers turning up in Africa and providing access to online bank accounts. You might like to follow my lead here ... remove the hard drive and take a sledgehammer to it!

20 September 2006

A Bumper Year for Stickers. A Bad Year for my Computer.

Grateful thanks to Marcia Rinner of Ohio for sending me this, recently seen on a bumper sticker: Bush: Premature Iraq Elation.

There's been a bit of a gap in my blogging verbiage recently following the tragic death of my computer. It was six years of age, which I suppose made it quite old, and it was running good old Windows 98 SE. It became very crotchety in recent weeks and then suddenly felt unable to do anything at all for more than 5 minutes without locking up. I took the poor thing to the local computer hospital where it was put to bed, connected to wires and monitors, and lay under a notice saying NIL BY A-DRIVE. There was no viral infection. The hard disk drive had turned up its toes and was beyond repair. This was a case of death by slipped disc. The computer doctors got me to agree to a "Do not resuscitate" instruction, and I placed an order for a new machine.

I had managed to back up most of my important files on an external hard drive, but for reasons that are beyond me I no longer have my e-mail address book, nor any of the e-mails I have sent or received over the past few years. So if there is anyone out there who's been wondering why I haven't been in touch lately it's because I don't know "where you live" any more.

I am now finding my way around a sparkling new machine running supercalifragilisticWindowsXPalidoshus.


My wife and I have just returned from celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary by cruising the Cambridgeshire Fens in a small cabin cruiser. On a visit to the city of Ely I visited the public toilets. I have to say they were a model of sanitary excellence but I couldn't help noticing a large notice on the wall. It was a guide on How to Wash your Hands in eight photographically illustrated steps.

10 September 2006

Dropped Connection

My daughter-in-law has dropped her mobile phone into the dog's water bowl.

All is not lost - I should now be able to call her up on the dog and bone.

07 September 2006

"To Engage is not to Endorse"

...So said a Jordanian intelligence officer on a comprehensive documentary shown on BBC television last Sunday entitled Al Qaeda - Time to Talk?

This in-depth study of Islamic extremism, terrorism, and the West's so-called War on Terror, gave us a little insight into the minds and thoughts of those who are prepared to kill themselves and others. There was considerable coverage on what is really going on inside Iraq - not just what the politicians want to show us.

It was suggested that it might be time to talk to some of these people, and the Jordanian security officer made a fair point in saying that to ENGAGE is not to ENDORSE. Clearly all other efforts being made so far have failed miserably.

I feel it is worth remembering that although, officially, we "do not talk to terrorists" there are plenty of precedents. The first Prime Minister of the newly born state of Israel was a Zionist terrorist. Nelson Mandela was an ANC terrorist. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were IRA terrorists. Oh, and going further back in time, if I've got my history right, America (Land of the Free) was not exactly created by peaceful means!

To my mind, what was made abundantly clear by the BBC program is how efficiently the Bush/Blair axis of testosterone is acting as a recruiting sergeant for young disaffected and disillusioned Muslim men. Bush said a little while ago that he was conducting a Crusade. He later back-tracked from that terminology. More recently he announced that he was fighting "Islamic Fascism". This attempt at evoking 2nd World War flash-backs is puerile. There is no comparison.

I now read that he is trying to introduce into Law methods of interrogation that are bordering on (if not actually) torture.

If you are fighting a war of ideas and principles, and trying to uphold decent values against those who live entirely by hate or religious fundamentalism or both, then how do we uphold our values or even make them slightly attractive by resorting to barbarism ourselves?

The most worrying thing about all this, of course, is that we are not just confronting a foreign enemy: we are producing our own, right here in our midst. There are almost certainly "sleeper cells" in the UK., the USA., and most major European countries.

It's about time our so-called leaders gave some serious thought about what is causing all this, otherwise we are in for a very long haul.

02 September 2006

Good News for Steam Loco Buffs

It was a joy to be on Pickering Station the other day and watch a train of restored LNER teak coaches being pulled in by the A4 Pacific locomotive Sir Nigel Gresley. Pickering is at the southern end of the 18 miles of heritage railway between Pickering and Grosmont (linking there with the national network for the old fishing town of Whitby). The line was salvaged back in the late 1960s after the Beeching Report had taken an axe to swathes of branch lines the length and breadth of Britain. Originally purchased, renovated and operated by an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers, the line is now run by a successful heritage railway company licensed to run scheduled passenger services using restored steam locos from as far as back as 1905 up to end of British Rail steam services in the mid-1960s; there are also restored diesels from the period of changeover from steam to diesel and electric.

The North York Moors Railway brings in thousands of enthusiastic tourists to the line, and the Sir Nigel Gresley has always been the pride and joy of the line. It's "identical twin" the Mallard (which broke the world steam loco speed record at 125 mph) can be seen at the National Railway Museum in York. The Gresley has also been no mean performer in the speed stakes, having clocked up an impressive 112 mph in the mid-1950s.

It has made a welcome return to the line after a total strip down and re-build necessary for a renewal of it's 10-year operating licence. The renovation took three years of dedicated hard labour by people with railway mechanical and engineering expertise.

I always get a bit of thrill when I see this loco in full steam, not only because most steam locos have the ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, but because as a young boy back in the early 1950s I played with a Hornby Dublo electric train set. I had two passenger trains: (1) an LMS train pulled by the Duchess of Hamilton and (2) an LNER train pulled by the Sir Nigel Gresley.

Long may little boys aged between 7 and 70 continue to be captivated by steam trains!