Back to School

The school summer holiday in Belgium runs from 1st July to 31st August, regardless of what days those dates fall on. This is why all the kids are going back to school today, even though it’s a Thursday. The first day back is a bit of an easy one: the kids don’t have a full day and will be mainly receiving timetables, directions and other essentials.

There are big changes for us this year. The twins have now graduated from primary school, so all three boys will be cycling into the next town for their schooling. The twins were accompanied by their mum today (just to make sure they have the route correctly memorised), but they will be on their own from tomorrow.

I am still working from home at present and, after having the boys at home with me, the house feels awfully quiet today.

Camp

It’s that time of year when the boys all head off for their annual summer camp. And this year, they are now all old enough to both cycle there and enjoy the full ten days. We saw them off yesterday morning and spent much of the rest of the day getting used to how quiet the house has suddenly become.

Traditionally the younger kids are dropped off on Sunday, which is generally quite a big event including food, drinks and an chance for parents to catch up on how things are going so far. This social part has been cancelled over the last couple of years because of COVID, but this year it’s back. No barbecue, but I am assured that there will be plenty of food and drink for all.

Of course, with an empty house to ourselves, Eve and I will need to figure out what to do with ourselves.

I’m sure we’ll manage.

In power and out of control

I don’t want to descend into spending the next two months banging on about the UK Government’s inept shenanigans, so I will try to keep this short.

With Johnson trying to cling to office until September, the Labour Party has attempted to table a no-confidence motion in the Government. By convention, no-confidence motions are always accepted and prioritised.

This time, however, the government has refused to allow time for the motion.

David Allen Green explains how the government refusing a confidence vote subverts our constitution.

The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum

Well, it’s been a bit of a fraught week or so if you follow any of the ongoing meltdown that is the UK government. It all started last week (on Tuesday) when a former civil servant revealed — to no-one’s surprised — that Boris Johnson had indeed been lying about the most recent self-inflicted scandal to beset his administration.

I say that no-one surprised but Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, was so shocked by this news that he promptly resigned. This resignation was followed promptly — suspiciously promptly — with a resignation from Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No further ministers resigned but, over the next couple of days, most of the rest of the government did.

By Thursday, Johnson finally realised that the jig was up and gave a speech… not exactly resigning, but acknowledging that even his own party didn’t want him in charge any more. Of course, Johnson being Johnson, he still tried to cling to his salary for as long as he could get away with. But the wheels were in motion and the Conservative Party eventually started the process of selecting a new leader. Once the leader of the Conservative Party is selected, he or she will automatically become the next Prime Minister and there really is nothing more Johnson can say or do about any of this.

And we now have a date to which we can look forward:

The U.K prime minister is set to step down from his role in eight weeks’ time, after a new Tory leader is elected in a ballot of party members ending September 5. Johnson’s anointed successor is likely to take over as Tory leader and U.K. Prime Minister the following day — Tuesday, September 6.

First we have a couple of weeks during which the Conservative MPs will vote and vote again until they are down to only two candidates. Then there will be a long drawn out summer while these last two candidates attempt to appeal to the few thousand reactionaries and lunatics that make up the wider Conservative Party.

This is going to get ugly.

Eight candidates have managed to scrape together enough support to make it onto the first ballot, and what is frightening is that they are all either genuinely bonkers or pretending to be.

In many ways, Johnson is a symptom rather than the cause of this disaster.

The red-faced Europhobe wing of the Conservative Party has been around since the 1980s, if not longer, fighting the same old fantasy battles against an imaginary enemies while the rest of us got on with our lives.

It was David Cameron who, on discovering that he was unable to lead his own party, decided to hold a referendum to shut them up. And it was David Cameron who gave no thought whatsoever as to how this referendum should be organised, what question should be asked, or what the consequences might be if it all went badly wrong.

As we all know, it went very badly wrong indeed and Cameron promptly resigned.

Cameron was followed by Theresa May who — again, with no consultation or consideration of the consequences — not only rushed into starting the process of Britain’s exit from the EU, but also announced a set of negotiating red lines that set Britain on course for the insanely hard Brexit in which the country has found itself.

She could had invested some time in trying to build a consensus. She could have looked for a form of Brexit with which most people could accept. But instead, she decided to pander to the fantasist minority in her own party and, when she finally found herself facing reality, her party ousted her in favour of Boris Johnson.

Johnson didn’t even try to deal with reality. He simply lied, and lied again, telling the extremists upon whose support he depended whatever they wanted to hear.

Johnson’s lies and delusions have finally come back to bite him, but the end of Johnson does not mean the end of his toxic legacy. Under his premiership, the Conservative Party has become a hollowed out shell, comprising of English Nationalists and Libertarian Fundamentalists and one that has nothing to offer but imaginary battles and endlessly re-litigated feuds.

The sooner this party implodes, the better.

Here’s a song:

End of an Era

The schools broke up yesterday and two months of Summer vacation starts today for all three of the boys. And big changes are ahead for us because the twins have now graduated from primary school and will be embarking on their secondary school careers in September.

While attending their graduation ceremony on Tuesday, it struck me that I will never again need to return to the local school, and nor will any of them be able to walk to school. From here on in, all of three boys will be traveling to the next town for their education.

We have much to prepare, but today we shall enjoy the first day of the Summer holiday.

Non-fungible tokens for dummies

The Register has a report on Bill Gate’s views on Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the related cryptocurrencies. The short version is that both are “100 percent based on the greater fool theory.”

