Straight Outta Easton

Jottings from Easton in the city of Bristol, UK

A trip to BBLUG

Posted by woodsy on 28 January, 2007

Saturday just gone, being the fourth one in the month, saw the Bristol & Bath Linux User Group (BBLUG) gather for its regular monthly meeting at the Knights Templar near Temple Meads to drink beer, talk and endure what the J. D. Wetherspoon regards as food (tip: stick to a burger for the sake of safety).

This month’s meeting was unusually well attended: over 20 humans and 1 dog (Bails’ Chloe, sadly left outside) and two fluffy Tux-type penguins. The Bristol Wireless crew put in a good appearance again (Bails, Rich, BenG and myself), whilst members from further flung reaches (Chippenham, Weston-super-Mare) also swelled the numbers. Good to see some new faces too among the usual suspects, including at least one who, from looking at the BBLUG home page, thought it was moribund, then checked the mailing list archive and found we were very much alive 😀

Peter and Hashbang

Peter (on the left in the picture) gave an impromptu Gimp tutorial having struggled through a Linux Format project during the week with the help of the mailing list.

Anyway, next month’s meeting coincides with’s open mapping weekend in Bristol; any takers out there, please visit the wiki page.

Posted in Bristol, Linux, Open-source, Tech | Leave a Comment »

As British as croque monsieur*?

Posted by woodsy on 25 January, 2007

Bristol’s Evening Post is not exactly renowned for the quality of its journalism. Perhaps that should be rephrased: Bristol’s Evening Post is well known the poor quality of its journalism; and today’s front page of the online edition does not disappoint, featuring the following advertisement:

The Post gets it wrong again

Yes, that’s right, according to the evening paper published when the good burghers of Bristol are stirring from their beds, Le Creuset is British! Merde alors!

With howlers such as these, I hope they are advertising for a decent sub-editor in the situations vacant columns.

*A croque monsieur, for those that don’t know, is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich – that well-known favourite of French café society.

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Knowle West… respect!

Posted by woodsy on 24 January, 2007

At the start of this week the media were falling over themselves to report the government’s latest public order gimmick – the establishment of 40 so-called ‘respect zones’ in various local authorities around the country.

According to the BBC, the idea behind these zones is that they will provide parenting classes, meetings between police and the public and “intervention projects” to tackle so-called “neighbours from hell”.

Needless to say, Bristol City Council is one of those involved and has picked on one of its favourite target deprived areas – Knowle West – for this stunt. It’s not that Knowle West, like any deprived community, does not have its problems with feral youth, drug dealing and the like. I reckon I know how the residents of Knowle West like to have their community stigmatised in this way: exactly the same as the good folks of Easton did when Stapleton Road got wrongly labelled by the media as the most crime-ridden street in the country.

On Monday’s launch date Knowle West duly saw a flying visit from Tony McNulty, the Home Office Minister with responsibility for policing and security. The Evening Pest carried a report on McNumpty’s visit.

There’s a budget of £6 mn. available to fund the scheme. If shared equally, this works out at £150,000 per local authority. Given that all local authorities waste public money and Bristol provides just about the worst value for money service going, I cannot see this making much of a difference, whereas spending £6 mn. on additional police just might have.

Finally, when I was young I was taught that respect had to earned and couldn’t be bought. This £6 mn. looks like the government trying to buy it.  Just as it can be gained, respect can also be lost and as long as politicians, the police and others in authority who used to have the respect of the community keep telling lies and generally misbehaving they do not deserve any respect at all.

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Weather – wise or otherwise?

Posted by woodsy on 23 January, 2007

US journalist Martha Gellhorn once described the British weather along the lines of ‘a national catastrophe, bravely borne by the natives’. And last two Thursdays, when the country was lashed by storm force winds and rain, have been catastrophic.

Compared with the rest of the country, Bristol escaped lightly from the storms. However, on the first of those Thursdays, Easton’s Bannerman Road Primary School had part of its roof blown off, resulting in the kids being sent home early.

Bannerman Rd School0Bannerman Rd School1
Bannerman Road School – after the storm

There’s no doubt that we’re having some strange weather: just a couple of weeks ago I saw hazel catkins for the first time this year – the earliest I can remember in 5 decades.


Over the weekend it has suddenly turned cold: apart from a few days’ worth of frost just before Christmas, there’s been no winter in Bristol at all; maybe that’s all about to change and the fuchsia still flowering in my garden will finally shed its leaves before spring arrives again

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Normal service resumed

Posted by woodsy on 14 January, 2007

I’ve been having a bit of a break over the Christmas and New Year period, hence the three weeks’ hiatus in postings. However, I have not been keeping my eyes closed. Here are a couple of the things that caught my eye on the language front.

