Archives for May 2007

Nothing like a beating to start your day

My first karate pre-grading session this morning. This was a lesson with Sensei Cole who is the head of the Southern Shotokan Karate Association that I belong to. He and two very helpful black-belt instructors drilled us for 90 minutes on the syllabus for the grading session next week. It was a pretty tough session but I enjoyed it a lot.

Technically I feel pretty happy about the grading. Barring moments where your mind goes blank I know the kata (Kihon, the basic kata) and my stances are okay. Where I felt weak though was in the kumite and especially the kiai on the counter-punch. We haven't really practiced it and, I don't know, I find it hard to do. It's such a simple, silly, thing... you just have to shout. I guess I'm not much of a shouter on the whole (unless I'm late for my train and can't find my car key). I don't think I'm alone in this and I guess to some extent it's about being "in the moment" rather than being in a gym in Bracknell facing off against a nice chap called George.

I was also pretty happy that my foot (I hurt my plantar fascia a couple of weeks ago, probably inevitable when you start training in bare feet that something will give) didn't give me any trouble during the session barring a small amount of tingling when doing the Mae Geri Jodan.

All in all I'm really looking forward to next weeks grading session.

27/05/2007 22:35 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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The golden virtue

I'm trying to catch up on Chris' prolific writing on ethics, a topic of some interest to me. Yesterday he wrote about the golden rule as one of the foundations of a system of ethics:

The Golden Rule, also known as the Ethic of Reciprocity, is a moral principle found in virtually all the major world religions, usually explicitly. Stated simply, it asks that we treat other people as we would have ourselves be treated. So fundamental to religious practice is this principle, that the Parliament of the World's Religions (a recurrent conference of religious representatives) endorsed it as the common principle of the majority of world religions.

continued...

and recounts some of it's long history. I've come across some of the philosophical objections to the golden rule before but it was brought back to me as I read:

"Love they neighbour," possibly the oldest form of the Golden Rule, offers more traction against the problems Appiah notes than he originally assumes. If we take into account the issues presented by relative ethics, that our ethics are only absolutely valid from our particular frame of reference (and any other frame of reference which also holds the same values), the application of the Golden Rule becomes simpler. We would not want other people to ignore our values and beliefs, and thus by extension when we behave towards other people we must take into account their values and belief, and then behave in whichever manner we can uphold as loving or compassionate.

I think that seems very easy to forget the value systems of others or, perhaps more insidiously, assume that the values of others are necessarily congruent with our own values. I have some more thoughts related to existential psychology but they are not yet formed to a point. I hope to post them later after further reflection.

26/05/2007 21:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Google get small

Google really are a contradiction. I guess it's what happens when you become a large organisation with megalomaniacs at the top, ex-Microsoft middle-management psychopaths, and a lot of crazy engineers trying to solve big problems. From Coding Horror:

Google wants to extend that same efficiency outside their datacenter to your home PC. The three page Google whitepaper High-efficiency power supplies for home computers and servers (pdf) outlines how and why:

At Google, we run many computers in our data centers to serve your queries, so energy conservation and efficiency are important to us. For several years we've been developing more efficient power supplies to eliminate waste from power supplies. Instead of the typical efficiencies of 60-70%, our servers' power supplies now run at 90% efficiency or better, cutting down the energy losses by a factor of four.

We believe this energy-saving power supply technology can be applied to home computers, too. So we've been working with Intel and other partners to propose a new power supply standard. The opportunity for savings is immense -- we estimate that if deployed in 100 million PCs running for an average of eight hours per day, this new standard would save 40 billion kilowatt-hours over three years, or more than $5 billion at California's energy rates.

24/05/2007 09:14 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Died in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.

In conversation with John Wiseman about RID yesterday he mentioned that some of the dictionary data that we raised our eyebrows about might be Mountweazels. I'd never come across this term before although I immediately guessed what it might be from the context. The truth is rather beautiful I think. Here is the Mountweazel entry from Wikipedia:

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel is a fictional character, a copyright trap[1] inserted into the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia. Her biography indicates she lived from 1942 to 1973, and was a U.S. fountain designer and photographer, best known for her collection of photos of rural American mailboxes, Flags Up!. She was born in Bangs, Ohio, and died in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.

