Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Criminal Justice?

OK, I have to admit that I didn't see a single minute of the BBC's "flagship" drama last week. But a number of colleagues did, and they weren't impressed by how the lega profession was protrayed.

Which brings me to my first message; never watch a TV program, or read a newspaper article, about a topic that you are already well-acquainted with. The writer will have got things wrong on so many levels that it serves only to irritate the already-informed, and mis-inform everybody else.

But in the spat between Bar Council and writer of Criminal Justice (one Peter Moffat, once - allegedly - a proctising barrister, though I suspect that he had the usual reason for pursuing an alternative carreer), I happened on this gem:

Moffat disagreed with his learned friend - as he makes plain in a letter in today's paper. "Timothy Dutton ... seeks to reassure us that defence practitioners 'act to the highest standards'," he writes. "Does this include the defence practitioner who sent documentary 'evidence' (in fact invented and drafted by himself) from an internet cafe in Oxford Street to his opponent?"

Fair point. Until you discover that the barrister in question, who forged a law report to trap his unrepresented opponent, was only called to the Bar in 2004 and had done very little legal work. In fact, he had made his name, reputation and living as ... a TV writer and producer.

Methinks Mr. Moffat needs to pick his examples more carefully in future.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sir Ian Blair

Time to get political again.

The man's clearly a moron, and the de menezes affair has put the seal on my opinion. t's hard to ignore the catalogue of errors coming from the Commissioner and his inner circle. He is presiding over a Force that manages through a series of errors that - whilst individually they might be understandable - add up to a situation where an innocent man lost his life AND got called a terrorist suspect in a press conference.

The man should go.

And that's before you consider his stirling efforts to block the POolice Complaints Commision's report.

While I'm on the subject, let's get shot of the Home Secretary too. Jacqui Smith has come out in defence of Sir Ian Blair, saying to her opposite number "You and I will never face the challenge of making split second decisions in life and death policing operations." Erm, excuse me. Exactly which of Sir Ian's decisions are split-second? As far as I can tell, although he's eager to trumpet what he sees as successes, or to criticise other Forces when they manage to arrest terror suspects without shooting them, they're not exactly "split second" are they? The blunders in the De Menezes shooting were caused by a variety of factors - and I believe that much of the root cause is the policies and atmosphere created from the very top. Fact was, some sort of accident was almost inevitable that July, with Sir Ian sending as many of them out there with guns, ready to jump at shadows. Split-second how, exactly?

Another lefty weighed in with this pearl: "Policing and politics make for a volatile mix." Might be worth his considering where both of those words originally stemmed from (I thought that despite their eagerness to close them, most politicians had a grammarschool - or public school - background, and could be relied upon to know a bit of Ancient Greek). The simple fact is that politics is how the citizens decides how it is to be governed and ruled. The Police are a body appointed by the citizens to oversee those rules - they cannot enforce anything without the goodwill and support of the citizens. It ought to go without saying that questions of politics should lie at the very heart of how we are to be policed. Especially when one is considering the Police's own policies. Do we not have a right - nay, a duty - to get "political" when things are done in our names of which we strongly disapprove?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Johnny-5's alive (and made of plastic)

I've managed to spend the evening playing with the new Lego Mindstorms NXT robotics kit (OK, Lauren thinks that she was helping too). I thought that there might be an explosion from Jan at the sight of the new stuff, but she knows I've got loads of the old Mindstorms kit released 7 or 8 years ago, and she can't tell the difference between old and new (so she hasn't twigged that this is all new gear).

Although I owned the old Lego Robotics Invention System (two sets; the second one having been bought very cheaply in a PC World sell-off), I never managed to get a great deal built or programmed. The old software was VERY basic, but I've got absolutely zero programming in my background, and all of the homebrew alternative programming methods were WAY beyond me. And the basic programming software combined with the basic motors meant that it barely made it out of the box.

The new NXT kit is a different kettle of fish. Firstly it employs a very modern method of pinning everything together (after over 35 years of playing with lego, I'd got a handle on building stuff out of bricks and plates by aligning the studs; the NXT kit uses a newer "studless" construction technique that has me right back at square one trying to figure out even the most basic ways to build anything.