Nothing surprising there: they are. But the article also includes a handy explainer as to what Non-fungible tokens actually are. It is such a superb piece of writing that I am posting it here so that I can refer back to it as and when necessary.

Want to buy nothing? You’d probably say no. That’s because people don’t like nothing, they like scarcity and status. In the digital world, scarcity doesn’t work because data can be infinitely replicated.

But what if I faked digital scarcity? A database with limited spaces, each identified by a unique number. Think a line of people queuing for nothing. There’s no value inherent in one spot over another, but I sell you a position in the queue. I’m not selling you the queue, or its destination (there isn’t one), just the right to stand in this particular position.

You give me a dollar, and I give you some paper work, signed by yours truly, that says you have the right to stand there. Your position in the queue combined with my paper is a token that can’t be recreated. There is only one of each position. It is, therefore, “non-fungible.” The blockchain checks every single sale of a queue position and once you’ve bought your spot, it’s listed on the blockchain. Want to sell your position to someone else? You can, and that transaction will be listed on the blockchain too.

Why would anyone want a spot in my queue? Well, what if I put up a poster next to your position? Every spot now has a unique poster, and buying a place in the queue means you can now stand next to that poster. You don’t own the poster, you don’t own the image on the poster, you can’t reproduce the image, or sell copies, or claim any other type of ownership. What you’ve bought is the right to stand next to that poster – that’s it. You can show your friends the receipt that says you can stand there. They might even think it’s cool.

Congratulations, you now understand NFTs. Yes, it really is that stupid.

Mastodon: Because life’s too short for imbeciles

Federated social media has been around since 2008 and I have been bouncing around various federated networks (with a couple of hiatuses) since the end of that year. The idea behind federated networks is that, rather than having to rely on a single large server to control all your messages, lots of smaller servers achieve the same result by talking to each other. The obvious analogy for this is email: if I want to send a message to someone, all I need is their email address and, thanks to the magic of open standards, any message I send will be correctly delivered.

The federated network that everyone is talking about at the moment, of course, is Mastodon.

I had signed up to Mastodon a while ago, to a smaller instance that is no more and when I returned to the network I was quite interested in the idea of running my own server. Being lazy, however, this led to a bit of procrastination on my part until I came across masto.host, which really does provide the best of both worlds: Everything on the server is under my control, while, for a small monthly fee, I can leave someone else to look after the server and software maintenance.

And when it comes to managing what I do and don’t see on my timeline, the tools provided by Mastodon are really rather good.

On a personal level, I can block and mute any obnoxious types I happen to bump into, and I can also filter out specified words and phrases if I want to ignore a particular conversation (always useful during bug sporting events). I can even block whole domains if I decide that I just don’t want to deal with anyone from a specific instance, all I need is a single click.

The site moderation tools are equally well designed. Obviously, with only one user on my own instance, I haven’t had much need to use these, but I do like the fact that I can also silence other instances if I really don’t want to deal with them.

Overall, I do like Mastodon and it has proven to be a very comfortable place to return to. I do like its decentralised nature and the fact that both the developers and the various communities are keen to encourage this.

You can find out more, including a video explainer and a list of available servers at Join Mastodon and, if you ever find yourself looking for someone to follow, you can find me @Paul@social.lightlyseared.online.

FD Computers and the Joy of Linux

With William and Alexandre going up a school in September, we found ourselves in the market for two new laptops. They have both been using Ubuntu for quite some time and, given how stable and reliable it has proven to be, I was keen to keep them on the same OS. I was also quite keen on the idea of having everything pre-installed for them, mainly because I’m lazy.

When we were looking for a new laptop for Macsen, Dell were selling Inspirons with Ubuntu pre-installed. They appear to have stopped doing this now, for Belgium anyway. You can still buy Ubuntu laptops from Dell, but only if you want to shell out for a very powerful and incredibly expensive Data Science Workstation. So that was off the table.

Looking around, however, I discovered that there’s a shop in Belgium, FD Computers, who not only sells laptops with the Linux distro of your choice pre-installed, but also has a webshop. After a short phone call to availability and delivery times, we placed an order.

The laptops turned up exactly when promised and we are very happy with them.

The laptops themselves are light but have quite a robust feel to them and they certainly look like they will handle being lugged around by a pair of teenagers. And having Ubuntu pre-installed, along with all of the applications they are likely to need, is a definite bonus.

I would certainly FD Computers and, possibly more tellingly, would quite happily go back to them when we are in the market for more hardware.

Having used several desktop operating systems over the years (DOS, Windows, OS/2, AmigaOS), I have to say that the Linux desktop really is the best of the best.

People like to say that Linux is difficult to use, but it really isn’t. Granted, some distributions are aimed at a more technical crowd, but you don’t have to make things difficult for yourself. Go with Ubuntu or something similarly user friendly and the experience is, if anything, better than using Windows.

You don’t even need to install it yourself these days. Plenty of retailers will do this for you, even if you don’t live in Belgium.

Compared to Windows and MacOS, Linux is much more secure, and a lot easier to manage. Installing applications, and even upgrading the OS, can all be done with a couple of clicks of a mouse. And the software is all free (gratis), and centrally managed — you don’t need to deal with ads or endless pop-ups telling you to upgrade to the paid version, just install the application and off you go.

Ultimately, with a Linux laptop, I can leave an eleven-year old in charge of his own computer without having to constantly be watching what he’s doing. This is not something I can say about Windows.