Priceless. In our case I'm more inclined to believe the data was a little carelessly put together but you never know. I also enjoyed The Daily Blague on esquivalence:

Ms Lindberg took a French verb, esquiver, meaning "to dodge or evade something," and tacked on an ending that, according to the dictionary's editor-in-chief, "could not arise in nature." ... The esquivalier - rhymes with "cavalier" - isn't just shirking any old thing. He's shirking his official responsibilities.

Isn't language wonderful?

22/05/2007 11:05 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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It's your regressive imagery, innit?

This weekend I bought a copy of The Language of Change by Paul Watlawick. I'm only a little way into it but I think it's a book about learning to communicate in the language of the right hemisphere of your brain. This is a subject that, for a number of reasons, has become interesting and relevant to me lately.

So it was with some interest that I read John Wiseman's post about the Regressive Imagery Dictionary:

The Regressive Imagery Dictionary (RID) is a coding scheme for text analysis that is designed to measure 'primordial' and conceptual content. Primordial thought is the kind of free-form, associative thinking involved in fantasy and dreams. Like Freud's id, I guess. Conceptual (or secondary) thought is logical, reality-based and focused on problem solving.

RID contains about 3,000 words grouped into categories that are themselves classified as primary, secondary, and emotional. A piece of text is classified by what percentage of its words fall into each category.

John posted some python source code he wrote. I decided I wanted to play with this and, being as I don't care for Python very much, wrote a Ruby version. It's not quite a port of rid.py although I clearly looked at how rid.py worked as I hacked together the Regressive IMagery Analyzer (RIMA) library. I also compared his numbers with mine using the same sample text. My analyzer seems comes out with the same results to a few decimal points.

If you want to play with it you can download it from RubyForge or install it as a gem:

sudo gem install RIMA

Here is an example of using it:

require 'rima'

analyzer = if File.exist?( File.expand_path( "~/.rima" ) )
  RIMA::Analyzer.restore( "~/.rima" )
else
  RIMA::Analyzer.new(
    File.join( RIMA_PATH, 'rid', 'categories' ),
    File.join( RIMA_PATH, 'rid', 'exceptions' )
    ).store( "~/.rima" )
end

results = analyzer.analyze( STDIN.read )

puts "Total words   = #{results[:word_total]}"
puts "Counted words = #{results[:word_count]}"
puts ""
puts "Primary:   %0.3f" % results[:classes][:primary]
puts "Secondary: %0.3f" % results[:classes][:secondary]
puts "Emotions:  %0.3f" % results[:classes][:emotions]
puts ""
puts results[:sorted_scores].map { |r| "#{r[0].path.ljust(48)}=\t#{r[1]}" }.join( "\n" )

The code indexes the categories and exceptions from the RID dictionary and stores a marshalled copy in ~/.rima. I implemented a very simple search tree structure. I thought of using the Trie gem but couldn't see how to make it handle the wildcards in the RID data so I hacked something together myself.

Anyhoo, when fed Bush's speech (from the second debate with Al Gore back in 2000 the result was:

Alia:~ matt$ rima < Projects/ruby/rima/data/bush.txt 
Total words   = 7982
Counted words = 1401