Firstly, that great institution W H Smith seems to have changed from a newsagent and bookseller to a greengrocer, given the perhaps misplaced apostrophe (aka the greengrocer’s apostrophe) in its voucher reproduced below:


I wonder if they’re now selling newspaper’s, magazine’s and book’s?

Secondly, I’m indebted to the Rotten Boroughs page of Private Eye for drawing my attention to the language deficiencies of Bristol City Council. In December this local waste of public money passed a motion regretting “the actions of past Bristol citizens engaged in the slave trade”. However, either for reasons of political correctness or an inability to find the spellcheck on the word processor (hint: try F7), the victims were referred to throughout as ‘Afrikans’. As the Eye helpfully pointed out, this spelling clearly places Bristol City Council in the same class as such inclusive groups as the Wehrmacht’s Afrika Korps and the apartheid regime of Zuid Afrika.

Furthermore, if you read the Council’s press release on the motion, you’ll see not only that they can’t decide who wrote it (multiple choice authorship for press releases: is this a first from BCC?), but the greengrocer’s apostrophe crops up in the penultimate sentence of the third paragraph:

It’s full text is set out below.

Clearly, the Council did not take my advice of a few years ago that they use part of the education budget for adult literacy classes for their staff!

Anyway, now that normal service has been resumed, I shall have to get round to moderating the comments that have accumulated; if yours is in the queue, please be patient.

Posted in Bristol, Language, Media | Leave a Comment »

New Labour, new blog

Posted by woodsy on 20 December, 2006

Yesterday I discovered that my MP, Kerry McCarthy, the Honourable Member for Bristol East, has a blog… well almost.

Technorati defines a blog as: “A personal journal on the Web.”

How does Kerry’s effort measure up?Kerry McCarthy speaks to a Commons chamber full of air molecules

Personal journal – yes. I can see a raft of articles on different topics – Saddam Hussein, a hatchet job on Conservative leader David Cameron, something on Gordon Brown and so on. Let’s click on a link…

OK, done that, but wait: there’s something missing. How does one comment? Comments are the lifeblood of blogging. They enable authors to have a conversation or a debate with their visitors. As usual, the political class hasn’t quite grasped the idea correctly (no wonder we get ill-conceived, badly drafted legislation).

However, could there be more sinister reasons behind this. Remember that our Kerry is a loyal New Labour acolyte. She’s never been known to vote against the party line and as such is a Chief Whip’s dream. She seems to have wandered into politics not realising that the main impetus behind politics is ideas and the debating of ideas, which can sometimes result in dissent and conflict. But this isn’t likely to happen on Kerry’s blog. Kerry seems to take the line that debate might upset people and that would never do.

On the other hand, if she ever wants to learn how to blog properly, Kerry might do well to have a look at the tips compiled on the Blogging Skills Exchange.

Posted in Bristol, Easton, Internet, Media | Leave a Comment »

Satan wears a tux

Posted by woodsy on 19 December, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Ichthux, the Ubuntu-based Linux distro for Christians, and the last time I looked at the ISOs on my local network, I discovered there’s yet another – Ubuntu Christian Edition. Never one to miss out, Mephistopheles has now got his own back: idle hands have been found to do his work and the result is Ubuntu Satanic Edition, bylined the “distro of the beast”.

Satanic flamesSatanic whiteHell wallpaper

It’s actually an add-on package for Ubuntu’s latest ‘Edgy’ release. If you’re impish enough to want to give it a go, there are full installation and configuration instructions available.

As it’s winter, being somewhere nice and warm does have a certain attraction…

While I think about it, shouldn’t the title have been the other way round? Have you ever seen a penguin with cloven hooves, horns and a tail? As the old adage goes, the devil’s in the detail.

Posted in Linux, Open-source, Tech | 2 Comments »

MP talks rubbish too

Posted by woodsy on 19 December, 2006

It’s not just the local councillors that talk rubbish, local MP Kerry McCarthy does too! Here’s the pertinent bits of a reply to an email I sent her nearly 2 months ago:

I appreciate your concern about the standards of service currently provided by the Council, particularly regarding rubbish and litter problems. I have received many complaints from constituents about this matter in recent months. It seems that an existing problem has been exacerbated by the introduction of a new waste collection system this summer. While I am very much in favour of more recycling, I feel the new rubbish and recycling arrangements could have been better introduced to ensure a smoother transition.

