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This Blogging Month: June

It’s been another busy month this month, particularly in terms of hits and visitors, where I’ve once again had more than ever before. In fact, I’ve experienced the biggest month-on-month increase since January to February, resulting in almost 110,000 hits – that’s more that 500 hits per day up on last month. Advertising revenues have been astounding this month, thanks in part to a number of people buying high-priced electrical goods through my Amazon links, earning me a a decent amount of commision. I’ve far more than covered my costs this month, which is helpful, since the traffic increases may mean that we have to move over to a more expensive server before long.

Visitors from a total of seventeen different countries have been perusing the site this month, with the most common being the US, the UK, and Australia, and the least common being Japan, Denmark, and India. The majority of visitors are using Internet Explorer 6, whilst just under eight percent are using one verison of Firefox or another – a percentage which seems to be rising all the time.

As for the website itself, I’ve played around with the left-sidebar a little bit to reintroduce Google web search, and I’ve set this so that your cursor will automatically gravitate to this box when the page loads, the idea being that you can set sjhoward.co.uk as your homepage, read the latest posts, then head off on the rest of your web journey with Google. You’ll also notice that Google now supplies the search function for this site. I’ve made this move because Google archives the entire site, where the inbuilt site funciton only searched the blog. We were getting to the stage where the lag in Google’s archving was smaller than the amount that the site search didn’t search. So, basically, Google was better. But it may not be able to find the very latest posts, so be aware of that when searching.

To tie in with this new functionality, I’ve cut the number of posts on the homepage to ten, which confers much quicker loading time. The original figure of twenty-five was set when I was posting four or five times per day. Now I’ve settled down into more of a routine of one or two longer posts per day, it’s no longer necessary to display as many on the homepage itself. Remember, you can always access all of the posts on the site through the archives, which can be browsed using the links on the left, or searched with the search function on the right.

You may also have noticed that the ‘Most Viewed’ feature has disappeared – this is simply because it wasn’t working properly, and seemed to have become stuck. I’m now using a completely different stats package for ‘instant’ readings (which I use to determine the popularity of the various things I write, as well as to assess day-to-day traffic), whereas I’m still sticking with my host’s statistics for the monthly output you see in these posts. So all of the public info will remain comparable, as it’s still on the same system. I may reinstate some kind of ‘Most Viewed’ feature at some point in the future, but it’s pretty pointless at the moment anyway, because the Sudoku posts are far and away the most viewed, and don’t look like being over taken any time soon!

In the past couple of days, I’ve made some aesthetic changes to the site thanks to some comments made by readers. As with the old-version blog, I’ve increased the line spacing, as this makes posts a little easier to read. I’ve also implemented better highlighting of quotations, by giving them a fetching purple background in addition to the line on the left. The pay-off, of course, is increased scrolling. But I think it’s better this way. You can give me your comments through the usual channels.

As of 26th June, the copyright of all work on the site is protected by a newly updated Creative Commons Licence. As well as the normal update in the legalese, you will also find that the terms of the licence have changed, to give increased freedom for you to use the information on this site – specifically, you can now create derviative works, subject to given conditions. See the licence itself for more information. If the terms of the licence get in the way of something you’d like to do, then please remember that any conditions can be waived if you obtain permission from the copyright holder – that’s me. Feel free to ask.

The coding behind the icon has been improved slightly, so that as well as the post itself you also get a numbered list of the URIs of the links within the post, so that the links on the blog are reflected in the print version. Therefore, if you are printing posts for future reference it might be a better idea to use the icon rather than printing the individual post page – though, of course, that won’t include any comments that have been left, so you’ll have to return to the post’s page to see those (the URI for the indivudal post is included in the version). This whole paragraph is now pants. Refer to this.

I’ve gone through another minor software upgrade – I’m now running WordPress, up from 1.5.1. The upgrade was relatively painful painless (oopsie!) once again, and only resulted in about two minutes of downtime, which is quite impressive. This upgrade’s main function is to improve security of the blog, and was online at this site within four hours of its release. Let’s hope it works!

I think that’s about all I have to tell you in this month’s update – so that, I suppose, was June!

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

BMA votes against lowering abortion limit

My union has helpfully agreed with my position on the lowering of the 24 week limit on abortions. Whilst I’m sure this will enrage the Daily Mail, it certainly cheered me up because, as far as I can see, there is no logical scientific reason for lowering the abortion limit.

The only scientific reason for doing so is because increasingly premature babies are surviving with medical assistance. But whilst that’s a reasonable scientific point, the logic isn’t present. Increasingly premature babies are going to continue to survive as medical technology improves, until eventually abortions will be impossible – or, more controversially – they will only be available to those who discover their pregnancy suitably early, thus probably disenfranchising those who are not expecting to become pregnant (and may therefore feel that they are in desperate need of an abortion). Very few of the campaigners supporting the idea of lowering the limit would support either of the above situations – and yet that is effectively what they are voting for.