Primary:   0.230
Secondary: 0.672
Emotions:  0.098

SECONDARY/ABSTRACT_THOUGHT                      =       281
SECONDARY/INSTRU_BEHAVIOR                       =       197
SECONDARY/SOCIAL_BEHAVIOR                       =       181
PRIMARY/REGR_KNOL/CONCRETENESS                  =       170
SECONDARY/MORAL_IMPERATIVE                      =       107
SECONDARY/TEMPORAL_REPERE                       =       87
SECONDARY/RESTRAINT                             =       60
EMOTIONS/AFFECTION                              =       57
EMOTIONS/AGGRESSION                             =       51
SECONDARY/ORDER                                 =       29
PRIMARY/SENSATION/VISION                        =       24
PRIMARY/DEFENSIVE_SYMBOL/PASSIVITY              =       23
PRIMARY/SENSATION/COLD                          =       20
PRIMARY/ICARIAN_IM/WATER                        =       13
PRIMARY/REGR_KNOL/NARCISSISM                    =       10
PRIMARY/SENSATION/HARD                          =       10
EMOTIONS/GLORY                                  =       10
EMOTIONS/POSITIVE_AFFECT                        =       9
PRIMARY/ICARIAN_IM/HEIGHT                       =       8
EMOTIONS/ANXIETY                                =       7
PRIMARY/ICARIAN_IM/FIRE                         =       6
PRIMARY/ICARIAN_IM/DESCENT                      =       5
PRIMARY/SENSATION/SOUND                         =       4
PRIMARY/NEED/SEX                                =       4
PRIMARY/REGR_KNOL/BRINK-PASSAGE                 =       4
PRIMARY/ICARIAN_IM/DEPTH                        =       3
PRIMARY/DEFENSIVE_SYMBOL/VOYAGE                 =       3
PRIMARY/ICARIAN_IM/ASCEND                       =       3
PRIMARY/SENSATION/GEN_SENSATION                 =       3
PRIMARY/DEFENSIVE_SYMBOL/DIFFUSION              =       2
EMOTIONS/SADNESS                                =       2
PRIMARY/NEED/ORALITY                            =       2
PRIMARY/DEFENSIVE_SYMBOL/RANDOM MOVEMENT        =       2
PRIMARY/DEFENSIVE_SYMBOL/CHAOS                  =       1
PRIMARY/REGR_KNOL/COUNSCIOUS                    =       1
EMOTIONS/EXPRESSIVE_BEH                         =       1
PRIMARY/REGR_KNOL/UNKNOW                        =       1

Which is pretty close to the numbers Wiseman's code generates (the relative percentages of primary/secondary/emotions are I think more or less identical). The utility to generate this analysis comes with the RIMA library and is automatically installed as a binary by the gem, you can run it using:

rima < input_text

I'm going to be turning RIMA loose on Curiouser & Curiouser at some point, that might be interesting, and there are some other things I have in mind for it. But it could be fun to just noodle around with it. Please let me know if you do anything interesting with this code.

As an aside there here is an interesting exchange involving Dr. Watzlawick related by Robert Anton Wilson (in his excellent book Quantum Psychology):

Dr. Watzlawick, incidently, got his first inkling of this psychotomimetic function of semantic noise when arriving at a mental hospital as a new staff member. He reported to the office of the Chief Psychiatrist, where he found a woman sitting at the desk in the outer office. Dr. Watzlawick made the assumption he had found the boss's secretary.

"I'm Watzlawick," he said, assuming the "secretary" would know he had an appointment.

"I didn't say you were," she replied.

A bit taken aback, Dr. Watzlawick exclaimed, "But I am."

"Then why did you deny it?" she asked.

At this point, in Dr. Watzlawick's view of the situation, the woman no longer seemed a secretary. He now classified her as a schizophrenic patient who had somehow wandered into the staff offices. Naturally, he became very careful in "dealing with" her.

His revised assumption seems logical, does it not? Only poets and schizophrenics communicate in language that defies rational analysis, and poets do not normally do so in ordinary conversation, or with the above degree of opacity. They also do it was a certain elegance, lacking in this case, and usually with some kind of rhythmn and sonority.

However, from the woman's point of view, Dr. Watzlawick himself had appeared as a schizophrenic patient. You see, due to noise, she had heard a different conversation.

A strange man had approached and said, "I'm not Slavic." Many paranoids begin a conversation with such assertions, vitally important to them, but sounding a bit strange to the rest of us.

"I didn't say you were," she replied trying to soothe him.

"But I am," he shot back, thereby graduating from "paranoid" to "paranoid schizophrenic" in her judgement.

"Then why did you deny it?" She asked reasonably and became very careful in "dealing with" him.

Anybody who had experience dealing with schizophrenics will recognize how both parties in this conversation felt. Dealing with poets never has quite this much hassle.

I think R.A.W. maybe never had to deal with many poets.

21/05/2007 22:25 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Ditching Flickr

My FlickrPro account is coming up for renewal in early June. As someone who is only tangentially a photographer (and mainly of my cats in any case) it's not vital to me and, frankly, I've seen nothing good happen to Flickr since the Yahoo acquisition. The free account seems pretty much crippled to me so I think I will delete the account and rehost anything I still think is worth sharing somewhere else.

21/05/2007 10:06 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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When you want to walk

Whatever my qualms about Google search, I find Google maps quite invaluable. I'm often looking up places people talk about to see where they are in relation to me or some other point of interest.

Where GMaps fails to shine for me though is in giving directions. It's driving directions are okay - up to a point - but these days I am on foot as much as I am in a car. For example, last friday, I was walking from Cominded's office in Carlisle street to a restaurant not far away and I wanted to show someone how close they were:

Google maps route

As a walking route that is almost deliberately perverse. But there doesn't appear to be an "on foot" option. That's why I was rather pleased to come across Walkit.com which offers walking routes (with indicative times at different paces):

Walkit route

along with useful directions, e.g.

Start out along DEAN STREET, heading north. You'll pass PIZZA EXPRESS Restaurant.

Neat service.

21/05/2007 10:01 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Marathon Man

A local radio DJ, Mike the Marathon Man, is attempting to broadcast for over 125 continuous hours without sleep to set a new record in aid of charity. He's been going 87 hours so for and as the webcam shows it's pretty tough going. He's got 1d 15h 15m to go. I hope he can make it.

Sleep deprivation is pretty tough on the old brain. Fortunately for Mike verbal reasoning skills seem to last longer than everything else. He may not know what he's saying, but he should be able to keep on saying it! The difficulty seems to be getting enough people to get in touch during the wee hours of the night. If you read this in America and want to say high to a very tired person live on UK radio why not drop him a line?

17/05/2007 23:48 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Go, go, Ron Paul

I'm amazed and delighted to see Ron Paul getting some airtime as a candidate for the republican presidential nomination. Certainly in the parts of the debates that I watched he seemed like a breath of fresh air, especially in contrast to the likes of Guiliani.

I've been reading Ron's thoughts and opinions via LewRockwell.com for a couple of years now and I find him to be intelligent, sensitive, good humoured, knowledgable, thoughtful. A man with a considered position that he can defend without resorting to personal attacks. In short, I think he would make a good leader, something the US has not had for quite some time and especially not in recent years.

If I may not agree with all his positions so what? As an outsider I am bound to say that I think he'd make a great president *if* he could carry the American public with him. And here, I believe, is the problem. Like the UK many of the problems of the US are related to foreign policy. Again like the UK, I'm not sure enough of America is ready to understand that other people will judge you by your actual foreign policy, i.e. what happens on their soil, rather than by the fine rhetoric fed to you by your leadership. I think they want the trouble to end but have not yet acknowledged that it's their own disinterest in the activities of their state that have lead them where they are.

My fear would be that a Ron Paul presidency would be dogged by the bitter revenge of the vested interests in U.S. politics that will not look kindly on the end of billions of dollars of defence pork.

It's a good thing for him that Russell Kirk didn't have to live to see the deranged caricature of itself that American conservatism has now become. Kirk, one of the key architects of that movement, spent the last years of his life opposing every military adventure of the U.S. government. The average conservative today, on the other hand, who knows only what the government and its neocon shills tell him, would be at an utter loss to account for that. -- Thomas E. Woods, Jr

Oh and I can't entirely agree with Steve Dekorte this time. That is to say, he may be right about losing support but, what Ron Paul said about 9/11 needed to be said by someone. For myself I didn't think he phrased it that poorly considering the context.

For myself, I hope America (and, more immediately, the Republican party) will surprise me and vote for Ron Paul.

17/05/2007 15:25 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Come on SJ

When is iTunes UK going to go DRM free?

Steve Dekorte linked to a John Cage album - Music for Percussion Quartet - that he called mesmerising. I have some John Cage and would like some more. I'm happy to pay 7.99 for the album. But I absolutely will not buy it with DRM.

When am I going to be able to buy it?

15/05/2007 10:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Diffly 0.8

I just released what I expect (short of having introduced some new bugs) to be the penultimate version of Diffly. The major improvements in this version are nice-to-have's like working support for defining your own stylesheet and fixing the default stylesheet to 9pt text. I've done four releases in exactly a month and had exactly 800 downloads. Not exactly ADA material perhaps, but I don't think it's bad for my first outing with Cocoa.

I don't have any grand design with this app now. I find it highly usable. I suspect I will tidy it up and fix any new bugs and call it 1.0 in a month or so.

11/05/2007 13:53 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Bucking the trend

Recently I've found myself coding in Erlang and C. TextMate has some minimal support for Erlang but nothing much beyond syntax highliting and a number of the denizens of #erlang recommended emacs for it's Erlang support. Since I've long wanted to get to grips with emacs this seemed like a good opportunity.

Over the last couple of weeks I've used emacs (the Aquamacs variety although I am downloading CarbonEmacs and am being persuaded to just hunker down and use gnu emacs from the shell) and, at least for basic editing, am beginning to feel somewhat comfortable.

The thing I really miss, above all else, is the project drawer. At the moment my C and Erlang code is all living in a couple of folders and, at any one time, I probably don't switch folders often. In short, C-x C-f is usually good enough.

However, when I tried to use emacs with one of my Rails projects last night I fell apart and was back in TextMate inside of 10 minutes. Rails projects tend to nest folders quite heavily and, lacking a good visual imagination, I don't keep that hierarchy in my head. I tend to lean quite heavily on the project navigator and Cmd+T. Trying to open the files I wanted in emacs quickly became very frustrating indeed.

I've had suggestions for speedbar.el and toggle.el which I am going to check out. I've also been looking around for other people making (or contemplating) the switch from TextMate to emacs. Seems like I am bucking the trend though and only finding people going the other way around.

10/05/2007 10:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Disgusting

I can't find a link to it on the Today programme website (which I find to be shockingly poor, they still have news about Blunkett's resignation in 2004 on their latest reports pages!) but I've just listened to a harrowing report about young carers in the UK.

The centrepiece was an interview with a teenage girl and boy. The girl, Hannah, was caring for her sick mother and father. The boy, Alex, for his sick mother and handicapped brother. His father died of a stroke. The item came up because another child carer, who was a friend of the girl interviewed, took an overdose of her sick mothers morphine.

I said I found the report harrowing and listening to them being interview brought tears to my eyes. I may not be the worlds greatest fan of children but I know abuse when I hear it. Society is abusing these two and, by the sounds of it, many others.

The item ended with an interview with the otiose Beverly Hughes the minister for children. Her excuse was to blame everything on local authorities and say there was change coming. She should talk to her writers about getting some new lines. The item ended with her not giving an assurance that an existing 180 million pound fund for carers would not be axed at the next spending revue.

I'm sick of the way we spend money as a society. I resent taxation on principle because I think it's wrong. Society should not need to be based upon force. But I can forgive it when it is used for a social just cause. I find it impossible to forgive the nearly 40 billion pounds spent on defence last year, the many billions before that, and the many billions more that will be robbed from us to fund Tony Blairs dream of a new Jerusalem built atop Iraqs dead.

It's this kind of thing, seemingly endemic in our government, that makes me think we should burn parliament and whitehall to the ground and start afresh.

09/05/2007 08:52 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The devil gets all the best lines

Dad scored us tickets to last nights recording of Episodes 3 and 5 of Old Harry's Game at the Drill Hall near Goodge St. I can't believe there are still people who've never heard OHG but I do bump into them. If you like your comedy irreverent, witty, and deeply funny and don't mind risking the odd thunderbolt then OHG could be for you. This series will air on BBC Radio 4 in Sep/Oct of this year.

The shows we saw were very both very good although Episode 5 was the funnier for me. I really enjoyed the detective scene and Felicity Montagu's foul mouthed Jane Austen making a re-appearance. The whole thing is made so much more enjoyable by being able to watch a cast who so obviously get a kick out of working together amidst a crowd of people who are so pleased to be there. A word to the wise, if you are going to a recording, turn up early. They were turning people away because the stand-by line was overflowing!