I have been in touch with the Council several times recently in connection with this matter, asking them to resolve the problem. The Council’s Waste Services and Street Scene Team inform me that they are now addressing the problem by educating certain residents about rubbish disposal, and also by taking enforcement action against those not using the waste collection services effectively.

Well Kerry, at least we’re agreed on one thing: Bristol City Council have made a mess of introducing their new waste management scheme with built-in puzzle!

I would nevertheless give you one piece of advice: don’t believe what the Council tell you; they have been known to indulge in untruths on occasions.

Posted in Bristol, Easton | 2 Comments »

Streaming in the Burg

Posted by woodsy on 18 December, 2006

Last Tuesday’s Bristol Dorkbot event had a change of venue, moving to St Werburgh’s Community Centre. Perhaps on this account or the impending Yuletide mayhem, attendance was disappointing.

However, those who did not show up missed two excellent reasons for coming:

  • bottles of genuine Irish Guinness weighing in at 7.5% alcohol; and
  • Mike Harris of on audio and video streaming using open source technologies.

dorkbotMike’s a Bristol Wireless volunteer, like myself, but also has the distinction of being a founder of Dorkbot Barcelona. He’s involved in running two media streaming projects – Radio Vague and its companion, Vague TV.

Standing before a trolley full of audio kit – microphone, sounddesk, compressor, USB audio device – and laptop, Mike kept up a constant stream of audio (at background level in the room itself through the small PA rig). We all huddled up close so Mike didn’t have to use his namesake.

He began by telling us he started working at festivals to avoid having to pay for admission, eventually ending up doing audio streaming for Lost Vagueness at the Glastonbury Festival, hence the Radio Vague name.

We then lifted the bonnet on the audio stream to which we were listening, in this case a playlist of the laptop (running Linux, of course). This audio signal was split by a package called Ardour to produce two streams – one for firing up the network cable to the internet, the other an audio file saved to the laptop’s hard drive as a record (or archive) of the audio stream. Any kind of audio input can be streamed – DJ in club or bedroom, live band, conference and so on. Your audio is streamed via the ices program to a broadcast server running icecast which then pumps it out to the internet and your audience. Video streaming works on the same principles.

There’s more about streaming at Radio Vague and information about the ices and icecast packages is available from

Hopefully with the days getting longer again after the solstice later this week, I’ll be able to get the theremin built and then who knows? A duet with a musical saw has been mentioned 😀

Posted in Bristol, Dorkbot, Internet, Linux, Music, Open-source, Tech | 3 Comments »

Play the game

Posted by woodsy on 15 December, 2006

Wednesday evening saw me at a card game. Normally, such words would conjure up visions of a circle of light on a table supporting piles of money and encircled chain-smoking coves with a glass at spirits at the elbow while the night was gambled away. This impression couldn’t be further from the truth.

The room was in community centre in Bart Nil (for Bristolians; Barton Hill for the outside world), within whose hallowed portals smoking is not permitted, the drinks were tea and coffee and we were only due to be there for 2 hours, with no shirts or other property lost when it all came to an end.


Sample Digital Challenge game cards

The card game in question was the ‘Digital Challenge Game’ developed by Drew Mackie and David Wilcox for the Government’s £7 mn. Digital Challenge and this was the first time it had been played. It goes roughly like this: take a table of 6-8 people. Hand them 2 sets of cards: one with projects that could be implemented under the Digital Challenge; and the other with additional ideas you may like to consider and add to these some blank notelets for the group around the table to use for their own ideas. Design a project using any mix of cards plus any of the group’s own ideas. Done that?

Good. Here comes phase 2. Divide into smaller groups – say 3-4. Now you’re introduced to a set of half a dozen or so characters of all shapes and sizes. As a group pick one character. Now comes the creative part: your group has to plot out the life of the character through involvement with the project over the next four years. No matter you did, real life will intervene on the way. At random times in the group’s storyboard, Drew Mackie turns up unexpectedly to slap down a crisis or event – crime, birth, illness – those things that make life unpredictable. Afterwards, we all read each others’ tales. The interesting point is that they’re all plausible. Two groups have taken the same character, an aspiring unemployed musician: one – despite two of Drew’s ‘googlies’ – leads to international artiste status, the other to family life but still playing music. Fairy tales do occasionally happen in real life instead of childrens’ books.

Drew and David found the evening useful too and we didn’t mind being guinea pigs. They’ll be tweaking the game for future outings in Manchester and elsewhere.

David has chronicled this event on his blog and more details of the game are on Drew and David’s Usefulgames site.

Posted in Bristol, Easton, Media | 2 Comments »