Why experts don’t know shit

The recent, and frankly weird case of Gareth Williams, the MI6 spy who was found dead locked inside a holdall, presents a puzzle. How could anyone but an expert contortionist perform such a feat by himself? It seems obvious that a third party must have been involved, and given the covert nature of the guy’s work, it is easy to suspect all sorts of shady goings on.

Indeed, a series of experts at the inquest into his death asserted that such a feat of self imprisonment was virtually impossible, or actually impossible, although one at least suggested it was not impossible to rule out. I was surprised to hear there is an “expert in confined spaces”, but I guess every field has its expert.

But now a reporter has proved most of them wrong, by performing the “impossible” feat and locking herself into an identical holdall. Woman locks herself in holdall And she manages to maintain decorum throughout. It apparently is just a matter of the right technique, which the experts were not aware of.

Given that the unfortunate Mr Williams had at least once before engaged in apparent self-bondage, common sense would perhaps suggest that it was a repeat attempt gone tragically wrong. It really makes you wonder, these professed experts, are they at all worth listening to? I think a true expert would say “we just don’t know”.

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Impressed with Mint

Searching for an alternative to Ubuntu and it’s new interface more friendly for tablets than desktops, I came across Linux Mint. Apparently this is topping the tables at distrowatch, whatever that is. Anyway, I thought I would give it a go on my new PC while it is still fresh out of the box.

Mint has some basis on Ubuntu, and the install proceeded on a familiar path. However, starting the desktop was immediately a breath of fresh air. The interface is clean and crisp. I think they may have overdone the “green mint” theme a tad, but colors are easy enough to change. What impressed me most was the ease of getting to applications and navigating between windows. It strikes me that Mint would also work well on a tablet, but they have managed to do it in such a way that it is equally usable on a desktop.

Linux Mint has a great look, and is easy to use… just like Ubuntu used to be!

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How to ruin a great product

It seems that Canonical, the creators of Ubuntu, are taking a leaf out of Microsoft’s play book. Ubuntu was based on the excellent, robust Linux, but most importantly made easy to use. Microsoft also made Windows easy to use, but forgot to make it robust.

Now, I really don’t care about which UI is better, Windows, Mac, Gnome… they all have their fanatics. I have used Windows a lot, I have to use it at work, so I just want something with similar look and feel in Linux – and there was.

Microsoft like to ignore the users, and do what they think is best. So they like to rip up the UI and enforce something completely different. I am still getting used to Vista/Windows 7. At work, we still use XP. This attitude of Microsoft is frankly a pain in the butt, and I was happy to adopt Linux at home instead of following the Microsoft soup wagon.

Only now Canonical have pulled the same stunt. Frankly, Unity sucks. I don’t care if it is technically better than everything else. What I want is a computer I can use! So having weaned me off Windows, and I have gotten to find my way around Ubuntu, Canonical pull the rug and are now making me look for an alternative to Ubuntu.

At least Linux is open unlike Windows, so I am hoping someone will do the necessary work to restore “old” themes like Clearlooks to Ubuntu. Whoever that is, my thanks in advance!

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Automatic reboot = automatic loss of data

So it turns out, if you have automatic update enabled in Windows 7, you will end up losing data if Windows decides that because you had to dash off to do something more important without saving everything, it is a good idea to reboot your computer for you.

I sometimes wonder if Microsoft is entirely staffed by idiots. In any normal company, anyone implementing such a brain dead auto reboot idea would be taken round the back and shot. But at Microsoft, losing customer’s data becomes part of the official policy.

Obviously, with any version of Windows getting frequent updates is important, because the OS is so full of security holes it is an easy target for hackers.

So now I have had to turn off automatic updates, in case Windows automatically dumps my work down the can, because I had to leave my computer to do a more important task (there is more to life than PCs you know…).

Great choice Microsoft, lose your work or risk being exposed to malware!.

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Brave New World?

Around the year 2000, the future seemed bright. With the 20th century, it seemed we could turn our back on a century which had two World Wars, one with the first use of nuclear weapons, a Cold War, numerous environmental problems including disaster in Chernobyl. There were many great advances, but these were not always without drawbacks.

Finally though, the Cold War ended and the Berlin wall came down. There was slightly more care for the environment, and we were all well off. We successfully dodged the Y2K bug.  We celebrated 2000 years of civilisation, although the exact timing was pretty arbitrary. It seemed like the 21st century would be rosy.

Now 10 years in, we have had a series of calamities which seemed to have shaken the previous optimism. First the stock market crashes around 2000, then 9/11. Ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The IPCC reported in the most stark terms yet that if we don’t stop releasing CO2, global temperature and sea level rise will cause significant problems by the end of the century. More recently, we have had a banking crisis, and the threat of a deep recession.

The exuberance of the Millennium celebrations was probably misplaced. There is no harm in a little celebration, but a lot of the problems of the 20th century didn’t go away, they are still around, and steadily getting worse. The 21st century will probably not be remembered as being the party century, when we could all let our hair down and finally just have fun. If anything, it will be notable for some very serious problems coming home to roost and may be remembered for how modern civilisation overcame them – or not.

For the problems are serious. With hindsight, the 20th century was the party century. We used resources like there was no tomorrow. Now it seems not only are those resources going to become very short by the end of the present century, there will be an awful lot of cleaning up to do. We may take the easy option, take our leave and let the hosts clean up. In this case, the hosts who have to clean up will be future generations. They may not be so happy when they realise they got left with the mess and never even had the chance to enjoy the party.

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