31 Dec


Russia was grim, but not because of the cold, but the money grabbing rudeness of everyone, the studied ignorance, the closure of museums at random by uncommunicative militiamen, the lack of any signs in Russian let alone English, French or German. I suspect that the rampant corruption is why everyone is so down and why in a major city like Moscow or St.Petersburg it takes 45 minutes at least to order a taxi, due to the fact that any enterprise attracts the attention of corrupt officials. On the other hand the Russians themselves seem to react to this with a studied glumness and large quantites of alcohol. so do not expect a sober driver or indeed for any driver at all. I travel everywhere in Europe, including all the old Warsaw Pact countries now in the EU, I have travelled worldwide from the Americas to Asia and I have never ever encountered such unfriendliness, lack of interest, money grabbing extortion and sheer horribleness of Russia and the Russians. Don’t go. They have nothing of interest, their art, architecture, culture and food was either bought by a monarch by mail order or one of the long lost of Italians, English, French and Germans that they hired to make or build it. The only part of their history that is fascinatingly Russian is the USSR and they have obliterated all traces of it, so that you can’t get any grip of what it was like, and the place seems to have been run by a succession of kleptocrats of one kind or another since 1991. It’s scary that Stalin seems to be being rehabilitated as a “Great Russian” (ironically exactly how Lenin described him as a warning to others) and the place reeks of xenophobia. If you want to try Eastern Europe, go to Budapest or Prague, do not try Russia for at least another 30 years.

Ok, now I have offended all Russians and people of Russian descent, let me add that I have known Russian ex pats all my life and it was falling in love with the idea of the place as a kid that made we want to go.. maybe that made it worse for me.. I know that behind the rude ignorant glumness there are happy husbands and wives and children and if I knew them as people they’d be fine.. but that’s true everywhere and nowhere else (not even Poland which was a bit like it in Warsaw) treats visitors so badly whilst gouging every last ruble from them.

The fact that my Leica M4 was robbed from my bag on the St Petersburg Metro, a camera bought for me by Ann for my 40th and therefore both of great sentimental value and a beautiful artefact in it’s own right soured things still further, but be clear, we were so deeply sick of the place before then.

16 Dec


Micro$oft have introduced a new file format in Office 2007 which they claim is ‘open’ but looks to be extremely difficult to support.


If you have an earlier version of Word you’ll need an update from Micro$oft.

If you use OpenOffice or another WP then it’s going to be irritating but solutions are on the horizon: Right now my Ubuntu Gutsy system with OO2.3 can open but not save them.

Personally I am going to ensure I can read and write to the new format but whenever someone sends me one I am going to ask them why they don’t use a more widely supported format like the true open Open Document format.


10 Dec

Open Source for Education

One often hears that schools want Micro$oft products and proprietary software ‘because it is what is used in business’. Notwithstanding the fact that by the time kids reach the workplace Redmond will have totally changed the user interface and menu sequences for all their products, or the fact that it is good to learn about ‘spreadsheets and databases’ more than ‘Exel and Access’, here is a good pressing argument for free and open source software (FOSS): it will lead to it’s use in business and consequently a lower cost business environment..

The Macedonian government is deploying a vast thin client architecture for their schoolkids and chose FOSS for that reason:

Some developing countries can be resistant to open source as they want to use the software they associate with developed countries — that is, Windows and Office. Was this a problem in Macedonia? —
Our product will work just fine under Microsoft Windows as well, but this was purely the decision made by the Macedonian government in terms of wanting to use open-source tools. Microsoft was involved in the programme, proposing using Windows XP Home Edition, but the government decided it wanted to stay with open-source. This was a decision the government made associated with wanting very low-cost infrastructure. [The decision was made] not just for the students to learn technology but, as they transition to the business community, having a very low-cost technology for businesses [is beneficial] as well.

The wider and interesting article is here. Let’s hope a certain Seattle based firm doesn’t use it’s monopoly power to corrupt this..

09 Dec

Sad News

Our friend Debbie died at the weekend. Her car left the road and hit a tree midday Saturday. The weather was awful and I can imagine losing control on that road and in those conditions. Debbie was a good friend that we shared many of the ups and downs of the last few years, ours and hers. Ann and Debbie would have lunch together and we really loved and cared for her. She has a young daughter, who was at least away with her Dad when this happened, and a partner who is undergoing radiotherapy for brain tumour.

We can’t really comprehend that we won’t be seeing her Monday: we know how many times worse it has to be for her daughter, mother, partner and all who knew her.

Death, it seems, encroaches.. we have to deal with it each in our own way.. but hopefully not alone.