Secondly, the motors are VERY different too. The old Mindstorms kit came with two small and blocky motors that were pretty similar to the motors in the Technic line that Lego had been making for about 25 years; the new motors are HUGE in comparison, they're an odd shape with no studs at all (that "studless construction" again, chaps), but are true stepper motors so they know how far and how fast they rotate (unlike the old motors, where you either had to buy some extra, expensive rotation sensors, or you guessed and hoped for the best).

And thirdly there's the new software. The old set had a truly ghastly command structure, which managed to be both basic, restrictive AND confusing. The new programming suite is graphically-based once again, but manages to be much more comprehensive whilst at the same time being much more intuitive and straightforward. Lego themselves have realised that by embracing an adult fan community, and actively supporting the homebrew firmware and programming languages, they will sell more sets. So having released as much of the internal code as open source stuff as possible, there are already quite a few different programming languages out there based on stuff like Java and C. Like I say, I can't program much more than the ubiquitous two lines of Basic on a WHSmiths' display Spectrum, but I know that this sort of stuff is important to some people. Lego also involved some of that community to actually help develop the current kit, so the included programming suite is much more functional than the old one. Gripes? Just a couple in the ergonomics stakes at the moment. I'd like to be able to zoom in and out of the program area with the mouse wheel (or at all; the software doesn't support ANY zooming, and even a moderately-sized program can span several pages), and it only seems to support one-button mice (a sop to the Mac crowd no doubt, who couldn't run the old software at all; but it's a nuisance not being able to cut & paste stuff using just a right-click).

The new kit seems to contain fewer parts. The old set contained 700-odd parts, but that count included a fair few utterly useles decorative parts (bat wings, anyone?). The new kit contains just over 500, and it does feel like there is less to build with than the old kit. That is also down to the way everything is assembled - the old kit, brick connected to brick; now every piece has to be pinned to another with a couple of axles or pegs; and those pegs push the piece count higher. There are also some odd ommisions - no differential gearbox, for example. And the packaging feels cheap, cheap, cheap (not only was the old RIS box and printed manual impressively sturdy stuff, the NXT kit is decidedly not; it's possibly the poorest packaging for any Lego set I've ever seen. But having not bought much Lego over the last ten years, perhaps ALL the packaging and printed instructions are of this low quality now).

On the other hand, in terms of the premium-cost items in the box, it scores over the old set. The old set had two motors, with no way to count how many times they had turned; the new set has three stepper motors with in-built rotation sensors (so that's about £40-worth of more stuff than the old set straight off). Although there is one less touch sensor (the cheapest and most straightforward sensor in the old lineup), the new kit includes more variety of sensors - not only is there the touch sensor and the light sensor, there's a new sound sensor and best of all an ultrasonic sensor; with the old setup, you either bought an expensive third-party add-on, or you bodged one yourself using components bought off the internet. Added to which, the new programming suite caters for these additional sensors out of the box.

The long and the short of these improvements is that not only have I built two or three robots tonight (OK, all based on the same chassis, and all straight off the included Lego instructions, but hey, it's a start), I managed to work my way through all the simple programming exercises for the first robot myself, ahead of being shown what to do by the Lego software. I even managed to get the robot to behave in the ways that Lauren dictated ("He's got to move forwards, say hello, beep, then spin on the spot" sort of thing). Finally I had it running around the lounge, bouncing off the walls with it saying "ouch" each time before changing direction. The main thing that I learned was that our lounge floor is REALLY filthy, and needs a jolly good sweeping as soon as we can remember where the microfibre mop head is hiding.

Can't wait for my Bluetooth dongle to turn up from Ebuyer. The only major pain with the Mindstorms NXT kit is having to plug the programmable brick into the PC's USB port every time I want to upload a new program. And given that everything is a matter of programming, testing, rewriting the program, testing again, and repeating the whole cycle over and over (usually about 6 times to actually get everything to work well), the socket on the programmable brick wasn't going to last forever. but when I have the dongle, I should be able to send the code straight from the PC to the brick wherever it is in the house.