The cast is all people I've enjoyed over the years: Andy Hamilton, Annette Crosby, Philip Pope, Jimmy Mulville, Felicity Montagu, and Nick Revell. However I want to single out the unsung hero of the cast for me: Michael Fenton Stevens. He's a very funny guy, really gets into what he's doing, and does a raft of great voices (his Mordechai and Inspector were particularly enjoyable). He recently played Ralph in Trevors World of Sport and starred as Inspector Steine in the eponymously named radio mysteries (which were excellent). I'm really looking forward to hearing what Michael does next.

Like watching the clue recordings last year, the OHG recording was a great way to spend an evening.

05/05/2007 09:43 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Progress

Today I paid off my credit card. That might not seem a huge achievement but I haven't been able to do it for about 2 years and have ping-ponged in and out of debt since about 2003/4. Finally paying it off feels great! I'm hoping to keep the right side of the line for a while.

Also my weight is down to 83.4kg today and, broadly, on course to meet my (arbitrary) target of 82kg by May 20th (from a record high of 85.5kg about a month ago). It's also 9 weeks since I started doing Karate. I'm really enjoying that. This week we did an entire session on roundhouse kicks so I'm walking a bit wobbly today. Diet wise I am aiming for about 76-78kg by years end.

I released Diffly a little while ago when it looked like it might be another of those projects I never quite get around to finishing. It's had about 600 downloads in a little over 3 weeks. Not sure if that's good or bad in Mac app terms but it's a lot more than I ever expected. I'm nearly ready to update it again and I think it works pretty good.

One area I haven't made any progress in is teaching & mentoring. I've done some of this in the past and found it very rewarding. But that was when I worked for a university and had contacts in the CS department which made it easy. Now I'm stuck for figuring out how to get started again. Suggestions are walmly welcomed.

I've also been feeling tired a lot lately. Is it just a natural side-effect of turning 35? Two months of high-dose multi-vitamins, Echinacea (at my Mothers insistence) and ginseng doesn't seem to have shifted it so this morning I had a bunch of blood taken to check liver, kidneys, thyroid, and so on. I'm not sure if I want that to turn up anything or not. If it doesn't my next stop is probably a nutrionist. I don't think my diet is bad, but it may not be balanced enough.

All in all this feels very much a time of progress. Long may it last!

03/05/2007 15:09 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Read it? Why would I bother to read it?

Terry writes some frightening stuff about the U.S. Congress:

There are many important issues but, frankly, none of them matter if we don't get some way of forcing politicians to actually read, understand, and acknowledge the full contents of bills for which they vote. At present, Congress camouflages bills with euphemistic, patriotic-sounding names that are completely irrelevant to the contents and impact. But the name is just about all most Congressmen know about a bill before they vote on it.

I'm not sure whether the system is any better here. Our bills have several "readings" as they go through parliament. I have always assumed this to mean that the bill (and later amendments to the bill) is read aloud but, now I think about it, perhaps I have been naive about that. And I suppose that, even were this to be true, there's nothing to stop an MP skipping the readings and turning up for the division.

I need to look into how the UK system actually works. Since my MP, Theresa May, is shadow commons leader she's probably a good place to start.

My current opinion is that MP's should be required to make a legally binding declaration that they have, personally, read and understood the full text of any bill or amendment before voting on it. With effective censures available for any MP discovered to have voted on a bill they did not read. This would need to be backed with some kind of commons oversight facility to turn up offenders.

As a side-effect this might also slow down the passage of legislation through parliament. Given the quality of legislation persued by this (and to be fair every other government I have lived through) I can only see that as being a good thing.

03/05/2007 10:48 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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While I am on the subject of Technorati

With the bright people who have worked for them and the advantages of being in the game so long, why on earth is the Technorati service so useless?

A search for my blog today returns 7 links, ordered by freshness. Of these four are links from my own blog and the freshest is a link to a post I wrote back in June 2003. And it's not like this is a one-off, it's been like this since forever. I mean, come on Technorati, are you even trying?!?

Recently I was impressed that Technorati were able to sink even lower in my estimation when my vanity feed from them showed the following plum:

Why technorati? Why?

What kind of state are you in when you write to your users to tell them you are a joke?

01/05/2007 10:37 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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