The other popularly posited opinion is that now we have 3D scans, which allow us to see the foetus in greater detail than ever, we shouldn’t allow abortions at this stage of pregnancy. This is a foolish notion. Doctors have for many years seen the real foetus following abortion, and the foetus has always been at the same stage of development, even if it’s previously required a medical degree to interpret the images. Just because something can now be interpreted by the masses doesn’t change the nature of what is actually done.

Therefore, I agree with my BMA colleagues in their decision not to support the lowering of the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. And I will continue to hold that position, until I hear a reasoned logical and scientific reason to change it.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Sir Trev ‘scoops’ Bush interview

It’s reported today that Sir Trevor has secured the only UK television interview with George Bush prior to the G8 summit next month. This is clearly some achievement. But did Granada’s Head of Current Affairs have to be quite so condescending about it?

“Sir Trevor has done this by his own industry. He interviewed Bush three years ago and has kept lines of communication open. He made a bid for an interview three months ago when we knew when the G8 would be,” Mr Anderson said.

“To get an exclusive interview with the US president is an achievement at any time, but to get it on the eve of the G8 summit is really special. Sir Trevor is to be congratulated for using all his contacts to bring it about.”

Quite why this relatively new journalist felt it necessary to pat a knighted veteran on the head for using his journalistic contacts is beyond me. There would be much better ways of phrasing his congratulations, making Sir Trevor appear as the brilliant journalist he is, but instead he’s decided to adopt a tone of “Well done, Trev, you did great. Let the grown ups carry on with the rest of the show, now.” And I think that’s unnecessary, unprofessional, and wrong, especially when you’re talking about the eponymous personality of the show, however little he may usually do in reality.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Does this G8 summit matter?

The G8 is one of the few groups which truly has the power to change the world at the stroke of a pen. But, despite their huge wealth, they won’t.

Even if these largely Westernised countries offer enormous aid to those most in need, their inability to see the world from the eyes of the desperate will hinder any attempt to help: They are far to focused on Western cultures and ways of approaching problems to provide genuine solutions. They can’t even agree that condoms are the best way of preventing the spreading of HIV, despite mountains of evidence proving this, so how on Earth do they hope to tackle the far trickier problems of poverty?

But just because these countries can’t get together and change the world for the better doesn’t mean that we should write the G8 off as useless. However unproductive, argumentative, and ineffective the meetings are, we should celebrate the fact that at least these eight leading nations are co-operating and even holding meetings in an age of cynicism, distrust, and warfare.

Achievements aren’t everything. The symbolism is just as important. That’s why, now more than ever, the G8 summit really matters.

Originally written for Channel 4 News

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, Writing Elsewhere.

ID cards bill given second reading

I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to see this on the BBC News homepage:

Government wins key Commons vote on ID Cards Bill by majority of 31. More soon.

With Labour’s majority severely reduced, I was hoping that pointless legislation would no longer get through the House of Commons. Yet, even after watching the debate for most of the afternoon, I still see no reason for ID cards to be introduced. Maybe I’m just stupid.

One of the main arguments for ID cards in recent days, and the one apparently favoured by Mr Blair, has been that biometric passports are being introduced, and we might as well have ID cards at the same time. To me, this makes no sense. Only people who apply for the new passports will get ID cards, so why not use their passports as ID?

Charles Clarke has now conceded that ID cards won’t really help in the fight against crime, but does claim that they’ll help against serious and organised crime – the example he chose to cite on the Today programme was drug smuggling. Why would anyone smuggling drugs do so with a fake ID? It would just be one further possible trigger for suspicion. Somebody trying to smuggle drugs into the country would surely do so in a way as to appear as inconspicuous as possible. If they’re currently trying to do that using forged passports, then I suggest their logic is slightly twisted.

As for terrorism: The people who commit terrorist offences rarely use fake ID. Again, using fake ID only increases the chance of getting caught. The key to successfully committing a terrorist offence is surely to use people who would not raise any suspicion in their day-to-day lives, but are under the control of the lead fundamentalists. Not to try and get through security checks with fake ID.

And finally, the argument put forward that this should serve as a single form of unquestionable ID is dangerous. The ID cards are to carry three pieces of biometric data, since using only one doesn’t provide suitable efficacy. Now Charles Clarke is making a big deal of the fact that this will mean you’ll no longer have to collect lots of documents together to open a bank account, get a library card, or get a copy of your criminal record in a CRB check. Unless he’s planning on equipping every bank, library, and CRB representative (which include thousands of members of councils, universities, churches, youth groups…) with an iris scanner, facial recognition software, and fingerprinting devices, then these people will not be able to check the biometric data, and so these cards end up being no more secure in day-to-day use than normal photographic ID. So to then announce that this will serve as a sole form of ID makes it much easier to commit identity theft offences, as only one document will need to be forged.

So as far as I can see, our elected representatives have voted to divulge far more about our lives than ever before to governmental departments, and allow them to store this data on computers that will probably not be as secure as they should be, and that will probably cost more than the government says, for no tangible benefit. And the majority wasn’t even that narrow. Good one, guys.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.


This PC-cleaning application found it’s way to me via the BBC’s Click Online, and it’s the absolute best I’ve ever come across. It cleans out temporary files, and generally cleans up your system quick as a flash, as well as scanning your registry for errors, and fixing those at lightning speed. It’s absolutely excellent and completely free, so if you’re running Windows and it’s getting a bit sluggish or your hard-drive is filling up fast, download this and give it a go. It’s well worth it.

This post was filed under: Reviews.

Asylum seekers from Zimbabwe

When the Daily Mail starts trumpeting the cause of failed asylum seekers, it’s clear that something is seriously wrong. The issue at hand is the proposed deportation of a hundred failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, back to Robert Mugabe’s deplorable regime, where they will almost certainly be presumed to be British spies. They have been on hunger strike now for six days, in protest against their deportation. The Mail is against their deportation (quote from today’s Wrap):

Mail readers who are accustomed to the paper’s demands for a crackdown on asylum seekers may have to pinch themselves today. “FOR PITY’S SAKE LET THEM STAY,” splashes the paper. “How, in all conscience, can the Home Office deport more than 100 Zimbabweans to face torture at the hands of Mugabe’s evil regime?”

Three Zimbabweans involved in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change describe the torture they suffered under President Mugabe’s regime. The Mail wants to know why they are not allowed to remain in Britain while “hundreds of thousands of other would-be refugees” whose asylum applications have been refused are allowed to stay.

The difficulty here is that the asylum seekers are unable to prove that they personally are at risk of persecution. The political difficulty is that one can’t let one set of asylum seekers that don’t meet the necessary criteria stay, whilst deporting others in similar situations. Except, there have been special rules on Zimbabwe for a number of years now, preventing the deportation of failed asylum seekers. Up until the last few days, I wasn’t aware that this rule had been removed, and I can’t begin to understand why it has been changed: The situation in Zimbabwe is clearly not improving, so why remove the protection these people have been offered for so long?

Regular readers will know that I’m incredibly cynical, but is it going too far to question whether this rule was removed in order to improve the figures on deportation of failed asylum seekers in the run-up to a General Election? I have looked around quite a bit, and can’t find any other reason for the decision. But the Prime Minister’s press conference is just beginning – let’s hope that someone asks the pertinent question, and then we might know.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Richard Whiteley has died

Richard Whiteley, the presenter of Channel 4’s Countdown, has died aged 61, Channel 4 have announced. I have watched Countdown for many years, and no-one who watches regularly can have failed to warm to the presenter’s unique style and sense of humour.

There’s a full obituary over on the BBC website.

Requiescat in pace

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

UNISON rejects ID cards

The public sector workers’ union, UNISON, has rejected the very idea of ID cards, and suggests that their members may even refuse to implement it. And the LSE are about to announce that, by their calculations, the estimates of how much the scheme will cost are far too low. It’s all less than good news for the government, who seem intent on forcing through the costly (and largely useless) legislation. The current situation is put most eliquently by Krishnan in today’s Snowmail:

Tonight this is where we are: the government does not know how much ID cards will cost, nor do they know how much it will save in reduced fraud, nor do they think it will prevent terrorist attack. But they want everyone to think ID cards are a good idea. I am left wondering if ID cards are the answer what is the question?

I was going to use this opportunity to make a big post explaining why I think ID cards are a bad idea. But, other than the fact the cost has now almost tripled, my objections are largely the same as they were more than a year ago. So you may as well just read that. And while you’re reading it, perhaps you can come up with the reason I called it ‘ID cards and the constitution, when it doesn’t even mention the latter. Because I’ve no idea.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Nurses off sick 16 days per year

The Observer seems slightly shocked that nurses top the league table of public sector workers taking sick days off work, leaving wards understaffed. Rachel Downey, who calls herself a ‘nursing commentator’ (sounds a demanding job), says this is because they work so hard:

‘Their job is physically and emotionally demanding and becoming more so,’ she added. ‘The pressure on them has increased as demands have risen because of new targets and rising expectations from patients.’

As hard as nurses work (and they do work exceptionally hard), this isn’t the reason for the increased sickness abscence. It’s a simple answer to a simple question: Nurses are off a lot because of the extremely strict rules governing when they are allowed to come into work. Healthcare staff aren’t allowed anywhere near a hospital ward for forty-eight hours after having diarrhoea, for example. I’m sure public sector workers at the Inland Revenue don’t have to have two days off because they had a dodgy curry on their last night out, but for nurses it’s a necessity to ensure that they don’t spread illness amongst the patients.

Similarly, you might not mind a snivelling full-of-cold council worker on the end of the phone, but you’d be less than impressed if the nurse looking after you was coughing and sneezing into your open wounds.

So it’s hardly surprising that nurses end up taking more time off work than those in other public sector professions, and so these are hardly ‘shock’ figures as the Observer claims, and I’m quite disappointed that they’ve decided to question the dedication of the nursing staff of the NHS rather than putting their brains and researchers into gear first.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

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