Just one more gripe. The NXT kit uses cables that are not compatible with the old style of motors and sensors (although conversion cables are available). Fine, I completely understand the methodology - the new sensors and motors need more separate strands as they pass different types of data to the programmable brick. but Lego are also introducing a new line of motors this year (in some Technic sets, and later into their trains), with a new wiring system that's not compatible with either the old wiring OR the new NXT wiring. And the latter incomatability is just daft.

Right - off to program the thing to try and herd Lauren round the lounge now!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What IS the point??

It seems like our politicians, Police Officers, Councils and ACPO ask for some new power or legislation to restrict the way that people behave (the old rules of society, where you behaved properly because that was what you OUGHT to do having gone the way of the dodo some time back.

But what exactly is the point of them crying out for new laws and powers when they can't - or won't - use the ones that they already have?

Take fireworks, for example. No, please, take them. As far away from here as possible. And keep them away for 364 days of the year, if you wouldn't mind.

Now we had a new Fireworks Act in 2003, closely followed by some Regulations in 2004 (the Act was a pretty bland affair; the real meat and bones of our fireworks rules are in the Regs). One of those rules - fairly widely publicized at the time, oddly enough - was a new late night limit on firework noise. It was simple. Not after 11pm, except on a few particular dates, including - not so oddly, this time - the 5th of November.

Well, it's not the 5th of November yet. But it is after 11pm here. Well after. And once again, it sounds like downtown Beruit.

Enforcement action in evidence? Don't be so silly.

Perhaps it only works if we all carry ID cards?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More pictures as and when I take them

Right, I've posted enough pictures of baby Shula for now. I'll keep updating my Picasa web page (because it's the easiest way to share them with family and friends), but I need to find something new to blog about.

Meanwhile, my photo albums can be seen here:

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A few more pictures now we're at home

Here are a few pictures of Shula in our lounge, lying in a chair that vibrates (when the battery isn't flat, that is). Jury's out as to whether she finds it soothing or not.

Sleeptime now. Instead of using either the cot (because that's in the nursery along the landing, and I'm not running backwards and forwards at 2am having cracked my arm doing just that a few months ago) or the moses basket (because we've forgotten who we lent it to), we've bought another gadget.

this one is called an Amby Nature's Nest - apparently they are THE thing for your baby to sleep in if you're in Australia, being in widespread use in maternity wards and hospitals over there (I trust that my man in New Zealand can confirm if it's an Antipodean thing, just unique to the Aussies, or a load of marketting guff).

It's a sort of hammock-meets-sling, attached to the frame by a big spring, so any shuffling in the night is converted into a gentle rocking motion. The hammock has mesh sides for good ventilation, baby sleeps with its feet at the bottom and it's almost impossible to shuffle further down - or up - without great effort, and the way the sling gently curves around baby is meant to mimmick being back in the womb. So babies are supposed to go to sleep more quickly, and sleep more soundly, than on a conventional flat mattress. I'm not aware of any studies that put it in a better or worse light than conventional sleeping arrangements so far as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but anecdotal evidence is that babies are more placid in a Nest than in any other sort of bed.

Oh, and they are eye-wateringly expensive. Still, it seems to be giving her a peaceful night's sleep (which should translate into a peaceful night's sleep for me, so well worth the money).

Verdict after two night's use is that it seems to work just fine, though right now we're still being woken every 2-3 hours.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Some more photos

Six hours (and a couple of feeds) later, and we're all looking a lot more normal. Lauren was allowed out of school for a visit too.

I've dug out a picture of Lauren at the same age.

They both look pretty similar (I think the Lauren photo was taken about 24-26 hours after being born). Two obvious differences stand out when looking at the old photos of Lauren: firstly she had her eyes open much wider, and in more of the photos (which accords with my recollection, of a little baby who spend the first couple of days staring at EVERYTHING); and secondly, hasn't the quality of the output from digital cameras improved? The shot of Lauren was takenon someone else's camera - my own camera of the time produced nasty, noise-ridden and low resolution shots. Like this one: